shenandoah national park: hawksbill summit loop

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

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

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

the woods at the start of the hike

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

looking to the sky

I love the rocks covered in moss.

mossy rock

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

funky trees

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

bracket fungus
the path

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

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

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

trees growing on rocks
tree bark & lichens

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

along the path

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

splash of yellow

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

mishmash of trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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. 🙂

a september mini-cocktail hour

Friday, September 22:  Cheers!  It’s time for our early September mini-cocktail hour, but I’m afraid you’ll have to enjoy it without me.  You can lift your glass of sparkling champagne as we fly off into the skies for our holiday in Eastern Europe: Budapest, Sopron, Vienna, Český Krumlov, and finally, Prague. 🙂

I hope September has been good to you so far.  Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, watched any hilarious comedy shows? 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?

I’ve been spending most of my time editing pictures and writing my Japan posts (catbird in japan), and I’m still nowhere close to being done.  I also recently started following a woman named Jill at Jill’s Scene who is doing the Camino de Santiago.  She and her husband started the 800km walk in early September; I have dreams of doing it myself in September of 2018.  I’ve created a spreadsheet and am taking notes about her journey, the weather and challenges she encounters, anything notable about her experience.  I want to be purposeful about it, as I’ve dreamed of doing it for a long time and I need to make that dream a reality.

Valor, Courage, Sacrifice
I’ve been bingeing on spreadsheets.  I used to keep my travel wish list in a yellow spiral notebook which I’ve somehow misplaced.  I always wrote it in pencil and had to keep erasing things and changing them. It was a mess.  In September, I finally created a big spreadsheet called My Travel Wish List. The column headers are: Time of Year (the four seasons), Months, Year, My age, Mike’s age, Region, Countries, Places, What to do there, Who with, Estimated Cost. The spreadsheet covers the places I’ve already been and the places I want to go each season until I’m 90 years old!  The places I’ve already been are highlighted in blue, while the spreadsheet from age 80-90 is highlighted in purple. Frankly, I’d like to believe I’ll still be traveling from age 80-90, but realistically, I know anything can happen.  Besides, two gurus in India once told me I’d only live to 88, so if they’re right, I won’t even be on this earth then!

Sacrifice
At the same time, I’ve been reading guidebooks on Hungary, Austria (Vienna), and Czech Republic.  At first I was just reading the guidebooks and highlighting what I’d like to see. All the places were becoming a jumbled mess in my mind, so I decided to organize my thoughts.  Voila! I created another spreadsheet with our itinerary.  How I love spreadsheets! 🙂

Air Force Memorial
Besides my obsession with spreadsheets, I’ve been reading a most uninspiring book, How to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway.  It’s not very compelling, so I only read a few pages each night; however, it’s not so boring that I’d give up on it altogether.  I went to see the cute movie, Home Again, starring Reese Witherspoon, but I haven’t had time for many other movies this month. Mike and I did watch The Third Man on Netflix.  It’s a 1949 film noir in which pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime. Though it’s all in English, we had to put the subtitles on to understand it!  I admit I fell asleep 3/4 of the way through, but we did continue it the next evening.  It’s supposedly quite the rage in Vienna, where there is even a Third Man Museum.

aviation pioneers
We tried out an Ethiopian restaurant not far from us in Herndon, Enatye Ethiopian Restaurant, which doesn’t have much in the way of atmosphere, but it has excellent food. 🙂  
Mike at Enatye
Ethiopian meal 🥘
Me with my Ethiopian meal

looking up
On Labor Day, Mike and I took a long walk through a neighborhood called Cleveland Park in Washington.  It was a beautiful day, and we ended up having lunch outside at Cafe Deluxe.  I haven’t yet written about it, but I intend to soon after we return home.

Mike on the ground trying to capture the whole memorial
And, as you can see from the pictures in this post, we also visited the Air Force Memorial on September 10, the same day we visited the Pentagon Memorial.  I figure the soaring wing-like shape of this memorial is a perfect symbolic send off for our trip to Europe.

