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.
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.
Mike and Alex in the Cathedral
stained glass at the Cathedral
stained glass windows
stained glass windows
stained glass windows
candles to light
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Mexico – wood
India – brass
Kyrgyzstan – felt
Latvia – wool
New Mexico – pottery
Arizona – pottery
Turkey – pottery
Uganda – banana fiber and cloth
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.
woven mats, cloth and gourds
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.
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.
Alaska – wood
Alaska – wood
The Resurrection Chapel is decorated with colorful mosaics, portraying the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.
Mike and me at the Cathedral
Mike and Alex
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.
The Bishop’s Garden is modeled on a medieval walled garden and features herb and rose beds.
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. 🙂
ornament on my tree
ornaments on the tree
flower shop ornament
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! 🙂
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.
The Mathews Men
Me at Comet Ping Pong
Mike at Comet Ping Pong
Bill at Politics & Prose for his book talk
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
Spring is here, even if briefly
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.
looking from kitchen to laundry room
from kitchen over knee wall to family room
beginning of screen porch
from garage into laundry room
garage looking to laundry room
from kitchen to garage
screened porch with roof
screened porch and tools
the roof is off!
seeing the sky
part of the roof is in
railing on porch
the porch with rough roof
family room to knee wall to kitchen and laundry room
drywall goes in
drywall into parts of kitchen
the screened-in porch coming along
screened in porch
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.
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.
shrimp, andouille grits and poached egg
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.
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.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
John Ryan Dennison
Ryan’s grave with a flower
Gene and Shirley’s grave
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
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! 🙂
We were having a fun time and everyone was upbeat until I mistakenly made a comment which upset Adam. The evening suddenly became very tense. I remember when Adam was about 4 years old; he threw a temper tantrum at his own birthday party because he wasn’t getting his way. We had to put him in his room for a time-out at his own birthday party! This kid is a tough one, but of course I love him dearly!
Aeryn, Adam and Mike
Aeryn and Adam
Thursday, December 24: On Christmas Eve, we have our family tradition of visiting Washington National Cathedral. First we take a walk around the Cathedral.
It’s quite a warm today for Christmas Eve, but it’s also rather dreary.
Mike, Adam and Alex
Mike, Adam and Alex
looking straight up
Mike and me on the Cathedral steps
Inside the Cathedral
Stained glass windows
me in the cathedral
Alex, me and Adam
Mike near the iron door
in the crypt
another altar in the crypt
Adam, Alex and Mike with the mosaics
After walking around the Cathedral proper, we walk through the crèches on display during every holiday season. Below is my favorite, created by Zulu tribeswomen in South Africa. Each fabric figure is almost completely covered with tiny, individually hand-sewn glass beads. Even the zebra and lion come to pay homage to the Christ Child.
The Mexican beaded nacimiento was made by the Huichol Indians, noted in Mexico for the degree to which they have preserved their native speech, religion and culture. The Wise Men bear gifts in the form of stylized flowers. A tiny native frog also witnesses the holy birth.
The Polish form of nativity is called a Szopka and is traditionally associated with the city of Krakow. Szopka makers utilize colorful candy and gum wrappers, as well as specially made foils.
The pottery nacimiento from El Salvador shows a small brown frog attending. A tortilla maker, complete with her grinding stone is also present at the birth, as is a little shepherdess wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
The Jordanian nativity was created at the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp, then in Jordan. It features clothing that is thought to be similar to that worn by Mary, Joseph and the shepherds on that first Christmas Eve.
The Kenyan hand-carved crèche includes additions to the traditional animals of ox and ass, including an African antelope, and both a mother and baby elephant and rhinoceros, all commonly found in Kenya.
The Indonesian mahogany crèche was made by physically challenged people on the island of Java.
The Bolivian fabric nacimiento was made by the Aymaras and Quechuas Indians from the Altiplano region. Each of the figures is wearing the native dress of the Bolivian Highlands.
Mexico – glass beads on terra cotta
Poland – cardboard and foil
El Salvador – pottery
Jordan – fabric
Kenya – wahuhu wood
Colorado – gourd and polymer clay
New Mexico – pottery
Virginia – corn husk
Indonesia – mahogany
Michigan – wood
Bolivia – fabric
Bolivia – fabric
After browsing through the crèches, we take the elevator to the tower where we have some sweeping views of northwest Washington.
view of northwest Washington from the tower
Washington National Cathedral
view from the tower
We can see the Cathedral gardens below, so we take the elevator down and take a stroll through the gardens.
It’s plenty warm today, although a little damp.
Alex in the garden
After we leave the Cathedral, we always stop at the Lebanese Taverna Market for lunch. Then we go home to relax awhile, and finish any last-minute wrapping, before we go to Christmas eve dinner at Mike’s sister’s house. Barbara loves to decorate for Christmas. She still lives in her mom’s (my mother-in-law Shirley’s) house. Though I was in China last Christmas, the first Christmas since Shirley died in July of 2014, this Christmas just wasn’t the same without her. I really miss her.
We enjoy a wonderful dinner, eat lots of cookies and Barbara’s famous gold rush brownies, and exchange gifts.
mantel still life
Christmas Eve table setting
Friday, December 25: On Christmas morning, it’s just Mike and I and the boys. Sarah is spending Christmas at her dad’s house in Virginia Beach, so we’ll go visit her later. Barbara comes over later for our Christmas brunch, also our family tradition. I don’t know why I forget to take any pictures of us on Christmas day!
Wednesday, December 30: We drive to Richmond to take Sarah her gifts and have lunch with her. Then we go to visit my dad and stepmother in Yorktown, where we spend the night.
Thursday, December 31: Heading home, we drive up Route 17, a much quieter drive than I-95, to Fredericksburg. On our way back, we stop for lunch at Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant in Tappahannock, where I have crab cakes and Mike enjoys fried oysters. Lowery’s is the restaurant where my mom and dad used to always stop for lunch when they came together to visit me in northern Virginia. My dad doesn’t get up to visit us much these days as it wears him out too much to travel.
Mike at Lowery’s
Me at Lowery’s
That was the end of our December, and a quiet end to 2015. As a matter of fact, I was asleep by 10:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, snoring right through the New Year! 🙂
Tuesday, December 24: Our Christmas Eve morning tradition culminates at the Lebanese Taverna Market in Arlington, where we stop after visiting the Cathedral, to have a casual lunch of fried cauliflower (arnabeet), sambousik, fatayer b’sbanigh, fatayer b’jibne, stuffed zucchini, avocado salad, loubieh (green beans, tomato and whole garlic) and roasted potatoes with zaatar. We top these off with pomegranate ginger ales.
It’s always bustling in this market because the food is fabulous!!
It looks like a miniature supermarket, but there is a small deli counter and a cafe where we can sit and enjoy people-watching.
After we eat as much as we can eat, we head home to relax a bit, wrap the remaining gifts, clean up our wrapping mess, and prepare Children’s Delight cookies and chicken & apple sausage patties for tomorrow morning. Finally, we enjoy a glass of red wine before heading to my mother-in-law’s house for our traditional Christmas Eve gathering.