the october cocktail hour: of pumpkins, birthdays, autumn leaves and halloween

Tuesday, October 31:  It’s time for our October cocktail hour, and I’m ecstatic that the weather is finally getting cooler, the air is becoming more crisp, and the leaves are shouting their last vibrant hurrah before winter sets in.  Farm market displays are bursting with fresh apples, pumpkins, gourds and pumpkin & apple butter. Everywhere in suburban yards, straw scarecrows stand on sticks, ghosts float overhead on tree branches, gravestones and skulls lurk in the shadows.  It’s my favorite time of year, and on top of the normal October pleasures, I celebrated another birthday on October 25.  I’m now the venerable age of 62, but still feeling much younger than that truth-telling number.

Topping off everything else, yesterday morning, there were the Mueller indictments.  I don’t plan to say much about it here, but suffice it to say, this was a fantastic belated birthday present.  I hope it will be the gift that keeps on giving!

Autumn colors in Oakton

Please come in and take one of my Pottery Barn furry blankets.  Wrap yourself up; we’ll sit out on the screened-in porch. It’s cool but not yet too cold.  While on our trip, Mike and I became a bit addicted to local Czech beers, especially Pilsner Urquell and Budějovický (Budweiser) Budvar. Mike managed to find the Pilsner Urquell here in the U.S., so I have those to offer.  We also have red and white wines, seltzer water and orange juice (always a refreshing combination for those of you who don’t drink), Vanilla Coke Zero, sparkling water and of course my old standby, Bud Light Lime. 🙂

I hope October has been good to you so far.  Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you encountered any new songs?  Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes?  Have you embarked on any new endeavors?

Autumn colors in Oakton

Our first week in October was the second week of our two-week holiday to Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic. From October 1st on, we were in Czech Republic, namely Český Krumlov and Prague, and we returned home on October 7.  I’ve been writing, slowly but surely, about our trip on my Europe blog: in search of a thousand cafes.

At the same time, I’m alternating writing about my last 10 days in Japan (catbird in japan).  It’s all slow going, but eventually the story will be told. 🙂  Throughout the month, I continued to follow Jill’s Scene, who just completed the Camino de Santiago in late October.  She and her husband started the 800km walk in early September; I still have dreams of doing it myself in September-October of 2018.  I continued to add to my notes about her journey, the weather and challenges she encountered.  I haven’t wavered in my dream to do this next year.

As for books, I’m way behind on my goal to read 40 books in 2017.  I basically didn’t read much of anything the four months I was in Japan.  I was simply too busy.  But as of this month, I’ve managed to read 20 books, finishing Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, which I enjoyed, and How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which was okay.

On the plane to Budapest and the flight back from Prague, I binge-watched the Emmy-award winning HBO mini-series Big Little Lies, which I loved. Listening to the opening credits soundtrack repeatedly, I became enamored of the song Cold Little Heart by Michael Kiwanuka. Now I’ve added it to my October playlist on Spotify.  On my daily 3-mile walks, I listen to my various soundtracks, including that song, ad infinitum, as well as the podcast Modern Love from the New York Times column of the same name, hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti (WBUR).

Autumn colors in Oakton

Strangely, I haven’t seen one movie in the cinema this month, but Mike and I did see Native Gardens at Arena Stage in Washington on October 14.  Appropriately themed as a reflection of our current antagonistic political environment in Washington, the play is about two neighbors, an older stodgy white couple, the Butleys and a young couple of Latino background, the Del Valles (the husband is Chilean and the pregnant wife a native New Mexican).  There’s a generation gap, a cultural gap, and a gap in the actual property line; when the Del Valles want to quickly replace the decrepit fence between the properties so they can have an outdoor BBQ for the husband’s law firm, a surveyor finds their property line goes another couple of feet into the Butleys’ yard, encroaching on Frank Butley’s beloved garden. A huge altercation ensues addressing issues of race, environment, and politics.  Entertaining as pure surface comedy, it didn’t address in a serious way the actual political divisions we face in our country today.

Here’s a great review of the play: Washington City Paper: Arena Stage Skewers Neighborhood Drama in Native Gardens.

