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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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).

twenty-sixteen

In twenty-sixteen, I:  Gazed in WONDER at the Renwick.  Traipsed around the City of Brotherly Love, ate Philly cheese steaks, and admired the Mural Arts decorating the city’s walls and parking lots. Inspected the crack in the Liberty Bell and imagined our forefathers in Independence Hall.  Toasted to Mike’s 62nd birthday. Worried about our youngest son’s lack of direction.  Partially de-cluttered our house, using The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (the Kon-Mari method), successfully weeding out clothing, accessories, kitchen appliances and books.

Flew to Dallas, Texas and then drove to Oklahoma City to attend a friend’s second wedding.  Walked on the grassy knoll and along the route where JFK was assassinated.  Stood beside larger-than-life statues of George W. Bush and his dad at the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum.  Walked among tulips and sat with Benjamin Franklin at the Dallas Arboretum.  Stood under a rearing horse and saw a fake rodeo at the Cowboy Museum.  Grieved near a field of empty chairs for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Stood by as contractors demolished our deck, laundry room and kitchen and then slowly built them again, in much nicer form.

Attended my first husband’s book talk in April at Politics and Prose in D.C., where he discussed his newly published book, Mathews Men.  Celebrated our daughter Sarah’s graduation, with a B.A. in English, from Virginia Commonwealth University in May.  Enjoyed a spread of bagels at Sarah’s house, and later dinner and dirty martinis at Lucy’s, with both families in attendance. 🙂

Wandered through tulips and sunflowers at Burnside Gardens in Virginia.  Visited four gardens around Philadelphia for my second trip to that city this year.  Imbibed in Cabernets and Pinot Grigios at several Virginia wineries.  Let our son’s lease in Richmond expire and watched with trepidation to see what he’d do next; fretted because we didn’t know where he would go or what he’d do.  Felt relieved when we found he took off for a Tribal Design retreat in Vancouver and finally went Hawaii, where he is now leading tours for a hostel in Maui.

Drove around the Ring Road in Iceland over a breathtaking 11 days (in search of a thousand cafés).  Climbed around, behind, and to the tops of waterfalls. Admired sweeping vistas from our Polo VW rental.  Hiked to the edge of ashy glaciers.  Poked around inside turf-roofed houses. Ate cod, cod and more cod, as well as langoustine, lamb and gas-station hot dogs.  Drove over 2700 km and walked 166,100 steps, or 70.4 miles.  Returned home with walking pneumonia, from which it took three weeks to recover.

Laughed at the “Kurios” of Cirque de Soleil.  Had a family reunion at our renovated house for my dad’s 86th birthday in September, where everyone except Adam attended.  Enjoyed sushi and sake with my sister Stephanie, who came from California.  Drove along the Skyline Drive amidst flame-colored leaves to West Virginia in early November to celebrate my 61st birthday and our 28th anniversary.  Enjoyed delicious pizza and craft beer at Pies & Pints. Strolled through the eerie ghost towns of Thurmond and Nuttallburg.  Hiked along the Endless Wall.

Barely survived our contentious election and felt heartbroken over the results.  Boycotted Facebook for a month and a half.  Realized I have nothing in common with 62 million Americans.

Read/listened to 35 books/audiobooks (meeting my Goodreads goal!), my favorites being All the Light We Cannot See, State of Wonder, Circling the Sun, The Ambassador’s Wife, and The Glass Castle.  Saw 39 movies in the theater, especially loving Joy, Eye in the Sky, A Hologram for the King, The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Music of Strangers, Dheepan, Hell or High Water, The Light Between Oceans, Sully, Girl on the Train, A Man Called Ove, Manchester by the Sea, and Lion.  Dined on Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, French, Japanese and Italian food.

Weighed 5 pounds more at year-end than at the end of 2015, despite continual attempts to lose weight.  Took Pilates and dropped out because of utter boredom.  Walked nearly 251 hours during 276 @3-mile workouts, or about 813 miles of dedicated workouts.

Passed the Virginia Real Estate Licensing Exam but never signed with a broker. Sent my novel to 23 agents to no avail.  Applied for 32 jobs, 23 abroad and 9 stateside.  Came up empty-handed on the book publishing and the job front.  Got discouraged.  Completed a Memoir class and wrote seven chapters of a memoir.  Dreamed about how my future might look.

Celebrated Thanksgiving with Alex and Sarah, and Christmas with only Alex (Adam was in Hawaii through the holidays, jumping off waterfalls, body surfing and leading tours). Felt dismayed at our shrinking family gatherings.

Returned to Philadelphia (third time’s a charm!) to see “Paint the Revolution” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Admired the Gates of Hell and Crouching Woman at the Rodin Museum.  Wandered through the Magic Gardens of mirrors and mosaics and found objects.  Walked and walked through the outdoor gallery of Mural Arts to shake 2016 out of our psyches. Drove home through Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, amidst the clip-clop of horse-drawn buggies and faded laundry flapping on clotheslines.