Aviation pioneers
The United States Air Force Memorial honors the service of the men and women of the United States Air Force and its heritage organizations. Three stainless steel spires soar into the sky from the promontory overlooking the Pentagon, reaching heights of 402 feet above sea-level. Granite walls contain inscriptions describing valor and values of aviation pioneers supporting the Air Force and its predecessor military organizations.

Air Force Memorial
The inscriptions for Sacrifice remind us of what brave men sacrificed during World War II to fight the same white supremacist ideas that have reared their ugly heads in today’s world.

One inscription here reads: “We better be prepared to dominate the skies above the surface of the earth or be prepared to be buried beneath it.” ~ General Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz.

From the hill, we can see the Washington Monument and the Pentagon.

Washington Monument
As for our struggles during August, we’ve all recovered.  Adam got over his flu and has flown off to Melbourne, Australia to visit his girlfriend for a month. Alex has started classes in a new major, Business Administration, in the hopes of learning how to start his own business one day. He’s also moved into a new apartment. 
Alex in his new apartment
Alex’s dog Freya

Sarah’s knee is slowly healing and she’s back at work, after being incapacitated for nearly a month. She’s waiting to hear about a job she applied for with a Richmond magazine.  I’m hoping and praying she gets that job. The redness and pain from my spider bite first spread all around my wrist and up through my hand before I started taking an antibiotic.  My joints and neck were aching, but a couple of massages helped that. Mike has been healthy throughout the month.

Aviation pioneers and the Air Force Memorial
I also went to Richmond to see Alex and Sarah and did what many moms would do: treated Sarah to dinner, took both of them to lunch, and took them both shopping for necessities at Target and Trader Joe’s. 🙂

Aviation pioneers
Air Force Memorial
Air Force Memorial
As you read this, I’ll be in flight over who knows where, in route to Frankfurt.  We’ll arrive in Budapest at 9:50 a.m. on Saturday, ready to hit the ground running.  If I do manage to post anything about our trip, you’ll find it here: in search of a thousand cafés.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your September, and I’ll see you back here in early October. 🙂

in memory of september 11, 2001 — a visit to the national 9/11 pentagon memorial

Monday, September 11:  Today, we remember the terrorist acts committed on U.S. soil.  The events of September 11, 2001 are ones that we as a nation can never, and should never, forget. The United States experienced the worst terrorist attack in its history — “the coordinated hijacking of four commercial planes, the planned attack on symbolic targets, and the murder of innocent people” (The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial: 9/11 at the Pentagon).

Numerous memorial services are being held today.  As we visited the Pentagon Memorial not far from our home in northern Virginia on Sunday, we saw officials setting up for a Monday ceremony.  This is the first time we’ve visited this memorial, and we found it very moving.

The Pentagon Memorial
Remembrance
What happened

According to the Pentagon Memorial‘s website, “one-hundred-and-eighty-four lives were lost at the Pentagon that day. They were men, women, and children. They were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. They came from all walks of life: administrative assistants, doctors, educators, flight crew members, military leaders, scientists, and students. They came from towns and cities, large and small, across the United States and around the world. The youngest was only three years old; the oldest, 71.”

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

The day, I remember clearly, was much like today, sunny, cool, and crisp.  Fall was in the air. I remember wishing every day was as beautiful as that day.

I had put my children on the bus for school early.  My two sons were 8 and 10, and my daughter, who lived in Virginia Beach with her father, was 17.  I was 45 years old. I was driving my car down Reston Parkway on my way to a book group at my church, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, when I heard the news about the first plane hitting the tower. Newscasters were debating about the size of the plane; they seemed to think it was a small plane gone astray.  Then I heard the news about the second plane crashing.  I stopped at Barnes and Noble in Reston to get a coffee, and felt palpable tension and anxiety in the air; fear was etched on people’s faces. I called my brother in New York to make sure he was okay. Then I heard the news of a plane hitting the Pentagon.

