cocktail hour between the holidays: the early december edition

Sunday, December 6:  So much for good intentions!  I planned to start posting my cocktail hour more regularly after I wrote the last one on December 1, but here I am only getting to it a month later.  Welcome to our between-the-holidays cocktail hour.  Forget the patio; we are now moving indoors where it’s nice and warm.  Mike tells me he’d rather not entertain until we’ve finished our house renovation, but as we are just getting ready to sign a contract with a contractor this week, that wouldn’t be till the spring.  I can’t wait that long to have a gathering with my blogging friends!

Please, come in and make yourself comfortable.  I’ve made some hot apple cider, and I also can make you can egg nog drink, alcoholic or not, as you wish.  Lots of great wines too and some craft beers.

I’ve been trying to keep up with you on your blogs, but in case I missed anything, I’d love to hear how you’re preparing for the holiday festivities.  Have you put up your Christmas tree yet?  Decorated your house for the holidays?  For my American friends: did you have a nice Thanksgiving? Have you been outside exploring nature?  Have you seen any holiday light shows or been to any holiday markets?  Have you had your first snow of the season?  Have you seen any good movies or read any good books?  Have you been to any plays or concerts?  Have you completed any house projects?

We just picked up our Christmas tree this afternoon, and it’s now sitting in a bucket of water until we can decorate it sometime this week.  Mike put the wreaths on the windows and a spotlight near the front door which illuminates the wreaths. Other than that, I haven’t done anything holiday-related other than to buy myself some Christmas presents, notably a new Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and a telephoto lens.  I won’t be opening it until Christmas, but it’s already been delivered. 🙂

Mike and I went on a beautiful hike on Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River on Sunday, November 8, which I wrote about here: a november rock scramble on billy goat trail.  The following weekend, we went to Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Sharpsburg, Maryland, where we stayed in a B&B, walked all around Antietam Battlefield, and had a wonderful time celebrating our anniversary.  More about that later. 🙂

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving on November 26 at my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland. My sister Stephanie from California and my brother Rob from New Jersey couldn’t make it, but my dad and stepmother were there, as well as my sister Joan, her husband Steve and my nephew Seth.  Sadly my niece Kelsey, who is now married to Dave, had to go to Dave’s house for the holiday, so she wasn’t there.  However, in a rare alignment of the stars, all three of my children were in attendance.  It was a wonderful day.

The table's all set
The table’s all set

We drove 2 1/2 hours to Salisbury and when we arrived, my sister was busy cooking.  The table was already set.  We visited and hung out while the turkey cooked, drinking wine and eating cheese & crackers and smoked oysters.

Joan and Steve, perfect hosts as always, made sure everyone was happy and had what they needed.

Joan and Steve
Joan and Steve

Some of the kids and Mike threw a football around in the front yard.  Mike somehow ruptured the tendon on one of his fingers, causing it to dangle at the joint. Later he found out from the doctor it’s called mallet finger. As an ex-football player, he was quite embarrassed about it!

frisbee game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike
football game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike

Mike took a picture of my sister and me out by the pool.

Joan and me
Joan and me

When dinner was finally served, we all loaded up our plates and joined each other around the table for a wonderful meal.

Everyone except me
Everyone except me
Everyone except Steve
Everyone except Steve

After dinner and dessert, we drove back home to northern Virginia.  The next morning Sarah wanted to invite her Aunt Barbara, Mike’s sister, over for brunch.  We had a somewhat healthy version of huevos rancheros and bacon and waffles.

healthy huevos rancheros
healthy huevos rancheros

I finished reading Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan on November 24, which I really enjoyed.  Then I dove right in to The Outside of August, by Joanna Hershon.  I find this story intriguing because it’s told from the point of view of a daughter whose mother, Charlotte, is always escaping to foreign lands.  They can’t really figure out what she does when she goes away, nor why she feels compelled to always leave. The family feels the mother’s absence intensely when she’s absent, and they seem to always be waiting for her return. Of course, I can identify with this story as I can see a lot of myself in that mother.  It’s interesting that it’s told from the children’s point of view, and focuses on how her absence really affects the children.  Of course, in my all-too-real life, I can see the effect my absence has had on my children, although they insist that they are proud of me for following my dreams and for my bravery and adventurous nature.  They say one thing, but their actions often speak differently.  I’m nearly finished the book and am anxious to discover why the mother always felt the urge to escape to exotic lands. Maybe it will tell me something about myself that I don’t know.