Cleared our heads in preparation for 2017, when we are hoping for love, peace, healing, direction, confidence, boldness and endless adventure. 🙂

christmas eve & christmas 2016

Saturday, December 24:  Mike, Alex and I drive on this overcast Saturday to the Washington National Cathedral for our annual Christmas Eve visit. We’re a small group this Christmas, as Adam is body-surfing at a beach in Maui and Sarah is hanging with her dad, his two pugs, her dog Bagel, her stepmother and half-brothers in Virginia Beach.

In the Cathedral’s nave, we admire an owl hidden in a Christmas tree amidst poinsettia and cranberry garlands, and columns decked out in red-bowed wreaths.  We crane our necks to admire the Space Window, celebrating the Apollo mission to the moon, and the three Rose windows and all the stained glass scenes that bring the stories of Christianity to life.

an owl in the Christmas tree
an owl in the Christmas tree
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

I light a candle and pray for peace and love, for healing in our country after our divisive election and under our upcoming regime change, for the Syrian refugees and other people suffering because of war and famine and corruption, and for my children, who I hope will someday thrive. I also pray that I can find my quest, my own personal legend, in my life.  I squeeze a lot of hope into that one candle.

The Canterbury Pulpit depicts people and scenes relating to the Bible’s translation into English.  Stories for the pulpit came from Canterbury Cathedral in England.

Canterbury Pulpit
Canterbury Pulpit

We find the Pentagon Cross, made by Alvin Neider from fragments of the facade of the Pentagon after the attacks of 11 September 2001, in recognition that we are “united in memory, freedom, and faith, and in the hope of and love for God, our nation, and all peoples of the earth.”

The Pentagon cross
The Pentagon cross

We find HOLY CITY, a pilgrimage of sight, by Irish citizen Brian Whelan, a nine-paneled painting showing “a vision of unity amongst the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”  Says the artist: “The daily news is full of stories of faith against faith; a never-ending holy war and perversion of God’s love.  Wars, conflicts and acts of terrorism are often described with religious labels.  This is not a perspective shared by most people.  Across the faiths, we have far more in common that divides us.”

Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan
Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan

The artist says this doesn’t depict any one Holy City that exists in today’s world: “This is my aspirational vision of what a Holy City looks like.  Each of the canvases contain churches, mosques and synagogues, representing the Abrahamic faiths, painted in bright, playful and colorful forms.  An abstracted, disarming vision of cultural unity; living together in peace, acceptance and in harmony; a haven for the soul. … In this Holy City, hospitality would be offered to all pilgrims.”

For close-ups of the nine panels of Holy City, click on any picture in the tiled mosaic below.

In the Crypt level, we visit the Bethlehem Chapel, showing the genealogy and birth of Jesus, and the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, telling the story of Jesus’ entombment following his crucifixion.

chapel
chapel
iron door
iron door
chapel
chapel

The main reason we come to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve is to see the crèches from all over the world.  We see nativity scenes made from natural materials found in Mexico, India, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, New Mexico, Arizona, Turkey, Uganda and others.

In the Jamaican nativity, the bodies are made of rolled woven mats with painted gourds for heads.  They are dressed in woven fiber and fabric garments.  The figures’ eyes are painted with touches of gold, which make them glow.  As for the Wise Men: one Magi is from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe, each wearing elaborate fiber headdresses that represent their home continents.

The bodies of the figures in the Singapore nativity are made from the trunk of the cinnamon tree.  While the bark is ground into cinnamon, the trunk is ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a soft dough.  The figures are then formed on a wire armature.  The entire process takes anywhere from 2 1/2 – 15 hours, depending upon the intricacy of the figure.

Singapore - joss stick powder
Singapore – joss stick powder

Finally, a crèche made of wood depicts the traditions and cultures of Alaska.  The figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child sit within a lodgehouse, which is set on poles to store winter provisions.  Mary is dressed in native garb, while Joseph is dressed as a Russian settler.  On the roof is a star, and a snowy owl rests nearby, representing an angel.  The animals include a caribou, a walrus, a puffin, a moose, a polar bear, and the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan.  Native plants are represented by the spruce tree, the fuchsia fireweed, which grows profusely along Alaskan roadways, and the Alaskan state flower, the forget-me-not.  A totem pole completes the scene.

The Resurrection Chapel is decorated with colorful mosaics, portraying the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.

mosaic
mosaic

Outside, we take some parting shots of the Cathedral and then drink coffee and tea in the gift-shop-turned-cafe, amidst steam, hissing and the chatter of other pilgrims.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
St. Albans
St. Albans
me at the Cathedral
me at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral

The Bishop’s Garden is modeled on a medieval walled garden and features herb and rose beds.