9:37 a.m.

When I arrived at church, everyone was in a panic over the news.  Our pastor, who was to lead the book group, was frantic because her husband was in the Pentagon and she wasn’t able to reach him.  Thankfully, it turned out he was fine, though we’d find out later that many were not. We watched the TV in horror as the twin towers fells, and as the Pentagon went up in flames.

memorial wreath from the Association of Flight Attendants

The book group was not to be; we all dispersed to our homes in shock.  I sat spellbound in front of the TV the rest of the day, and when my children came home from school, I told them what we knew so far of the horrifying story.  We watched TV together as news channels replayed the planes hitting, buildings collapsing, people jumping off buildings, dust-covered people walking like ghosts through the streets of New York.  It was surreal and terrifying.

According to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial: Design Elements: the Pentagon Memorial serves as a timeline of the victims’ ages, spanning from the youngest victim, three-year-old Dana Falkenberg, who was on board American Airlines Flight 77, to the oldest, John D. Yamnicky, 71, a Navy veteran, also aboard Flight 77 that morning.

3-year-old Dana Falkenberg, the youngest victim

Each Memorial Unit is a cantilevered bench, a lighted pool of flowing water, and a permanent tribute, by name, to each victim, in one single element. Each memorial bench is made of stainless steel and inlaid with smooth granite. Each Memorial Unit contains a pool of water, reflecting light in the evenings onto the bench and surrounding gravel field.

Within the Pentagon Memorial, 85 Crape Myrtles are clustered around the Memorial Units, but are not dedicated to any one victim.

Pentagon Memorial

The Memorial’s stabilized gravel surface is bordered on the western edge by an Age Wall. The Age Wall grows one inch per year in height above the perimeter bench relative to the age lines. As visitors move through the Memorial, the wall gets higher, growing from three inches (the age of Dana Falkenberg) to 71 inches (the age of John D. Yamnicky).

the Pentagon Memorial

Each Memorial Unit is also specifically positioned in the Memorial to distinguish victims who were in the Pentagon from those who were on board American Airlines Flight 77. At the 125 Memorial Units honoring the victims of the Pentagon, visitors see the victim’s name and the Pentagon in the same view. At the Memorial Units honoring the 59 lives lost on Flight 77, the visitor sees the victim’s name and the direction of the plane’s approach in the same view.

The benches facing this direction are the victims of the Pentagon.

Pentagon Memorial
wreath to the AA flight crews
wreath to the AA flight crews on board
Pentagon Memorial
Pentagon Memorial
Pentagon Memorial
Pentagon Memorial
Pentagon Memorial
Pentagon Memorial
Pentagon Memorial

 

 

 

the august cocktail hour: return from japan to a parallel universe

Thursday, August 31:  Cheers and welcome to our August happy hour! Come right in to our screened-in porch, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I can offer you wine or beer.  I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

Luckily the weather since I returned from Japan on August 8 hasn’t been bad.  The first week it was quite hot and humid, not much different from what I experienced in Japan.  But on Wednesday, the 23rd, the weather improved and dropped to temperatures of my liking, around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23C). This is perfect weather; my mood lifts considerably when I can feel a hint of fall in the air. 🙂

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How have you been since I’ve been gone?  What kind of music are you listening to?  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?  Have you gone on a holiday or had a stay-cation?

Many of you haven’t followed my trip to Japan, so maybe you don’t know that I spent the last 4 months (1 semester) teaching at Aoyama Gakuin University – Sagamihara campus with Westgate Corporation.  I taught 2nd year university students majoring in Global Studies and Collaboration who were preparing for a study abroad in Thailand or Malaysia.  I worked 9-hour days five days a week, and every weekend I went out exploring.  I believe I had about two days of rest the whole time I was there!  If you like, you can check out my time in Japan here: catbird in japan.  I still haven’t finished writing about my time there, but more posts will follow, slowly, slowly….

