the february cocktail hour: a month of walking & reading

Wednesday, February 28: Welcome to our February cocktail hour! Please, come in out of the cold and keep me company.  This month I can offer you a special Mardi Gras Blackberry Basil Margarita, as our ice maker is now operational. I know it’s already Lent, so for those of you who honorably practice your faith, I can also offer sodas or seltzer water of various flavors.

I hope February has been good to you so far. February has never been my favorite month, except for Valentine’s day, which never quite lives up to the hype, and my husband’s birthday on the 26th.  I’m happy it’s a short month.  I always think of it as a grey and brown month, and my pictures below will confirm that view. It also is a month of preparation for the year.  Since the outdoors is so uninviting, I tend to stay in a lot, reading and embellishing my dreams.

Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new, taken any classes or just kept up with the news? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you been planning your adventures for the year? Have you had any winter getaways? Have you sung along with any new songs? Have you dreamed any dreams? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you undertaken any new exercise routines?

Preparing for upcoming travels

I’m enjoying immersing myself in my upcoming journeys.  This coming weekend, Mike and I will visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Only a four-hour drive from here, it’s pathetic that I’ve never been. For many years, I’ve overlooked American cities as worthy travel destinations. Now, I keep adding them to my travel plans. Why not take advantage of places closer to home? When I was 23, I took a three-month cross-country trip around the USA and I figured I’d been there, done that. I guess I’ve taken my country for granted.

After all my travels abroad, and after coming to appreciate all the nuances of different cultures and countries, I can more fully appreciate the variations in American sub-cultures and American places.  Even within our small towns and our national and state parks, treasures are waiting to be unveiled.

To prepare, I’ve read two novels and one memoir featuring the city, as well as Moon Handbooks Pennsylvania – the part about Pittsburgh.  Here are the three books I’ve read that feature Pittsburgh:

These books have fueled my imagination and will surely add depth to my visit.  We also watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which takes place in the city.  The movie inspires me to stand up through the sunroof of our car as we drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. 🙂

I created a playlist on Spotify for the trip as well.  Of course, one must have a playlist when taking an American Road Trip!  Here are my Pittsburgh Tunes.

I’ve now postponed my Four Corners Road Trip to May, as parts of Mesa Verde National Park don’t open until May 20. Because of this, I’m working backwards from there, and have plotted out much of my trip, beginning my drive from Virginia on May 1 with a planned arrival in Denver on the evening of May 3 after three 8-hour days of driving.  Mike will join me in Denver and will fly back home from Phoenix after 10 days; we’ll part ways in Flagstaff, and unless my sister decides to join me, I’ll be doing the rest alone. I have a long reading list around this area.

Finally, I’ve started preparing for walking the Camino de Santiago in September.  I found out that the The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela only swings the large incense burners on certain days. I had mistakenly thought they did it every day.  As I really want to be there for the pilgrim’s service where they swing the incense, I will aim to arrive there for the November 1 service on All Saints Day.  This month, I’ve continued reading the three books I mentioned last month. I’ve also increased my walking distances and started going to the gym.

To immerse myself in the Camino experience, I shared Spanish tapas with pilgrims and wanna-be pilgrims at a potluck for American Pilgrims on the Camino in early February. This month, I walked 40 miles in my Keen Targhee hiking boots, 23 miles in Brooks Ghost running shoes, and 4 miles in Merrill trail runners, in an attempt to break in boots/shoes and decide which ones to wear on the Camino.

I hiked 4 miles on the Vienna bike trail.

The Vienna bike trail

It was a gloomy day when I joined the Mid-Atlantic Hiking group on the Gold Mine Area Trails and Great Falls, but at least it didn’t rain. I somehow twisted my knee on this 7.2 mile hike, which got me a little worried. To help build strength in that knee and in my shoulders, I’ve been to the gym twice a week for weight-lifting and doing calisthenics recommended by my son, Alex, who does calisthenics coaching part-time.

Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side

I also hiked 4.7 miles at Bull Run Mountains State Natural Area Preserve with the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group and sipped wines at the Winery at La Grange afterward. We found an old cemetery on that hike.