Cathedral garden
Cathedral garden

On the way home from our visit, we stop at the Lebanese Taverna market, where we eat a smorgasbord of kibbeh, sambousick, fatayer cheese, arnabeet, loubieh, and fattoush. I pick up a few stocking stuffers at the market here.

Back home, after wrapping our remaining presents and preparing the chicken apple sausages for tomorrow’s Christmas brunch, we meet my sister-in-law Barbara and a friend of hers at Luciano Italian Restaurant and pizzeria for Christmas Eve dinner.

Though we’ve never done this in Christmases past, we attend my sister-in-law’s 8:00 church service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, where she sings in the choir.  We hear a wonderful and moving rendition of “Ave Maria” that brings tears to my eyes.

We spend some time at Barbara’s house for gift exchange and good cheer, and then return home, where we bid goodnight to our Christmas tree. 🙂

our Christmas tree
our Christmas tree

In the morning, in our typical Christmas fashion, we open our gifts one by one, and we have the same Christmas brunch I got from a 1992 issue of Martha Stewart Living and have been making for nearly 25 years (except the years I was abroad, when my family made the same brunch): Breakfast Frittata, Chicken Apple Sausages, Cheese Grit casserole, pancakes with cranberry maple compote, mimosas, and Barbara’s addition of a fruit salad with an orange sauce.

A good but quiet Christmas all around.

I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year in 2017! 🙂

the december cocktail hour – the fall into winter edition

Monday, December 19:  Welcome to our December happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink.  We’ll be indoors today because we’re in the midst of a cold spell now, 29 Fahrenheit (-2C).  Would you care for an Appletini, a dirty martini, a glass of Scotch or amaretto?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities (or at least Mike is — he’s become quite adept at whipping up delicious dirty martinis).  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  I’d love to hear about your holiday season.  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?  Have you had any special family gatherings?  How was your Thanksgiving?  Are you ready for Christmas?  Are you preparing resolutions for the New Year?

I’m hoping against all odds that 2017 will be a better year than 2016, which I found to be pretty miserable overall.  That being said, there were some bright spots sprinkled here and there.

Fall colors in our front yard
Fall colors in our front yard

Maybe you noticed, or maybe you didn’t, but I missed my November cocktail hour.  I was much too depressed after our election on November 8.  I could barely bring myself to get out of bed, much less write anything.  More about that later.

Before the election, and even after (it seems from now on I’ll see the world as BEFORE and AFTER that doomed day), Mike and I went out for numerous happy hours.  I like to break up the monotony of the work week with a happy hour on Wednesdays or Thursdays.  I’m not always successful at convincing him to do this, but when we do, we’re always glad to have made the effort.

We went out for a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant, Zeffirelli in Herndon, for our 28th anniversary.  As you know from other posts I’ve done, we also went to West Virginia for a combination birthday/anniversary trip.

I’ve been to a lot of movies over the last couple of months, including: Sully, Denial, Girl on the Train, the Brazilian movie Aquarius, MoonlightArrival and Manchester by the Sea.  I enjoyed most of them, but I lately I get impatient — movies seem too slow-moving these days.  The exception in this bunch is Girl on the Train, which is a tense thriller/mystery.  I enjoyed Manchester by the Sea, but it didn’t need to be 2 1/2 hours long!  Mike didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did.  Sully was fabulous as well, with just the right pacing.  I also enjoyed Arrival, though space movies about aliens aren’t usually my thing.

I’ve been reading like crazy.  I had a goal to read 35 books in 2016, and so far I’m up to 34.  I should meet my goal by year-end.  Since our last cocktail hour, I finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (about the Armenian genocide), A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Ambassador’s Wife by Jennifer Steil, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (I’ve been reading this for about 2 years!), The Artist’s Way at Work (another two-year project)Girls in the Grass (a book of short stories I started several years ago) by Melanie Rae Thon, and finally Love in a Torn Land: Joanna of Kurdistan by Jean Sasson. Of these, I have to say my favorite was The Ambassador’s Wife. I also enjoyed A Man Called Ove and The Girl on the Train.

We went to see Lillian Hellman’s play, The Little Foxes, at the Kreeger at Arena Stage Theater in downtown D.C., eating dinner beforehand at our favorite Indian restaurant, Masala Art.  This was a sort of birthday celebration, as it was the Sunday (October 23) before my Tuesday birthday.  The play was a good one; I’d read the play long ago, when I’d been on a Lillian Hellman kick.  In it,  Southern aristocrat Regina Hubbard Giddens struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th-century society where a father considered only sons as legal heirs.