Upon my return, I also found my son Adam has boomeranged back home from Hawaii and has settled into our basement.  One of our agreements since he returned home is that he will hold a job, which he has done so far.  He’s been working hard, so hard in fact that he ended up with some kind of flu over the last week.  He seems to be doing well overall, and I’m happy to have him stay temporarily as long as he’s working.  He has been saving money to take a trip to Australia to see his Australian girlfriend Maddy, who he met in Hawaii. He’ll be gone for nearly a month beginning September 20. On my second night back from Japan, he and I enjoyed a nice dinner together at the Whole Foods Seafood Bar.

the seafood bar at Whole Foods

Things have felt strange since I returned. I feel that I’ve returned to a parallel universe, and one not much to my liking.  The very weekend after my return, I watched on TV a despicable white supremacy march in Charlottesville, about two hours from where I live in northern Virginia; in shock, I then had to listen to our “president” fanning the flames of hatred and arguing that there is moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and the “alt-left,” a made-up term lumping counter-protestors and Antifa, or anti-fascists, into one big boat. Granted, there should be no violence in protests, but the white supremacists marching openly with weapons in one of the most peaceful college towns in our state was a frightening display and one that almost begs violence from counter-protestors.  I am disheartened by what our country is coming to, and it is hard to be back after being in a culture where people greet each other with respect and bow to each other in nearly every interaction!

I didn’t watch any movies the whole time I was in Japan (I didn’t even know where any movie theaters were, except in downtown Tokyo).  In an effort to catch up, I have gone to several movies since I returned: The Big Sick and The Glass Castle, both of which I enjoyed. While I was in Japan, I watched three full seasons of The Good Wife, which I was totally hooked on.

The first weekend I was home, I took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock.  In Japan, nighttime was daytime here, and daytime was nighttime here, so no wonder my body is confused.  I haven’t gotten much of anything done. As a matter of fact, I feel somewhat paralyzed with indecision.  I never had a spare minute in Japan, and now I seem to have too much time on my hands.  I don’t know how to focus my attention with so much time.  I think it will take me a while to become acclimated to this parallel universe.

On Wednesday morning, August 16, I found out my daughter Sarah had taken a fall the evening before while running on a muddy path in the woods.  She cut her knee wide open. She didn’t have her phone with her and had to walk with an open gaping wound until she found someone.  Using a stranger’s phone, she called for an ambulance and was admitted to the emergency room where she had to have 25 stitches across her knee. She’s been immobilized ever since, as the cut was so deep it still hasn’t healed.  As a waitress/bartender, she’s losing valuable work time; I plan to visit her soon, but she’s been putting me off until she feels a little better. I’ve been constantly worried about her, as a mother’s work as chief worrier is never over.

Adam has been taking a course about podcasts and posted his first podcast on the same day I heard about Sarah, so there was a bit of good news as he’s wanted to do this for some time.

On August 19, after I started to feel more like a human being, Mike and I went out to see the movie Wind River, which I enjoyed, and had dinner at Coyote Grill, where I had my favorite chili rellenos.

me at Coyote Grill
chili rellenos at Coyote Grill

On Monday, August 21, I went at 2:00 to Kalypso’s at Lake Anne to watch the partial solar eclipse at 2:40 pm.  It was a festive atmosphere, with people enjoying the beautiful day outdoors, drinking wine, wearing the funny eclipse glasses.  I had seen a total eclipse in 1970 in southern Virginia, so I didn’t feel the need to travel a long distance to see the total eclipse, but Adam drove 10 hours to Tennessee, where he loved seeing a total eclipse for the first time in his life.

Mike and I are planning a holiday from September 22-October 7 to Budapest, Sopron, Vienna, Český Krumlov, and Prague.  We spent many days this month plotting out our trip and making all our reservations.  I can’t wait to go!  In preparation, I’ve been reading guidebooks on Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic.

