twenty-seventeen

In twenty-seventeen, I:  Taught English for one semester at a university in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.  Traipsed around Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic with my ever-patient husband. Took a solo road trip to Cape May, New Jersey. Listened to country music in Nashville, Tennessee. Read 26 books out of my goal of 40, the best being Burial Rites, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The House at the Edge of Night, Truth & Beauty & The Ginger Tree. Lost 10 pounds while in Japan, and gained them right back when I returned to the U.S. Attended several online seminars about visioning and business planning and mulled over my idea for a travel/writing-related business.  Worked in earnest on my memoir.

From January to March, I: Visited Harper’s Ferry and learned about John Brown.  Dove into teaching English at Virginia International University for a seven-week session.  Enjoyed a long-overdue dinner with classmates from my Master’s program at George Mason University. Enjoyed La La Land and Hidden Figures. Took a course on Creating Complex Characters at the Writer’s Center. Visited my children in Richmond, stopping at Lewis Ginter for a brief glimpse of spring before taking off to teach English to second-year university students in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.  Moved into a rabbit-hut apartment near Fuchinobe Station.

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

In April, I:  Was carried by a tidal wave of crowds through Ueno Park during hanami, the “watching blossoms” season Encountered a geisha while listening to “Kabuto Music and Manners” at the Toki-no-kane bell.  Was gently nudged not to cross my legs at a Buddhist temple while sitting under pink sakura.  Watched Japanese university students playing a boisterous oversized card game. Wandered through raindrop-covered blossoms at Shinjuku Gyeon.  Broke an umbrella in the wind while walking around Shinjuku’s skyscrapers.  Presented a “shock lecture” about genetics and Mendel’s pea plants to jolt my Japanese students out of complacency in their Applied Skills course. Visited a yakitori grill surrounded by Hello Kitty paraphernalia and unopened packages of vintage stamped postcards and miniature toys.  Learned to take my shoes off and put a hood over my head before trying on clothes in Japanese dressing rooms. Visited the colorful and lively Kantei-byo in Chinatown during a 10-mile walk through Yokohama.  Admired peonies at the Monument to U.S. – Japanese Friendship and marveled at Yokohama’s skyline with its iconic Ferris wheel, sail-shaped Yokohama Grand Intercontinental, and Landmark Tower. Wandered among peonies shaded by parasols at Genji-ike in Kamakura. Watched faithful Japanese worshipers cleanse themselves, bow, clap their hands, ring bells, make offerings and pray at Kamakura’s temples and shrines. Admired age-old royal buildings at the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens and enjoyed lunch and wine at the Hibiya Beer Garden.  Discovered temizuya, ema, teahouses, Japanese gardens, dragon-painted ceilings, carp flags, Chinese gates, and tales of shoguns while taking endless rambles from my trusty book: Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City.  (catbird in japan)

In May, I:  Fell in love with artistic displays of flowers, Japanese landscapes and calligraphy on Meiji Shrine’s sake barrels during Japan’s Golden Week. Slid like a fly in slow-moving honey with crowds down Takeshita-dori, a fashion haven for teenage girls. Ate vegetarian and fish tacos at Guzman y Gomez in Harajuku, downtown Tokyo.  Surreptitiously snapped photos of a young Japanese couple in Yokohama’s Sankei-en while they posed for their photographer. Was charmed by iconic umbrellas on a bridge leading to Nakano-shimo Island.  Wandered around sixteen historic buildings from central Japan at Sankei-en, or Three Glens Garden. Enjoyed quilts with kimono, cranes, and cascading blossoms at Funiko Endo’s quilt exhibit at Tomyo-ji Main Hall.  Fondly remembered China as I visited Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden. Climbed Mt. Takao with hordes of people during Golden week, and soaked in an outdoor onsen afterward.  Followed the cues of the Japanese and visited gardens during special bloom times – a wisteria festival at Kameido Tenjin and rabbit-ear irises at the Nezu Museum.  Wandered around the Imperial Palace East Garden on a gloomy day.  Smelled fragrant roses, visited a folk house museum, & pondered over strange sculptures in Kawasaki on a steamy day.  Visited Odawara Castle, followed by a weekend in Hakone, where I traipsed through an outdoor sculpture garden, a moss garden, quirky Rakan statues, a botanical garden, and a torii gate in Ashi Lake.