Adam and Sarah called me to wish me a happy birthday on the 25th, but I mysteriously didn’t hear from Alex.  It turned out he was failing a class at VCU and didn’t want to admit to it, so he simply avoided me.  I was hurt, as you can imagine, and when I went to celebrate my birthday with Sarah in Richmond on October 28, I didn’t see Alex at all.  Sarah and I had a nice visit though, having lunch at The Daily (lettuce wraps and seared red tuna salad), dinner at Bamboo Cafe, and then a visit to the farmer’s market near her house on Saturday morning.

Mike and I went to West Virginia on the weekend of November 4-6.  On the Monday following our weekend, I worked for the Clinton campaign doing “Get out the vote” calls.  On Tuesday evening, while votes were being counted, we went to Coyote Grill, a Mexican restaurant (in protest of the “Build that Wall” slogan during the campaign).   We also went to see A Man Called Ove.  Mainly we were trying to distract ourselves while we waited for the votes to come in.  Once we returned home, we watched in shock and bewilderment as our nation elected the most pompous, narcissistic, and hateful man imaginable. I was so shocked and upset the next day, I could barely function.  It seems we now have a kakistocracy: government by the worst elements of society, government by the least qualified or unprincipled citizens. I can hardly look at my fellow Americans, at least the 62 million of them that voted for that man.  Since the election, our CIA and FBI agree that Russia influenced our election in favor of Trump.  Great!

On our anniversary day, Sunday, November 13, Mike suggested we go downtown to visit the National Museum of the American Indian.  I know he was trying to cheer me up; he always manages to have a bright outlook even when things look bleak. We went to the museum, which would have been fascinating on any other day, but I had a hard time staying focused.  By that time, it was five days after the election, but I still felt darkness enveloping me.  I still do now, and with the ongoing news about our President-elect’s continuing hate-filled rallies, his political appointments, his ridiculous tweets, and his conflicts of interests, it’s hard to find much hope for our country and today’s world.

The American Indian Museum
National Museum of the American Indian
outside the American Indian Museum
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
pond outside the National Museum of the American Indian
pond outside the National Museum of the American Indian

After leaving the museum, we walked to Union Station, passing the Capitol building.  There, I could see the grandstands being erected for the inauguration on January 20.  That depressed me so much that all I wanted to do was sit somewhere and have a drink.  I felt the hopelessness that Thoreau described:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

Union Station
Union Station

Sadly, we were a long way from any good place to eat, so we had no choice but to walk quite a distance.  Usually I don’t mind a walk, but on that day, every step seemed a burden.  We plodded and plodded, block after block.  Finally, we settled ourselves in Oyamel, where we had some Spanish tapas and a glass of wine.  At this point, I didn’t care if I slept the rest of the day.  Honestly, I didn’t care if I slept through the next four years.  Let’s hope it’s only four, or that we’re not all living under a nightmare where our civil liberties are dismantled, or worse yet, we’re all dead from WWIII.

BB&T bank in D.C.
BB&T bank in D.C.

The only relief from our despair over the election is offered by our fabulous comedians, especially The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, the Alec Baldwin impersonations of Trump on Saturday Night Live, and John Oliver.  Thank goodness for those who can make us laugh in the aftermath of this disaster.

I’ve been trying to pull myself out of my funk.  As I swore I would, I started applying to work abroad on November 9.  Sadly, I haven’t had any luck finding a job.  I even had a Skype interview with the American University of Kurdistan.  The two interviewers seemed suspiciously jaded about the students; they described them as lazy, entitled, and unmotivated.  They said the administration wasn’t all that helpful in helping teachers get their accommodation organized or getting their visas.  I tossed and turned all night thinking I’d turn them down if they offered me a job.  I got a rejection letter the next morning.  Oh well, I guess that wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve been figuring out how I will live here in the U.S. if I can’t get a job abroad.  I have determined that I will never watch that man on television (unless in parodies or impersonations!).  I will turn the channel whenever he comes on.  I’ll continue to read trustworthy and FACTUAL journalism, such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other high quality publications in order to stay informed.  I will support progressive groups and I will speak up when I see people being mistreated.

We went to see the appropriately titled one-woman play “The Year of Magical Thinking,” with Kathleen Turner playing the role of Joan Didion, on November 19.  It gave me a lot of food for thought about my personal “year of magical thinking,” as I tried during 2016 to convince myself that Americans were kinder, more open-minded and progressive than what I was seeing right before my eyes — on Facebook, on news coverage of Trump rallies, etc. Over the months leading up to the election, I deleted a bunch of people from my Facebook “friends” list (mostly acquaintances but some good friends), mostly people who went to my high school in southern Virginia and who are ultra-conservative. At this point in time, I feel like I will never return to my hometown again.  Thank goodness that northern Virginia (basically the suburbs of Washington, D.C.), where I live, pushed the entire Virginia vote to Clinton, although it was by an uncomfortably close margin.  I ultimately decided on November 20 to get off Facebook altogether, at least until January 1.  I was getting way too upset reading all the fake news and the hate-filled rhetoric swirling around the election.  I honestly haven’t missed being on it, although I do miss all my friends from abroad, and the progressives who are my friends.  Staying away from social media other than Instagram, my travel inspiration, has helped my mental health considerably.