Bull Run Mountains State Natural Area Preserve
Winery at La Grange
Winery at La Grange

On another miserable Saturday, I slogged 6.4 miles through mud and rain at Fraser Preserve and had coffee after with Susan, a Camino pilgrim I met on an earlier hike.  We were covered in mud and our hair was plastered to our heads!

delectable treats, movies and celebrations

I’ve been whipping up experimental dishes, including a simple pasta with broccoli rabe.  Mike and I ate Thai food at Kobkun Fine Thai Cuisine.  We celebrated Valentine’s Day with sushi, sake and Sapporo at Yoko Sushi.  I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for the second time, since Mike didn’t see it with me the first time I saw it. After, we enjoyed Malai Kofta at Curry Mantra.  I learned more about the complicated Palestinian situation from the movie The Insult, where a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian get into a vicious court case over an insult. After the movie, we tried a new restaurant, Havabite Eatery, where I scarfed down a white pizza.  We shared blackened swordfish tacos and avocado super toast at Earls Tyson’s Corner for a mid-week treat.

pasta with broccoli rabe
dinner at Earls Tysons Corner

Challenges… and life goes on

We stood by helplessly as my youngest son, feeling frustrated by his close friend’s emotional breakdown and the toxic environment at his job, walked out of work without telling his boss he was leaving. A week later, he announced he was taking off to live the life of freedom, or the “hero’s journey,” he envisions – a life where he will “sign no leases, fill out no resumes, work cash jobs, and treat each day as a holy-day.”  I gently suggested that if it’s his philosophy to live that way, he should be a man and stop expecting his parents to bail him out, and he should not expect to come back home except to visit on holidays.  That’s when he said, “Every day is a holy-day!”  Oh dear. There are some things I will never understand, but I know he’s going to live his life how he sees fit, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.  All I can do is choose how I will respond to what he does.  As it was, we parted on good terms, and I wished him the best and told him I love him. I’m working on letting it all go.

Though feeling gobsmacked by our son’s surprise departure, we celebrated Mike’s 64th birthday by having dinner of Zucchini Babycorn Jalfrezi and Gobi Tak a Tin at Masala Art and then seeing Hold These Truths at Arena Stage, about Japanese-American Gordon Hirabayashi’s fight against the US government’s orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast during WWII.  What an appropriate theme for today’s political environment, where immigrants are being excised daily from our society.

Dinner at Masala Art
Hold These Truths


I finished reading seven more books (14 total for the year), especially loving: The English Major by Jim Harrison and the audiobook of Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I also finished reading The Girl in the Moon Circle by Sia Figiel for an A-Z book group that is reading, in alphabetical order, books from all the countries of the world.  Our group mistakenly thought the book was about American Samoa, but it’s actually about Samoa, to the west of American Samoa. 🙂

The Girl in the Moon Circle


I’ve also been slowly working on posts about my travels, finally finishing up my time in Japan (catbird in japan); I’m getting close to finishing with Prague (in search of a thousand cafes). I’m planning to start a new blog in March, unconnected to any of my other blogs, which will encompass all things travel: inspiration, making an art of travel, and creating art from travel.  I hope you’ll join me there when I start it.  Once the blog is live, I’ll stop posting on all my other blogs except this one, where I’ll continue to share things not related to travel.

I hope all is well for you and I look forward to hearing what’s going on with you!  I wish you a happy March!:-)


36 thoughts on “the february cocktail hour: a month of walking & reading

  1. The Margarita sounds very interesting – so we’ll pretend it’s late afternoon/early evening, and I would love to join you in having one. Have I read any good books? Yes, but since titles of books, songs, and movies never linger long in my brain, I cannot tell you what they were. Gone anywhere? No, winter finally decided to come to our basin the last two weeks of this month, and it’s been relentless. As I write this, the depth of the fallen snow is increasing. Sigh. February is also my least favorite month.
    I was in Pittsburgh, many many years ago for a convention. I remember little of it, except when a friend and I wanted to go get something to eat at 9:00 one night, nothing in our neighborhood was open.
    Planning my adventure for the year, yes. Kay has decided to return to the US to teach so I’m going to visit her in Thailand on her spring break – taking advantage of the last opportunity to go there. We will go to the Sky Bar in Bangkok one night, then a friend of hers will join us at a Beach Resort in Kho Chang. I’m looking forward to it.