To get in the mindset for Prague I just finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.  I loved it! Here’s my short review from Goodreads: I really enjoyed this book that takes place in Prague before and during the Russian occupation. Besides being a love story, it also ties in the political realities of living under an oppressive occupying regime. Tomas, a successful surgeon at the beginning of the occupation, meets and falls in love with Tereza, who is like a child brought to him by a series of odd circumstances. Despite his love for Tereza, Tomas cannot stop his incorrigible womanizing; neither does he want to stop. In a parallel story, Tomas’s mistress Sabina and her other lover, Franz, a professor with noble ideals, try to work out their own love affair, a mere shadow and weak immitation of her affair with Tomas.

I love how the author wanes philosophical at times without abandoning the story of these characters and their backgrounds, histories that they can never excise and that influence them every day of their lives.

Upon my return from Japan, I found out when I weighed myself for the first time in four months, that I lost 8 pounds while in Japan.  I guess it was a combination of the healthy diet there and all the walking I did. 🙂

My walks while home have been sporadic, and I’m rarely hitting 10,000 steps a day.  In Japan, I met my goal of 10,000 steps every day just by walking 30 minutes each way to work and being on my feet teaching.  On weekends, I often walked 10-20,000 steps.  Needless to say, the pounds have started creeping back on since I’m not exercising as much here.  It’s frustrating because I get bored walking around in circles in the same old places without any destination.  My heart just isn’t into walking, but I will have to get back to my regular exercise routine soon.  Below is a picture of part of a walk around Lake Anne in Reston on August 28.

walk around Lake Anne

Last Monday, after Adam had been working non-stop for days, he came down with a stomach flu and has been sleeping in the basement trying to recover.  He’s been working so hard trying to save money for his trip to Australia, that he’s overdone it and is now paying the price.

Alex came up from Richmond to visit and spent two days here. It was so nice to see him after my time in Japan.  He, his dog Freya, and I took a walk on the Fairfax Cross County Trail on Wednesday, August 30.  As we were walking, I felt a sting on my right wrist and looked down to see something small and black on my wrist. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t tell what it was, but I don’t think it looked like a bee.  I thought it might be a spider.  Anyway, the second I felt the sting, I knocked the creature away with my left hand, and immediately felt a sting on my left middle finger.  Whatever it was, it got me in two places, on both hands, and they hurt like hell!   I watched as the sting areas reddened and spread into a hard and hot raised area up over my hand and around my wrist.  The next day, I went to see the doctor, who advised me to take Benadryl and gave me an antibiotic.

a walk with Alex on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
Fairfax Cross County Trail
Alex, master of calisthenics
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail

It’s been a rough time coming back into this parallel universe, but overall I’m glad to be home with my family, even though we seem to all be falling apart due to nasty falls, stomach bugs, and spider bites.

Please let me know how you’re doing, and what exciting, or even quiet, things you’ve been up to.  I need to get back into a routine where I start following people again on their blogs more regularly; I hope to keep in touch more now that I have plenty of time on my hands. 🙂

fare thee well, for now, virginia {a walk through lewis ginter botanical gardens}

Monday, March 27:  It’s 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning.  My bags are packed and I’ll leave in about an hour for BWI airport.  My journey to Japan is about to begin. 🙂

This is the fourth time I will have lived and worked abroad. I taught Omani and Chinese university students on my two most recent gigs; the first time, I taught Korean elementary students.  I always leave home with excitement and some trepidation, mainly because I never know what the work environment will be like. Each of my experiences has been completely different from the others. I never worry about the travel, because each place offers limitless exploration potential.  I’ve rarely been disappointed in my travels.  I’ve enjoyed each country in which I’ve lived while at the same time struggling to deal with cultural differences. I think every person should live in another country at least once in his or her life; it’s an eye-opening experience to be a foreigner, a minority, in another land.  It gives one an understanding of what immigrants to our country must go through when they embark to the strange world that is America.