On Thanksgiving, it was hard to feel a sense of gratitude, but having family around did cheer me up somewhat.  Alex and Sarah came, as well as Mike’s sister, so we had a small group.  It ended up being a nice day.  The next day, Sarah and I went to see Nocturnal Animals, and then went for sushi, sake and Sapporo at Yoko Japanese restaurant.  Mike and Alex went for a hike in the mountains, but I wanted to have some mother/daughter time with Sarah.

I finished up my Memoir Writing class on November 14 and I was inspired to write 7 chapters.  I also got a lot of positive feedback, which was encouraging.  I’m considering taking another class in the spring.  Having deadlines encourages me to get words on paper.

In my ongoing attempts to keep fit, I’ve been doing an old exercise video from the 1980s, The Firm, which is aerobics with weights.  I do that on rainy or other bad weather days.  It’s funny to watch the people in the video with their 1980s haircuts.  I’ve done that video so much over the years that I have it all practically memorized and can repeat verbatim the instructor’s directions.

I gave up the Pilates class that I started in early fall.  No matter how many times I try yoga or Pilates, or any other slow-moving or stationary exercise, I get bored out of my mind and am looking at the clock the whole time.  Mike says I am hopelessly impatient, and he’s right.  I am.  I doubt I’m going to change at this point in my life. 🙂

I’ve also been continuing my 3-mile walks, varying my routes here and there. I’ve enhanced my daily walks considerably by listening to audiobooks.  Since our last cocktail hour, I’ve listened to: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and finally All the Breaking Waves by Kerry Lonsdale.  Though they’ve all been good, I especially loved Circling the Sun and The Glass Castle.  You can read any of my reviews on Goodreads by following the link on my sidebar.

Here are a few views from one of my walks around Lake Newport in Reston.

grasses around Lake Newport
grasses around Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport

We’ve been watching a lot of TV series and movies on DVD or Netflix, in addition to our movie theater outings.  I’d already seen Downton Abbey, but Mike hadn’t, so we’re watching that together.  I love it as much the second time as I did the first! We’re also watching the first season of True Detective, which I saw in China but Mike hadn’t seen. Others we’re watching include Madam Secretary, Longmire, Stranger Things, The Night Manager, and Dicte (Danish). We finished and LOVED Rita (Danish) and Borgen (Danish); we’ve also watched Lovesick, Love, Rules of Engagement, Top of the Lake, Island at War, and Indian Summers. Ones I didn’t care much for include: Olive Kitteridge and Mildred Pierce (I hated the awful daughter!)

As for movies we’ve watched at home, the good ones include: Remembrance, The African Doctor, The Words, Night Train to Lisbon, and Besieged.  The ones I didn’t care much for: Money Monster and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

On Dec 7-8, I went to Richmond, this time to visit Alex and to see his new apartment.  He moved in last August, but I hadn’t had a chance to see his new abode since he moved in. After enjoying a glass of wine in his cold apartment (he hadn’t had the gas turned on yet), Alex and I went to Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s first urban cidery in Scott’s Addition.  Sarah joined us.  Then we all met Alex’s girlfriend Ariana at Tarrant’s Cafe for dinner.  There, we had quite a boisterous conversation about a recent incident in Richmond that involved the restaurant Balliceaux.  Apparently one of the employees wore blackface to a Halloween party hosted at the restaurant with the intention of “trying to be offensive” and people flooded the restaurant’s social media pages with angry messages. Alex had wanted to try the restaurant this evening, but Sarah refused, saying people were boycotting it.  We got into a big discussion about whether the business should be boycotted over an employee’s behavior.  Sarah and I felt, especially in our current political climate, that boycotting is the appropriate response.  We must reject such behavior and boycotting a business that turns a blind eye is the perfect response.  Alex disagreed that the business should have to suffer.  Since the incident, which caused a lot of outrage in Richmond, the restaurant apologized, and the employee apologized and resigned.  (You can read more about the incident here: WRIC News: Blackface costume sparks controversy and Richmond music promoter resigns after backlash for blackface Halloween costume, calls incident ‘my worst nightmare’).

All in all, we had quite a lively evening!