In June, I:  Enjoyed numerous happy hours outside the Family Mart near campus with my friends Graham and Paul. Spent a weekend exploring the Mt. Fuji area near Kawaguchiko. Climbed the rock-island of Enoshima and then went to Hasedera in search of elusive hydrangeas.  Missed the Hydrangea Walk at Hasedera twice.  Mingled among Japanese folks wearing yukata at Tokyo’s oldest shrine, Senso-ji. Got hooked on The Good Wife on Netflix.  Joined hordes of people at Meigetsu-in during the peak of hydrangeas.  Hiked the 3km Daibutsu Course from Kita-Kamakura to the Great Buddha.  Finally encountered the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Explored the shopping area, temples and cemetery of Yanaka. Ate eggplant and barracuda as a regular customer at Kiyariya, a Japanese fish restaurant run by Kenji, an excellent chef. Listened to Paul McCartney and John Lennon sing “Imagine” and “Listen to What the Man Said” at Curry Naan while eating vegetable curry & huge pan-shaped naan.

In July, I:  Wandered through the delightful streets of Kagurazaka.  Had my senses assaulted at Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo.  Finally managed to do the famous Hydrangea Walk at Hasedera on the third try. Sweltered as I slogged through Kawagoe, an Edo-era town. Enjoyed vegetable curry and beer in the cool dark atmosphere of Curry Naan while listening to “Eleanor Rigby,” “I am the Walrus,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds.” Got eaten alive by mosquitoes at the gardens of Rikugi-en and Koishikawa Korakuen, which are probably beautiful in spring and fall but were mediocre in the heat of summer. Explored the charming Tokyo neighborhoods of Shimo-kitazawa & Harmonica Yokocyo.  Enjoyed Hiroshi Yoshida’s fabulous paintings at the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art and explored Omoide Yokocho and Kabukichō in Shinjuku with my Instagram friend Yukie. Enjoyed my first Okonomiyaki with Yukie and then was nearly flattened by a lion on a bicycle at Golden Gai. Escaped the heat by going to a contemporary Southeast Asian art exhibit at the Mori Art Museum, and then stood atop the building for encompassing views of Tokyo. Enjoyed beer and fish & chips with my friend Graham at the Aldgate British Pub in Shibuya. Fell in love with the Japanese postal system, which makes appointments to deliver or pick up packages.  Felt dwarfed by tall bamboo at Hokokuji (the Bamboo Temple) in Kamakura after visiting the huge Guanyin Bodhisattva at Ofuna. Hiked around Yamate Bluff in Yokohama. Celebrated with my students during end-of-semester parties. Got soaked in continuous rainfall during a long weekend in Nikko.  Enjoyed a monk’s diet of yuba prepared in multiple ways. Took a muddy rainy day walk through Aihara with Graham.  Laughed and made toasts over wine and tapas at Vinul’s, near Ueno, with Graham and Paul after our end-of-year meetings. Encountered abundant lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond. Enjoyed a celebratory dinner with Tobi and Reiko at Dai Trattoria. Packed my suitcases and sent them to the airport to be held for a week while I traveled around Japan.