I went to see the movie Steve Jobs.  It was an excellent movie and it just so happened Adam was home on the afternoon I was going to see it and asked to come along because of his fascination with Jobs.  Adam is brilliant, and like Steve Jobs, he doesn’t see the need to go to college.  He wants to change the world like Jobs did, but in a way that involves permaculture, organic farming, etc.  At this moment, I can see Adam struggling to find a direction and I wish with all my heart that he’d reconsider going to college.  One thing I’m figuring out is that I cannot force my children to do what they don’t want to do.  It’s a losing battle, and I’m learning to give it up.  I have to step back and give them the reins and see what they can figure out on their own.  But I must admit it’s frustrating to see such a struggle going on with him when he could have it so easy.

Mike and I went to see Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and, another night, we went to see singer Madeleine Peyroux at The Barns at Wold Trap.  I really loved the movie, Spotlight, in which journalists in Boston took on the Catholic Church over the abuse of young children by priests. I was less impressed with Brooklyn, about an Irish immigrant girl.  It seemed tedious and predictable.

I had a goal to send off my novel to 10 agents by the end of November, but I only sent it out to five.  I don’t know why I’m so resistant to putting it out there.  Of course I’m afraid of rejection, but shouldn’t I be more afraid of it sitting on my computer, unseen by anyone, as it has for the last twelve years?  I hope to send it out to at least five more agents by year-end.

I’ve been doing way too much shopping, such a foolish thing to waste my time on.  But I find myself in the house all day and feeling trapped.  I just have to get out and see other human beings.  I’m considering signing up for a real estate course just for something to do where I can get out with other adults. I’ve always enjoyed looking at houses and my banking background will come in handy.  I don’t really want to teach ESL in America as the pay is horrible for the amount of work required.  And now, I don’t want to go abroad because I need to stay home for various reasons, mainly my children, Mike and the upcoming home renovation.

In 2000, I did The Artist’s Way 12-week course.  Doing that inspired me to write short stories and eventually my novel.  Now I’ve decided to undertake The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon.  I just started it on December 2 and it will take 12 weeks.  Who knows what this might open up for me.

I find myself quite depressed about all the violence that is happening in the world, especially related to ISIS: the Paris shootings, the Beirut attacks, the downing of the Russian plane, the recent killing of a governor in a state in Yemen.  The killings in San Bernardino this week by a husband and wife who pledged their support to the caliphate.  Will the violence ever end?  I have that same uneasy feeling I had after September 11, the time period during which my novel takes place.  I wrote the novel at a time when I felt shaken by world events, and those events keep repeating themselves in different forms today.  I don’t begin to know the solution to dealing with the ISIS caliphate and their violence-with-a-vengeance campaign.  I don’t even know if people such as these, people who are so hell-bent on forcing their world view on all of us, can be bargained with in a non-violent way.  Would they be wiling to bend, even a little?

Here in America, we have our own brand of terrorism as well, with disenfranchised and alienated people taking their anger to the extreme by grabbing an easy-to-access weapon and randomly shooting innocent people.  I can see the alienation that is taking over our country and we should work on correcting that deep issue rather than thinking more gun laws will solve what I see as symptoms to the problem.  I am for some gun control, especially for assault-type weapons, but I also would like to know that when I feel threatened in any way, I can go out and get a gun myself to defend my family.

No matter what, I refuse to be afraid.  I will not let these people have power over me, and I hope most Americans will refuse to stand down. I am not going to let someone else dictate to me what my life will be.

Back to more pleasant things.  We haven’t yet had any snow in northern Virginia, but we have had many rainy and dreary days.  I love to go outside to walk every day, if possible, and the weather has put a damper on that.  The weight I lost over the last couple of months is slowly creeping back, so I need to pull back on my eating.  But on these cold and dreary days, comfort foods are calling my name.  We’ve been making a lot of soups, the perfect remedy to cold winter days.

Here’s one view along my favorite 3-mile walk around Lake Audubon.  We’ve had a lot of gray skies like these lately.

Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Lake Audubon
Lake Audubon

SCAN0001We went this past Friday night to Mike’s company’s holiday Christmas party.  I haven’t gotten dressed up like that in years, and I have to say, I really don’t like getting dressed up! I’m always so uncomfortable wearing pantyhose and walking in heels.  I don’t know why on earth someone can’t invent some comfortable pantyhose!

It was a fun gathering with lots of fantastic food, especially crab cakes and a pasta bar and a great salad bar.  It was nice to meet many of Mike’s coworkers. The best thing about the party was this crazy photo booth thing where you got inside and did silly poses and the photo booth printed out a column of pictures.  It was so goofy and loads of fun!