I don’t know why, but for this flight they recommend we get to the airport 2 1/2 hours ahead of flight time, which is 7:59 a.m. That seems awfully early to me, but who am I to question these crazy rules?

I made a day trip to Richmond on Monday, March 20, to visit my two kids.  Before meeting them, I went for a walk around one of my favorite gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  I got a glimpse of spring here in Virginia, but now I’ll have to leave it behind. I’ll be immersed in Japan for full-on spring and through the heat of the summer. Tokyo’s weather is much like ours – cool and rainy in the spring, hot and humid in summer.  It will be similar to Korea’s weather as well.

Butterfly bench at Lewis Ginter
Conservatory
tulips and such

Inside the conservatory, I found orchids and tropical plants.

Outside, I found a Japanese tea house and garden, a children’s garden and tree house, and a pond.

to the Japanese tea house
pretty pond
pretties on the path
green and red leaves
Japanese tea house
all abloom
A Celebration of Resourceful Women
Kids Tree House
Kids Tree House
Kids Tree House on Sydnor Lake
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
delicacies
Palms
tulips
tulips
gingerbread house
bunches of flowers
fir
arbor

I hope to see you all in Japan!  You can follow my adventures here:  catbird in japan.

“she never knew a detour she wouldn’t take”

Saturday, March 4:  The last eight weeks have been a whirlwind.  Between teaching two intensive ESL courses at Virginia International University (VIU) and at the same time going through a rigorous application process for an EFL job in Japan, I’ve hardly had a moment to breathe.  I also had a Skype interview with the English Language Fellow Program, after which I was accepted into the applicant pool.  On top of that, I faithfully attended a writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks (although I didn’t get much writing done).

At the beginning of this year, I didn’t have any job prospects and had a year of great possibility stretching out before me. I had ambitious plans to: write my memoir; take writing workshops; get my novel published; look into starting a business organizing creative travel retreats; travel to Croatia, Budapest and Prague; and walk the Camino de Santiago.

Then, my plans were waylaid.  Out of the blue, VIU called me in for an interview, despite the fact I had applied in August of 2016, only to be rejected by them at that time. I accepted the job and committed to their short 7-week session.  Every time I teach as an adjunct in the USA, I become determined not to do it again because of the amount of work vs. the low pay, coupled with no travel opportunities. Teaching at VIU was great, as far as the students and my colleagues, but the amount of work I spent outside of class was ridiculous.  A couple of weeks into the job, I applied for a job in Japan.

Now it seems I’m embarking on a major detour.

This morning, my husband made me laugh so hard I was almost in tears.  He said, speaking in third person as if I weren’t right there with him, “my wife – she never knew a detour she wouldn’t take!”

He knows me all too well.

The simple truth is this: I don’t know when to stop.

This aspect of my personality cannot be denied, and it permeates every part of my life.  For example, during the recruitment process with Japan, the recruiter interviewed me on Skype on a Wednesday in mid-February for 1 1/2 hours.  I thought that would be the end of it, but at the end of the interview, he said he thought I might be a good fit for a particular program.  In order to be considered for it, I needed to prepare two 45-minute lesson plans as soon as possible.  Those were dreaded words, because, perfectionist that I am, I knew that I would spend hours and hours on those two lesson plans.  By gosh, I already had tons of work to do in my classes at VIU.

At the end of the Skype interview, I said to the recruiter, “Could you please let me know if I will no longer be considered for the job before the weekend?  Because I already know I will spend hours on these lesson plans and I’d rather not prepare them if you’ve already decided against me.”

He said, “No, sorry, it’s impossible to let you know that before this weekend.”

This meant that I had to complete the plans on the upcoming weekend.  In the end, I spent literally 6 hours preparing two 45-minute lesson plans!