    1. We made the margarita for ourselves on Ash Wednesday, a day later than Mardi Gras, and it was good, although I don’t think it was meant for Lent. I hope your snow is melting away now. We finally have sunshine today, although it will be a high of only 42. Still, I can take it if it’s sunny. I wonder if you’d now find restaurants open in Pittsburgh. I can’t believe it’s only 4 hours away from us and we’ve never been. We really enjoyed it. There’s so much to see there! So, when will you be going to Thailand? I went to the Sky Bar when I was there. You’ll love it! I can’t wait to hear all about it!

  2. I like the sound of that margarita! I would also love to see you do that thing with the sunroof – pictures, please 😉 I had never heard of the film; it seems worth looking out for. You have been very busy, and I always admire your meticulous planning.

    1. Well, Anabel, I rode numerous times through the Fort Pitt tunnel, but it was way too cold to stick my head out the sunroof! I did take some videos though. That margarita was good; you’ll have to try the recipe. I love the planning for adventures almost as much as I love having them. Almost! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the update! Sorry to hear your son is floundering. It’s good that you leave him be now to find his own way and not depend on you & Mike to be paying the bills for him. Keep on training – you’ll be glad you did.


    1. Thanks for dropping in, Nancy! I’m sorry about my son too, but there really is nothing else we can do for him. We’ve offered him every opportunity, every kind of advice, but he doesn’t want any of it. We have no choice but to let go and let him live his life, no matter how foolish we see his decisions.

      As for training, I’m walking my legs off! I hope they’ll still be functional when I get to Spain!

  4. I’m amazed at how much you squeeze in to every month. Your year ahead will be a very interesting one and I look forward to your new blog when it is running. Hope the knee has come good.

    1. Thanks, Pauline. I try to keep busy; as long as I’m working toward my dreams, I’m happy. Thanks for the good wishes for my knee. My son has given me some strengthening exercises and it feels pretty good right now. 🙂

  5. I think the margarita sounds good, so I’ll try that please. It’s early afternoon here, but it bound to be cocktail time somewhere in the world, so that’s fine by me. 🙂 I can’t believe how many books you manage to get throught, and write blog posts, and go hiking, and to the cinema, and out for meals, and cook meals, and train for your upcoming adventures… I managed two and a half books in February. The two I completed were quite different from each other, but both very enjoyable. The first was by a favourite author, Alexander McCall Smith, and was a very relaxing read. The second was a first novel, by Richard Barker, and was a crime drama/thriller which I enjoyed as the premise was quite different from anything I have read before. I haven’t seen the Ebbing film, but maybe I should.

    1. A margarita for you then, Elaine. Thanks for coming by! I do keep busy, but I don’t really feel like it’s too stressful. I have fun when life is busy, I guess! Which book did you read by Alexander McCall Smith? I have a lot of books of his on my list but I haven’t read any of them yet! The novel by Richard Barker sounds like fun. I’ll have to check it out.

      1. Thank you for the margarita, it’s just what I need today after spending a lot of my time on my feet. The Alexander McCall Smith book was The Bertie Project, which is the latest in the Scotland Street series. It’s best to start with the first book, called 44 Scotland Street, so that you can be introduced to all the characters. The Richard Barker book is only available for Kindle I think.

  6. Got to love you, Cathy! You never do anything by halves. 🙂 🙂 And yes, I can picture you in the tunnel. 🙂 I’ve read that first book too. I had to go to the review to remind myself so it can’t have been that good. Have I missed any of your Japan/Prague posts? I think I’m up to date. Definitely looking forward to your new blogging direction. Sorry about the young un! Guess he’ll have to find his own way. You have plenty to focus on. How does Mike keep up? 🙂 Oh, yes, and definitely the margarita, please!