Alex doesn’t have a place for me to sleep, so I booked an Airbnb house in Church Hill.  It was a bit of a weird experience because I thought the owner would be there and I kept looking to meet him.  He did come in late in the evening; somehow I heard but didn’t see him.  My “bedroom” had only a screen separating the bed from the hallway – there was no door to close – so it was a little disconcerting.  Though the house and the neighborhood were really nice, I’m not so sure I would stay there again.  In the morning, I took a walk around the neighborhood and took this picture looking down at an old Lucky Strike factory before my phone battery died.

Looking to the James River from Church Hill
Looking to the James River from Church Hill

Last Wednesday, December 14, Mike and I met at Tyson’s Corner for another happy hour at Earls Kitchen and Bar.  We’d never been there before. You all know how much I love trying out new places. 🙂 We enjoyed some craft beers and I had mushroom soup (with sherry) and Baja Fish Tacos: two corn tortillas with crispy battered cod, jalapeno pineapple salsa, cabbage slaw and avocado crema.  Mike had Pork Carnitas Tacos: two tacos filled with marinated slow cooked pork with pico de gallo, in corn tortillas.  Yum!!

The open area they’ve added to the mall since I went abroad has an ice rink and a festive Christmas tree.

I know I shouldn’t wait two months between cocktail hours because I have so much catching up to do that I talk too much.  Please, do share what you’ve been up to!  I’ll shut up now. I sure hope you have happier news and a better outlook than I have. 🙂

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas and happy new Year!!

Happy holidays and cheers to you all!
Happy holidays and cheers to you all!

I’m really hoping for a better year in 2017.  I hope the best for all of you too! 🙂

the october cocktail hour: festivals, reunions, and farm tours, along with the more mundane things in life :-)

Saturday, October 15: Welcome to our October happy hour! Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. It’s the perfect day to sit out on our screened-in porch.  Would you care for a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer), an Appletini, a dirty martini, or a Cosmos?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

Please, do share what’s been going on with you.  I’d love to hear about the end of your summer and your early fall.  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?

Admittedly, I’ve been imbibing on whatever alcoholic drink I can find to drown out the sorrows and frustrations of this election season.  I’ve been spending way too much time reading everything that comes along in the news and on Facebook about the election, including keeping tabs on the various polls.  I have been trying to post only intelligent political articles on my Facebook page, without sinking to the level of the trolls and haters.  All my Facebook friends are perfectly clear on who my candidate of choice is and ISN’T.  As I don’t care to infect my blog with U.S. politics, I will not discuss my preferences here, other than to say I’ve been evaluating my friendships in light of all that I’m seeing and hearing.  In addition, though I’ve never been much of a political person, for the first time in my life I’ve actually donated money and volunteered to work the phone bank during a political campaign.  Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely despise making cold calls of any kind, so this is a big step for me, and one of which I’m quite proud. I cannot stand by idly and not participate when so much is at stake.

I’m not going to discuss the campaign any more except for some comments I’ll make toward the end of this post regarding friendships.  Enough said.

I totally missed posting a September cocktail hour because in the middle of September I organized a big party/family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday.  The only person who didn’t show up was my youngest son, Adam, who is trying to settle in and carve a life out for himself in Maui.

Soon after we returned from Iceland at the end of August, we went with my sister-in-law, my son Alex and his girlfriend Ariana to Cirque de Soleil at Tyson’s Corner.  It was a spectacular show titled Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, with fantastic costumes, acrobatics and amazing feats.  What a way to immerse ourselves back home after our fabulous trip abroad.

You can read about our Iceland trip on my blog about my European travels: in search of a thousand cafés.

Cirque de Soleil - Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque de Soleil – Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities

It was hard to return from Iceland’s cool and sometimes frigid weather to the heat and humidity in Virginia. I always prefer cold weather to hot, so I was glad for the escape.  But.  Maybe it was the sudden change from sweltering to cold and then back to hot that caused Mike and I to both get sick on the trip, that and the tendency to go, go, go while on vacation.  When we returned home, Mike got better while I got worse.  I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and I suffered through three weeks of pure misery.  When I felt slightly better, I walked my daily three miles in the heat, sweated profusely, then got chilled; after these attempts at my normal routine, I was wiped out for days.  I repeated this several times, thinking I was better, but then was knocked back down.  Finally, I surrendered to the illness, rested a lot, drank fluids and pampered myself.  Finally, by mid-September, I was fine again.  What misery that was!

On September 4, Mike and I want to the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.  Mike was particularly interested in watching the Border Collie sheep herding, but it turned out there was only one Border Collie and he was herding goats.  Apparently this Border Collie costs $7,000!  He was very keen to round-up the goats when his owner gave the signal.  We watched a parade, ate haggis (which I’d never had) and Scotch eggs, and checked out the shiny British cars.

We stopped at the Living History exhibit, where a man taught us a bit about Scottish history.