Finally, on Saturday, we went to Richmond where Mike went to the University of Richmond vs. William & Mary football game and I met Sarah and Alex for lunch at Fresca…on Addison.  Later that evening, we picked up Alex and his girlfriend Ariana, and we all went to the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and then had a Cuban dinner at Kuba-Kuba.  I’ll post something about that later.  It was great fun and got us all in the mood for the holidays. 🙂

I know I’ve talked a lot about what’s been going on with me, but I hope you’ll tell me what’s happening with you in the comments.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Hugs to you all and thank you for coming.  Have a holly jolly Christmas and a happy New Year!

 

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thanksgiving revisited

Wednesday, November 27:  Because I’ve been living abroad for the last three years, I’ve been absent from Thanksgiving since 2009.  This Thanksgiving, we try to cobble together as many of our clan as we can for the holiday.

I start by heading south on I-95 early Wednesday morning, along with the 1 million people estimated to be leaving the Washington metropolitan area for the holiday, to pick up my daughter Sarah in Richmond.  What is normally a less than 2 hour drive is nearly three hours because of the mass exodus.  After dropping Sarah’s dog Bagel at home, we go out for some pre-Thanksgiving shopping at Tyson’s Corner Center for her Christmas presents.  There is no way I will shop on Black Friday, and we won’t see her for the Christmas holiday, so it has to be today or never.

Before shopping we enjoy some conveyor belt sushi at Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine at  the mall.

Sarah at Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine
Sarah at Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine

Thursday, November 28: On Thursday morning, after preparing broccoli salad and kale and sun-dried tomato hummus spread, we pile in the car to drive to my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland.

Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Today, we celebrate with most of my sister’s family and most of my family, along with my father and stepmother. My brother, who is now working in retail because of his job loss during the economic downturn, has to work so is unable to come.  With the new Black Friday scenario, which involves stores opening on Thursday evening, he cannot make it to Maryland for the day.  This whole Black Friday scenario, which is now insidiously creeping into Thursday, infuriates me beyond words.  I don’t want to ruin my Thanksgiving by thinking, or writing (aka ranting), about it.

a welcoming table
a welcoming table

My son Adam is in California, just having finished his Permaculture Certification; he is spending the holidays with a fellow permaculturist and his family before he heads to Taos, New Mexico for a two-week Earthship Internship program beginning December 2 and ending on the 13th (Earthship).  When we speak with him, he says he’s really sad to be away for the holiday and really misses us, BUT if he were here with us, he wouldn’t be able to be in California.  After all, no one can be in two places at once.  I fear we are losing him to California, where his deep beliefs about the values of holistic coaching, permaculture, and radically sustainable housing are not as far-fetched as they seem to be on the East Coast.

Dad and Seth
Dad and Seth
Alex
Alex
Joan
Joan

My other sister, Stephanie, who lives outside of Los Angeles, never makes it home for the holidays because she doesn’t care to fly.  I’m sad to not see her, but we all talk by phone and I will see her on January 2, when I go to California for 10 days.  I look forward to that, as I’ve been promising for years to visit her and have never kept my promises. 😦

Shirley and Steve
Shirley and Steve
Seth and Alex
Seth and Alex
Dad, Seth and Lily
Dad, Seth and Lily

Finally, my niece, Kelsey, who just got married this past summer, spends the holiday with her new husband’s family, one of those things that happens once one gets married.

Seth and Joan
Seth and Joan
Alex and Lily
Alex and Lily

Despite the missing family, we have a wonderful holiday feast with Joan, Steve and my nephew Seth; my dad and his wife Shirley; Mike, me, Sarah and Alex; and Lily, Joan’s golden lab.  I am thankful for the laughs that are always a part of my family’s gatherings, for the wonderful feast my sister prepares, for the changing seasons, for the cold brisk November air, for my sister’s amazing hospitality and her warm, welcoming home.  Last but not least, I’m thankful for the traditional dishes of Thanksgiving: turkey, gravy, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and the “slightly chilled red wine” that is my brother-in-law’s forte.  I have missed these foods in my years abroad.

Joan and her feast
Joan and her feast
a reasonable plate, don't you think?
a reasonable plate, don’t you think?
Shirley, Dad, Mike, Joan, Steve, Seth, Alex and Sarah
Shirley, Dad, Mike, Joan, Steve, Seth, Alex and Sarah

I’m thankful that I have 5 days off from teaching, and when I return to work on Monday, I only have two weeks remaining in the semester.  I’m thankful for nearly completing my 5-week Travel Writing course through the Australian Writer’s Centre (which I will finish on Saturday), and for the 8 chapters of my novel I did manage to revise during the November NaNoWriMo challenge.  Sadly, I didn’t finish the novel, but I will try to complete it in December, when I don’t have my teaching obligations.

the clan at Thanksgiving
the clan at Thanksgiving

Most of all, I’m thankful to be back home in America with my family.

me reunited with family :-)
me reunited with family 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!

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