    1. Haha, Jo! I know, I’m a little crazy about trying to get the most out of life. 🙂 We did drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel numerous times, but it was way too cold to stand up through the sunroof! I did take some videos though. 🙂 That book was okay but a little far-fetched and a little too self-absorbed. I finished Japan and wrote about my third day in Prague. Only one more day to go. I hope my new blogging direction will be fun. I want to do something different because I’m boring myself with what I’m doing now! That son of mine is on a trip of his own that I don’t think I’ll ever understand. Mike is a pretty good sport about keeping up. He likes to keep busy too, but of course he’s working 50+ hours a week. Margarita coming up! Cheers, Jo! 🙂

      1. I’m a bit out of love with blogging, but it’s hard to let go of the friends we make, isn’t it? Too lazy to start again. I’ve given myself till September when my WP contract runs out again, then we’ll see. What else will I do with all these photos? And it’s like a fun diary, isn’t it? 🙂 🙂

      2. I still love the idea of having the diary online, but I want to push myself to be more creative. And I love making friends through blogging. Of course, you’ll still have to keep doing it, Jo, but maybe think of something that makes it more fun for yourself. You’ve built a big community. I know you won’t stop! And you’re right, what’s the point of taking pictures if you don’t do anything with them? We have to keep going, Jo, just figure out a way to keep it fun! 🙂

  7. Wow, you are still running circles around everyone….and you have some great trips planned. And why not Pittsburgh? I’m certain you found great stuff there – isn’t there a good art museum, too? But the Four Corners…you will love that, and what an interesting prelude to the walk in September. I have a friend who did it, and of course, loved it and found it transformative. It’s so cool that you’re trying the different shoes and getting in shape – smart for sure! I’m not a fan of February either, and yes, it’s grey and brown, but aren’t those colors quite beautiful in your photos of Great Falls? I’ll answer that – yes! Especially the last one, with the rocks, an ordinary looking woods but you saw something well beyond that, and you conveyed it well. You have a really good eye.
    I haven’t seen Three Billboards, but I saw The Shape of Water and loved it – maybe you would, too. Also, the documentary that won an Oscar,, Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, is fantastic. It’s online, just google. It’s about an artist with mental illness – really fascinating. As for books, I’m always reading something, but good luck remembering what. 😉 You might enjoy Maya Roads by Mary Jo McConahay, the current read, by a woman who spent time in wild Mayan lands seeking out little-known tribes – I think you’d like that one.
    Take care of yourself, and try not to despair over the family situation, though that’s tough, I know. Have a good week!

    1. We loved our time in Pittsburgh, Lynn! I was surprised by how much we enjoyed it. The Heinz History Museum was fabulous; there are lots of museums there, but we didn’t have time for them all. I am going to start making more of an effort to visit places within a short drive.

      I can’t wait to go to the Four Corners area, and I can’t wait to do the Camino. It’s hard not to just hop on a plane right now, but I really want to do it in the fall, so I have to be patient. Thanks for your compliment about the Great Falls picture. We were on a 7+ mile walk and my phone was running out of power, so I snapped some quick shots before it died!

      I’ll have to try The Shape of Water; it won the Oscar for Best Picture, but I’m never much interested in stories about monsters! But I guess it must be good. I loved Three Billboards! I haven’t heard of Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405. I’ll have to check that out! Thanks for the recommendation. I put your Maya Roads book on my Goodreads list. Will check it out, but maybe not this year as my list is too ambitious already! As for my son, I can’t change him, and he doesn’t want our advice or help, so all I do is hope he finds happiness in the life he wants to lead. Enjoy your weekend, Lynn. And thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. 🙂

      1. Discovering a city you took for granted is almost more exciting than discovering an exotic one. You have big horizons and I guess it’s easy to forget about what’s closer in. We’ve enjoyed exploring Tacoma, a little over an hour away and full of interesting things, but it doesn’t get the respect that Seattle does.
        I’m never interested in monsters either – this one IS different. It’s very human.
        Phones do come in handy for photos, as long as they’re charged…:-)

      2. I like the cities that are a bit off the radar, Lynn, and I think I’ll try to visit more of them. I bet Tacoma has its own charms, as do many cities. I’ll definitely have to check out The Shape of Water. As for phones for pictures, I do love how my iPhone photos turn out, but so often, taking pictures depletes the charge so quickly!