Living history
Living history
Scottish paraade
Scottish paraade
Scottish parade
Scottish parade

The week before the Scottish Festival, we had a faux painter paint our dining room (from a deep red to a Sherwin Williams Whitetail and Intricate Ivory using a troweling process); the week after, she did our foyer (using a stippling process with a Sherwin Williams Cooled Blue, Rivulet , and Thermal Spring glaze mixture).  I am pleased with the results in both areas. 🙂

It’s been a long year of renovations, painting, landscaping, and KonMari-ing, and our house feels like new now.  We’re exhausted by the whole process and are now ready to relax for a good long while.  We still have to renovate our upstairs bathrooms, but I won’t be ready to dive into that project for a long time.

Here’s our stippled foyer.  The three paintings to the right were ones I picked up at the Longji Rice Terraces in China and had framed.

Foyer with Chinese paintings
Foyer with Chinese paintings

I planned a big family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday on the weekend of September 17.  My sister from California and my brother from New Jersey came, as well as my sister and her whole family from Maryland.  Sarah came for part of the time and Alex and his girlfriend were also here.  Adam was the only one missing, sadly.  We shared a lot of food and drinks and infectious laughs, especially playing Apples-to-Apples and a rip-roaring game of Charades.  My siblings and I have always been game players, so it was great fun for all of us to be together and let loose with some crazy competitions.

Sadly, I am unable to post pictures of our whole family together as my sister from California does not want her picture posted, and she of course was in many of them. 😦

On September 24, I went to Richmond to attend a day-long farm tour with my daughter.  Sarah wrote a great blog about it: Where Farmers Grow.  I hope you’ll check it out.  She’s a fantastic writer. 🙂

We started our tour at Victory Farms.

Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms

I didn’t know okra plants had such pretty flowers.

After touring three other gardens, we ended up back at Victory Farms, where we enjoyed a feast of small plates prepared by Richmond chefs.

Back at Victory Gardens
Back at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens

Sarah’s friend Colin, marketing director of Ellwood Thompson’s, a locally-owned and independently operated natural food market, got us the tickets for this event.

Sarah and Colin
Sarah and Colin
Sarah and me
Sarah and me

Shalom Farms, our next stop on the tour, partners with community organizations and existing nutrition programs to meet the needs of families and children. Among others, their partners include after-school programs, food banks, and community kitchens. In 2015 over 200,000 servings of Shalom Farms produce was distributed through local partnerships to meet the growing needs of nutrition programs in the greater Richmond area.

We both found the work at this farm inspirational.

Shalom Farms
Shalom Farms

Shalom, a 6-acre sustainable farm at Westview on the James in Goochland, Virginia, is an agricultural learning lab for visitors and volunteers of all backgrounds. In 2014, over 4,400 volunteers and visitors gained hands-on education and experience, helping the grow over 250,000 servings of fresh produce, according to their website.

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery , our third stop, supplies its brewery operations with on-site hop, barley, rosemary, hay and pumpkin farming.  We were able to enjoy a beer here and listen to some good classic rock-n-roll.

Tricycle Gardens is an urban garden whose mission is to grow healthy food, healthy communities and a healthy local food system. Their aim is to restore urban ecologies and create beautiful public spaces throughout Richmond, Virginia.

Tricycle Gardens
Tricycle Gardens

I made the mistake of standing in line at the porta-potty near the compost bins, where I was devoured by blood-sucking mosquitoes.  I must have been bitten at least 20 times, and it made the rest of my time at this garden miserable!

On September 30, Mike and I went into D.C., which we don’t do often, to China Chilcano for dinner, followed by a play at the Woolly Mammoth.

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

me at China Chilcano
me at China Chilcano

At China Chilcano, known for its union of Peruvian Criollo, Chinese Chifa and Japanese Nikkei, we sampled some Dorado Dim Sum (pork, shrimp, jicama, shiitake mushroom, peanut topped with golden egg), Bok Choy as Sillao (Baby bok choy, shiitake mushroom, oyster sauce), and Chupe de Cameron (Pacific wild shrimp soup with fresh cheese, choclo, rice, potato, poached egg).  For dessert we enjoyed Suspiro Limeña (Sweetened condensed milk custard topped with soft and crunchy meringue, passion fruit).

At the Woolly Mammoth, we saw another avant-garde play: Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops.  Woolly Mammoth is always on the cutting edge with their performances, and this one is no different.  In Jen Silverman’s absurdist romantic comedy, five different women named Betty collide at the intersection of anger, sex, and the “thea-tah,” according to the playbill.  I enjoy it, but am always a little taken aback by the radical ideas in these plays.

Wooly Mammoth
Wooly Mammoth

Before the play, we sat and enjoyed a glass of wine, which was included in the price of our theater ticket.  Mike was awfully blue and I awfully pink. 🙂

We haven’t done much else these two months other than taking our trip to Iceland and recovering from said trip.  I have watched a number of good movies, notably Hell or High Water, in which a divorced father (Chris Pine) and his ex-con older brother (Toby Howard) resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. I enjoyed this movie and felt some satisfaction at the brothers’ attempts to get back at the bank that tried to cheat their family out of its inheritance.