Playbill for Native Gardens

Our youngest son Adam left for Melbourne, Australia right before we went on our holiday.  He went for nearly a month to visit his girlfriend, Maddy, who he met in Hawaii. He informed us the day before he returned that he was bringing Maddy home with him.  He had hinted at this before he left, but I didn’t know if it would actually happen.  I went to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) to pick them up on Wednesday evening, October 18, and since I arrived early to avoid the Beltway traffic, I spent an hour or so having a light dinner at Season 52 at Columbia Mall.  Here’s a musical sculpture at the mall.

at Columbia Mall while waiting for Adam and Maddy to arrive at BWI

Adam, keen to show Maddy all around in one fell swoop, wore himself out quickly and ended up in excruciating pain from rupturing his eardrum, leaving poor Maddy to fend for herself.  I told him that no matter how bad he felt, she was his guest and he was obligated to take care of her.

Despite the fact that, before he left for Australia, he was being disciplined, working hard, saving money and doing some interesting podcasts while taking a course on making podcasts, after he returned, he was suddenly ill, making no effort to return to work, and had his girlfriend here (who is very nice and seems to have a good head on her shoulders, by the way!).  In my eyes, he was shirking all his duties and the promises he made to us to have a full-time job if we allowed him to live at home.  Every day that he’s not moving forward in his life, career-wise, makes me feel like he’s completely irresponsible and we are total failures as parents, not demanding enough from him or having high enough expectations.  Not only that, but feeding into the tension I feel is my fear he will be as indecisive as I have always been about my career.  All of this has made for a tense atmosphere in the house since October 21, although I had to force myself let go of my anger and frustration and just accept that he is sick and his girlfriend will leave soon and he can get back to figuring out his life.

It’s so challenging to be a parent, especially when I had such horrible role models and when I seem to have no natural instincts for parenting.

Alex came down from Richmond and since Adam was sick and Maddy wanted to stay with him, Mike, Alex and I enjoyed a pleasant evening at Artie’s in Fairfax on the evening before my birthday.  On my birthday, a Wednesday, Adam and Maddy invited me to go with them to sit at a park and then pick up pumpkins, but I can’t say I enjoyed it as the day was on their terms and I felt annoyed that I didn’t do what I wanted, which was to go see a movie.

The day after my birthday, I escaped the house and went to Baltimore to see my sister Joan, who was babysitting her 9-month-old grandson Elliott at my niece Kelsey’s house.  It was fun to finally meet my little great-nephew, to have lunch out with Joan and Elliott, and to see Kelsey when she got home from work.

Kelsey and Elliot

After my visit, I stopped in Bethesda, Maryland to have White Sangria and tapas at my favorite restaurant there, Jaleo.  After dinner, I went to the Writer’s Center to hear an interview of author Alice McDermott by Bob Levey of The Washington Post.  I always get inspired listening to writers talk. 🙂

On Friday night, Mike and I went out on our own to celebrate my birthday at Nostos Restaurant, which, according to the website presents a “fresh, modern take on Greek culinary culture.”  “Nostos” is at the root of the word nostalgia and means a return to one’s origins, a longing for a special time in the past; the restaurant attempts to stimulate senses with a variety of traditional and new Greek dishes.

On my birthday at Nostos Restaurant

We ordered an array of mezedes, including: Avgolemono Soup (traditional chicken soup with egg lemon finish), Greek Beans (northern beans with scallions, parsley, olive oil and lemon), Garides Saganaki (sautéed shrimp with feta cheese, tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins), Haloumi Skaras (grilled Cypriot sheep and goat cheese served with greek style taboule).

Mike ordered an entrée of Mousaka (layers of thinly sliced baby eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and seasoned ground beef topped with a rich béchamel).

We shared all the dishes, accompanied by wine and dessert (Portokalopita: orange cake with vanilla ice cream).  They brought out the cake with one candle, which I had to blow out. I was glad there weren’t 62 candles!

me blowing out my one candle (I”m so young!)

On Saturday, Mike and I went on a hike at Hawksbill Gap in Shenandoah National Park.  Here are a few pictures of our hike, but I’ll write more about it in a separate post.

At the summit, we had great views of the valley.  It has been unseasonably warm this October, so it didn’t seem the leaves were yet at their peak.

Me with Mike at Hawksbill Gap
Hawksbill Gap

We went out to Lebanese Taverna for yet another family birthday dinner on Monday night, this time with Mike’s sister Barbara, Adam and Maddy.