  8. Well, you certainly have plenty to look forward to this year, Cathy. I’ll look forward to reading your new blog. All well here, busy working and planning our Canada trip later in the year. And our daughter’s wedding at the end of the year!

    1. I’m very excited about the year, although at times it seems duller than others, and I’m impatient to get going on my adventures. I hope my new blog will be fun because, honestly, I’m bored with what I’m doing now. It was fun being an expat and writing about those experiences of cultural immersion, but I get tired of writing about what I did on holiday. I have to figure out how to make it more of a challenge and more fun for myself. I hope to get started on it today after my 5-mile walk, but maybe won’t be able to make anything public just yet. I’m excited for your Canada trip. Where in Canada will you go? And congratulations on your daughter’s wedding! Where will it be?

      1. We’re spending five weeks in Canada, mainly in Vancouver and then Toronto where our older daughter lives. It’s the younger daughter getting married and that is happening in the beautiful Sunshine Coast hinterland in a gorgeous garden. So much to look forward to. First though, we have tickets to two events at the Commonwealth Games in April. That should be exciting.

  9. I love travelling my own country and venture into the USA from time to time… I do love the view of Pittsburgh as you come through the tunnel. It was an early morning just after sunrise when I went through the tunnel the first time, what a thrill. Beautiful city.

    1. Thanks so much, Maggie. I’d love to travel more around Canada; I’ve never been to Toronto and have just driven through Ottowa. I’ve spent some time in Quebec and Banff. But it still beckons! I’m glad you enjoyed Pittsburgh. There is a thrill coming out of the Fort Pitt tunnel. 🙂

  10. Isn’t it funny how we travel the world, photographing ordinary people, and don’t do the same here in our own country Cathy?! My husband and I decided to change that last year and saw some great places in Maine, Michigan, CA and NY. Loved your post, you really ARE one busy nomad!! As for your son, trust that he will find his way. You’ll sleep better until he does!

    1. We’ve also just recently decided to make more of an effort to see places here in the U.S., Tina. So far, we’ve enjoyed all our outings. I’ve been to Maine, but it’s been probably 30 years or more, so I’d love to go back. And I’ve never explored Michigan, though I’ve been to many places in NY and CA.

      I hope all works out for my son. I have no control over it, so I have no choice but to trust. I’m trying not to fret, as it’s just a waste of energy. 🙂

  11. I can relate to being intrigued by travel in America after living overseas for so long. With long distance travel being accessible to so many, it’s become almost the norm to ignore our own backyard. Not only Americans do this. I’m really looking forward to exploring Michigan. When it gets around to warming up a little. Spring comes late up here. Icy roads intimidate me. Your upcoming trips sound fabulous. I’m not able to plan anything because I don’t know about my job situation. But there’s so much to see in Michigan that I’m just content with that. I just finished rereading Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison, so I’ll pick up The English Major next. He’s one of my very favorite writers, and also from northern Michigan. Best of luck with training for your autumn trek! I look forward to your new blog, too.

    1. Michigan would be a great place to explore, Julie. I’ve lived in Virginia most of my life and have been almost everywhere, so I’m bored to tears by it. But there are lots of states right around that I haven’t explored, so I look forward to taking some road trips in the coming months and years. I would be inclined to stay off those icy roads too. Good luck with your job situation. What kind of work do you do? Returning to Earth sounds good; I’ve added it to my Goodreads list. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll add all his books. You’ll love The English Major, as he starts his book from Michigan.

      I’m excited about my trips, especially the trip out west and the Camino. I have a lot to do to prepare, but I just wish I could get started now! Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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