I also enjoyed the atmospheric The Light Between Oceans, in which a lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.  I went to see this with my sister from California as she stayed an extra two days after the rest of the family left the reunion.  After the movie, we enjoyed sushi and Sapporo and hot sake with Mike at Arigato.

One day last week, I went to see The Queen of Katwe, in which a Ugandan girl’s poverty-stricken life becomes more promising after she is introduced to the game of chess, for which she has great aptitude. I love this movie, as I always love movies that take place in foreign and exotic locales and feature an underdog rising up to meet success.

As for books, I have read some captivating books.  Here’s what I’ve read since we last met for a cocktail hour: Glaciers; And the Mountains Echoed; The Disappeared; 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I listened to my first ever audiobook, Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (read by Hope Davis).  I’ve never listened to an audiobook because I can be a terrible listener, with my mind always wandering off.  But, despite a few wandering thoughts where I lost the thread of the story, I was engrossed in this book and LOVED IT!! I’m now sold on audiobooks.  I’m looking forward to listening to a lot more during my daily 3 mile walks.

I’ve now added another exercise to my walks, a Tuesday-Thursday Pilates class.  I’ve never done Pilates, but I’ve done Yoga.  Both of them I find excruciatingly boring.  But I’ve decided I like Pilates better and I think I’m getting stronger as a result of it.

In addition to Pilates, I’m taking a Memoir class at the Reston Community Center on Monday mornings.  The class is for 55+ people — that includes me!  I’m finally beginning to write a memoir; I’ve dreamed of doing this for a long time; because of the weekly deadlines, I now have four chapters under my belt. I’m getting positive feedback on it too, which encourages me to go on.  Because of this class, I’m reading Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach.  I’ve always been told that if you want to write in a certain genre, you should read a lot in that genre, so in that vein, I read and enjoyed immensely Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son.

Of all the books I’ve read, I think I enjoyed The Disappeared the most.  Here’s the review I wrote about it on Goodreads: This book tells the poignant and tragic story of a young Cambodian man who was forced to leave his country during the Khmer Rouge reign and genocide, and who, while in exile in Montreal, meets and falls in love with a 16-year-old Canadian girl. Their love is beautifully and poetically rendered, and is physical and spiritual at the same time. The story is written in 2nd person, an unusual point of view. When the borders of Cambodia open again, Serey, the Cambodian student and musician, feels compelled to return to his country to search for his family. It is over a decade before his lover, Anne Greves, is able to travel to Cambodia in search of him, and when she finds him, they live together with the dark cloud of the country’s genocide hanging over them and reverberating through their lives. Serey is secretive about his days and when Anne comes to find out he is working for the opposition, she rebels against his secrecy and fears for his life. Beautifully rendered, this book reminds us of sweeping tragedies in countries where peasants or the disenfranchised take up arms and kill off intellectuals and musicians and teachers. Like China’s Cultural Revolution, and like the Nazi extermination of the Jews, it is a dark and grim reminder of the horrible things human beings do to each other when embraced with hatred and fear.

I guess this book struck home with me because of the political atmosphere in our country during this 2016 election.

In regards to that, I’ve been looking closely at and evaluating my friendships.  I read a great article posted by my favorite philosopher, Alain de Botton, on Facebook, from The Book of Life: What is the Purpose of Friendship?

The article starts with: “Friendship should be one of the high points of existence, and yet it’s also the most routinely disappointing reality.”  And then it goes on to say that relationships have a purpose which are boiled down to the following: networking, reassurance, fun, clarifying our minds, and holding on to the past.  I know I can look at most of my friendships and say they have one of these purposes.  They say friends come into our lives for a reason, or a season.

I truly wonder if we can hold on to friends forever.  Maybe I lived in a fantasy world, but I used to believe I could.  Sometimes I still like to believe it is possible.  But how can I really be friends with people who don’t share my basic values of inclusiveness and love for all of mankind; how can I be friends with people who harshly judge and even condemn those who are a different race, religion, or sex than us? How can I be friends with those who condone ugliness and hatred?

I’m beginning to think that I agree with the final paragraph in this article: “We should dare to be a little ruthless. Culling acquaintances isn’t a sign that we have lost belief in friendship. It’s evidence that we are getting clearer and more demanding about what a friendship could be.”  That’s where I am now.

It’s been the nastiest time I’ve ever lived through in the history of my country.

So, on that note, I leave you to go forward into this great month of November, when the election will be upon us, and to make decisions with good conscience. What we decide in November will be of grave consequence to the future of our country.

Cheers!!

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! 🙂