Call me crazy?  Sure, if you like. It’s probably true.

The same thing happened when it came time to prepare the final exams for my two classes.  Several teachers gave me old exams to use, but as I studied them, I realized I hadn’t taught certain things that were on their exams, and their exams didn’t cover certain things I had emphasized.  Thus I spent the entire last weekend in February recreating the final exams for both classes.

On Monday morning, I went into my Reading & Writing class and said to my students, “I’m exhausted!  I just spent all weekend making up your final exam.”

One of my Nigerian students who has quite a sense of humor got a panicked look on his face.  He dramatically put his face into this hands and said, “Oh no, teacher!  If it took you all weekend to prepare the exam, it will take us four hours to take it!”  Everyone in the class burst out laughing.

The exam went almost as he predicted.  It was way too ambitious.  Though the class is only 2 hours and 20 minutes long, meaning the exam should have taken no longer than that, some students were taking the exam for a full 3 hours.

Ouch!  I felt so bad for my poor students.  Stoic as always, they soldiered through and did pretty well anyway.  I had to be a little lenient in grading some of the more time-consuming aspects of the exam, but we managed to survive unscathed.

How do you stop a person who doesn’t know when to stop?

When I got the job offer to teach in Japan, at a university somewhere in Kanagawa Prefecture (the exact location has yet to be revealed), I had to acknowledge that I read the 29-page handbook that tells about the 9-hour workdays, possible 30-90 minute commutes on crowded trains, the high expectations, the dress code (including the requirement of wearing pantyhose – ugh!), and numerous stringent rules and regulations about working in Japan.  After signing the contract and reading the handbook, I said to Mike, “What am I getting myself into?”

Mike says, and I’m sure his prediction will be right, that when I get to Japan, I’ll be saying “Oh my gosh!  What have I gotten myself into?”

I had to send a professional photo to their specifications.  Here’s the best I could do!

me in
me in “professional attire”

My husband continued with his “roast” of me this morning.  “My wife is the only person I know who puts 20 things on a to-do list each day and doesn’t even consider the possibility that it will take 40 hours to do the things on the list.  And then when the day is over, rather than congratulating herself on the 5 things she did accomplish, she berates herself for the 15 things she didn’t do.”

Oh dear.  He’s a funny guy. He’s going to miss making fun of me during the four months (one semester) I’ll be in Japan.

He might also miss me during 10 month period beginning in September, IF I get the English Language Fellowship, which is still looming out there until early summer.  They can offer me a fellowship anytime from now until June for a 10-month position anywhere in the world for the 2017-2018 academic year.  Of course, there is no guarantee I’ll be offered the fellowship.

In which case, I can still either go to Croatia, Budapest and Prague, OR I can do the Camino de Santiago. 🙂

My husband thinks I’m the busiest person he’s ever known, bursting with energy at 5:30 a.m. on the weekend mornings, antsy to get up and get going with my day. Much to his dismay.

I finished up my classes at VIU on Thursday, March 2, and submitted my grades on Friday, so my time at VIU is over.  I now have to complete a 7-10 hour eLearning course in preparation for Japan.  I also need to get my Japanese visa, read as many books as I can about Japan, buy a new Kindle to load a bunch of books onto, get a new work wardrobe and a bunch of pantyhose (ugh again), buy a new computer, go to a couple of doctor appointments, and, on top of that, show up for jury duty this coming Wednesday.  I’ve already bought my plane tickets for Japan, leaving Monday, March 27 and returning on August 8, one week after my contract ends on August 1.  I can’t stay longer than that, sadly, just in case I get that fellowship.

I don’t know why I’m made up the way I am.  But Mike is right when he says I never knew a detour I wouldn’t take.  I would add a caveat: I’ll take the detour as long as it offers me some of the things I love.  When an opportunity to travel, or to live and work abroad, falls into my lap, how can I possibly resist?