And finally, to end the month, Adam and Maddy carved their Halloween pumpkins.

Maddy and Adam and their pumpkins
Adam’s pumpkin in front and Maddy’s in back

We had a couple of visitors on Halloween night, including one particularly funny group of dinosaurs.

triplet dinosaurs

Happy Halloween and happy autumn.  Please do tell me about your month!  I hope it’s been a good one. 🙂

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shenandoah national park: hawksbill summit loop

Saturday, October 28:  Today is a crisp fall day, just the kind of day I love and the kind that has been slow in coming this year.  It’s been unseasonably warm throughout October, and now, thank goodness, it’s finally cool.  Not cold, but cool enough for a hike.

Mike and I head early to Shenandoah National Park to get ahead of the crowds, arriving at Hawksbill Gap parking lot, already overflowing, by 10:15.  We start our hike at the trailhead by 10:30 a.m.

We’re doing the Hawksbill Loop Hike, a 2.9 mile circuit with a 860-feet elevation gain and a 2-hour hiking time.  This is a rather short walk in Shenandoah National Park, but it’s just right for our first hike of the season.  Everyone who knows me knows I don’t hike in summer; I despise the heat and would rather stay indoors all summer long!

the woods at the start of the hike

Sadly, the colors of the leaves are not as vibrant up here in the mountains as I hoped they’d be; people say the colors aren’t great because it’s been so warm and wet. Many of the trees are already bare and the leaves underfoot are mostly brown and dead.

looking to the sky

I love the rocks covered in moss.

mossy rock

I love the weathered misshapen trees found in the mountains; their shapes are a testament to their steadfast resistance to the elements.

funky trees

I always love bracket fungi, also known as shelf fungi, with their fruiting bodies, or conks, of interconnected rows.  They are mainly found on living or dead trees or coarse woody debris, and sometimes look like mushrooms.

bracket fungus
the path

I love the ferns, moss and lichens on the rocks.

ferns, moss, lichens and rock
moss up close
the path

Some trees are so hardy that they grow on top of boulders.

trees growing on rocks
tree bark & lichens

We continue along the path, with moss-covered rocks all around us.

along the path

Nearing the summit, we find a lone yellow tree glowing amidst the bare trees.

splash of yellow

Many trees and branches are all a-tumble and askew in the forest.

mishmash of trees

And some of the trees have very strange and convoluted shapes.

We reach one overlook where we can see the valley with Massanutten Mountain on the other side.

first viewpoint
a rocky outcrop
me with Mike
white-barked trees

Hawksbill is Shenandoah’s highest peak at 4,051 ft. We finally reach the summit, which is packed. People are sitting around eating their picnic lunches. We didn’t bring a lunch because we plan to visit Old Bust Head Brewing Co. for a beer, accompanied by lunch from a food truck.

Hawksbill Summit
Mike at Hawksbill Summit
Hawksbill Summit
Hawksbill Summit
Me at Hawksbill Summit
Hawksbill Summit

I love the white trunks and branches of some of the bare trees.

white tree trunk
light and white
lichen-covered bark
splashes of yellow
horse-shaped tree

After making our way back down from the summit, we hop in our car and drive along Skyline Drive, stopping at several of the overlooks.

Every once in a while, we find some brighter splashes of color.

overlook along Skyline Drive
overlook along Skyline Drive
red leaves
red leaves
view of the valley
overlook views
overlook views
yellow tree

At Old Bust Head Brewing Co., we eat nachos and chili from a food truck.  Mike has a Chukker, or Czech Style Pilsner, which he got addicted to on our trip to Czech Republic, while I have an Apricot Belgian Wit. There’s a lot of activity at the brewery today because it’s overflowing with bikers from The Great Pumpkin Ride.  This ride is sponsored by the Fauquier Trails Coalition, a non-profit organization, and is a fundraiser to extend and connect existing trails in scenic Fauquier County.  It has options for 32, 53 or 67 miles.

I’m glad I got an October hike in before month-end.  Steps today: 11,108 (4.71 miles).  Now we have to find one for November!

 

a labor day walk in cleveland park

Monday, September 4: The first Monday in September is Labor Day in the USA, and the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend marks the unofficial end of summer.  The federal holiday honors the American labor movement and contributions that workers have made to the well-being of the country.

Because Mike has the day off, we drive into D.C. to walk around Cleveland Park’s Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Northwest Washington neighborhood, a collection of over 1,000 structures, is “a visual textbook of the changing taste in domestic architectural styles between the years 1890 and 1940,” according to the Washington Post‘s “No hiking boots required: 6 great city strolls in Washington.”

As we walk around the neighborhood, we see art deco and modernist facades, as well as homes built in the Arts & Crafts style, brick rowhouses, mission-style homes, Colonial revivals, and neoclassical mansions.  We see fabulous porches, turrets, columns, screened-in porches, white picket fences, pergolas, as well as beautifully manicured lawns.

Cleveland Park

In the 1890s, when electric streetcars arrived on Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues, Cleveland Park became a popular upscale “streetcar suburb,” according to The Washington Post.  President Grover Cleveland (1837 – 1908), the USA’s 22nd and 24th president, also built a summer home on Macomb Street.  He was the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office.

Many of the homes here are extraordinary.  It’s fun to walk through this shady and hilly neighborhood.

Cleveland Park home
Cleveland Park home

Reflecting our divisive political climate, we find signs in yards such as: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The signs are written in several languages.

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

Or: “Comb Overs don’t hide Racism * Arrogance * Cruelty * Prejudice & Willful Ignorance.  Words Matter.”

Comb Overs don’t hide…

As part of the resistance, I’m happy to find like-minded Americans who don’t want to be associated with our current president, his base, or their white supremacist notions.

Cleveland Park home

After a while, we reach Wisconsin Avenue, where we decide to stop for lunch.  We have several options, including Cactus Cantina and Cafe Deluxe.  We choose Cafe Deluxe.

Cactus Cantina

At Cafe Deluxe, we sit outside on the patio and eat Apple Brie Flatbread and assorted sides including mac & cheese, succotash and asparagus & corn.

Apple Brie Flatbread
Cafe Deluxe on Wisconsin

After lunch, we walk down Wisconsin to Washington National Cathedral.  We always come here to see the crèche collection every Christmas Eve; this is one rare time we see it during the summer.

Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal Church cathedral of 20th century American Gothic style closely modeled on English Gothic style of the late fourteenth century. The foundation stone was laid on September 29, 1907 in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt and a crowd of more than 20,000. The “final finial” was placed 83 years later in the presence of President George H.W. Bush in 1990, according to Wikipedia: Washington National Cathedral.

Washington National Cathedral

We even see the Bishop’s Garden in bloom, which we never see when we come at Christmas.

the garden at Washington National Cathedral

While walking in the garden, I overhear a frumpy old white man say, “I don’t know what the problem is with Melania wearing high heels down to Houston after the hurricane.  It shows she has some class.”  SMH.  Dream on, Mister.

The Cathedral is both the second-largest church building in the United States and the fourth tallest structure in Washington, D.C.  The scaffolding seen in the photo is for ongoing repairs since the 2011 earthquake.

the Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

We walk back through different streets in Cleveland Park to return to our car.

back through Cleveland Park
Cleveland Park
me in Cleveland Park
Cleveland Park

My novel, still unpublished, is set mainly in this neighborhood, as well as in Egypt and France. 🙂

Steps today: 12,759 (5.41 miles).

a gloomy saturday in budapest

Our first gloomy Saturday in Budapest. You can find my blog posts about our trip to Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic on my blog, in search of a thousand cafes. 🙂

in search of a thousand cafés

Friday to Saturday, September 22-23:  Four days in Budapest and this is our first, but only after Lufthansa carries us, miserably uncomfortable in economy class aisle seats, for 7:55 hours through a six-hour time zone change and across the north Atlantic to Frankfurt.

While airborne, I squirm and wriggle and try to sleep, but manage to snooze less than a half hour, instead captivated by a series of shows on the small screen inset into the seatback: first, a German-language movie Die Reste Mienes Lebens, in which Schimon lives his life following his pregnant wife’s death by clinging to a sentence his grandfather once told him, “Everything in life happens the way it should.” Second, Mama Mia and its exuberant ABBA songs delight me once again (how many times have I watched that movie?), although our destination will be nothing like the Greek island where that magical love…

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