In August, I:  Handed over my blue bicycle to Graham and my apartment to Westgate and took my first Shinkansen to Hiroshima. Watched an aerial view simulation of the A-bomb that exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Cried when I saw the before and after pictures of Hiroshima. Marveled at thousands of folded paper cranes, symbols of world peace, at the Children’s Peace Monument.  Saw the A-bomb dome, surprisingly left somewhat intact after the bomb exploded overhead, although everyone inside was killed. Sweltered while walking around Miyajima and wading around the “floating” O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine.  Ate grilled oysters in Miyajima and Hiroshima’s version of okonomiyaki, washed down with a cold beer.  Stood in awe of the Great Buddha of Nara at Todai-ji Temple. Befriended Nara’s cheeky deer.  Ate kaki-no-ha, individual pieces of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf, in Nara. Stood under lanterns on the verandah at Nigatsu-do and admired the city of Nara from above. Ate a vegetarian meal at a shukubo (temple lodging) in Koyasan. Prayed with monks at a beautiful pre-dawn Buddhist ceremony at Kongo Sanmaiin. Got a big hug from a friendly monk at a pagoda in Koyasan after pulling on a chain of beads where I got the fortune: “Great blessing.”  Walked among 200,000 tombs for people of all classes in the shade of soaring cedars at Okunoin. Admired the design and sheer number of rocks in the rock garden at Kongobuji. Left in a rush from the second temple lodging, Kumagai-ji, in Koyasan, when we were alerted while eating our vegetarian dinner that a typhoon was coming and the cable car might not be running the next day to take us down the mountain.  Stayed in a ryokan across from the delightful Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita.  Returned home to find a despicable Nazi Supremacist gathering in my home state, in Charlottesville, VA, where a girl was killed, and 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. Found my son Adam had boomeranged back home after his year in Hawaii.  Took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock after 4+ months in Japan. Enjoyed The Glass Castle, The Big Sick, and Wind River after four months of not watching any movies at the cinema in Japan.

In September, I: Walked all around the Cleveland Park neighborhood in Washington. Visited the Pentagon Memorial for the first time ever in remembrance of September 11, 2001.  Enjoyed Ethiopian injera and lentils in Herndon. Finally got my two boxes from Japan after 60 days. Flew Lufthansa in miserably uncomfortable economy class aisle seats for 7:55 hours through a six-hour time zone change and across the north Atlantic to Frankfurt, then on to Budapest. Got hooked on Big Little Lies while on the flight. Stayed in an Airbnb apartment on Kazinczy utca, the ruin bar street. Climbed 146 steps up the dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica for 360-degree views of Budapest. Watched men playing chess in the Szechenyi Baths as we soaked in water not quite warm enough for the cold temperatures outside.  Took a hydrofoil up the Danube to Ezstergom and climbed up a narrow spiral staircase for views of the Danube and the town.  Climbed an endless mountain to Visegrad Citadel. Admired beautiful paintings on the interior and Zsolnay ceramic tiles on the roof of Matthias Church.  Scampered all around Fishermen’s Bastion. Visited the Great Synagogue and the Great Market Hall, and came away with a few goodies. Listened to a mini-opera at the Hungarian State Opera House. Had beers in the crazy ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. Climbed the Firewatch Tower and wandered among Roman ruins in Sopron, Hungary and enjoyed a fabulous meal (chicken paprika with homemade gnocchi!) with five wine tastings at the husband-and-wife run Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem. Took the Ringstrasse Tram tour in Vienna, Austria.  Fell in love with the zig-zag roof tiles and the Gothic south tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Trekked out to see Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building designed to celebrate “forms of decay” in architecture.  Felt overwhelmed by the oppulent Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection at the Hofburg Palace.  Sampled peppers stuffed with cheese at the Naschmarkt. Wandered all around the elegant Belvedere Palace.  Sampled a huge variety of wines on a bicycle tour of wineries in the Wachau Valley (in search of a thousand cafes).

 

In October, I: Mingled with thousands of Chinese tourists in Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. Climbed the Český Krumlov Tower for views of the charming town and countryside. Walked all over the quaint town and climbed a small mountain for not much of a view.  Studied colorful graffiti on the Lennon Wall in Prague. Climbed the bell tower of the Church of St. Nicholas and Petrin Tower, where we enjoyed marvelous views of Prague. Admired the beautiful ceilings of the Strahov Monastery Library. Met St. Bearded Woman, the patron saint of unhappy marriages, at the Loreta. Admired a Mucha stained glass window at St. Vitus Cathedral.  Ate an outrageously expensive meal at the Golden Well in Prague (my sea bass was sadly mediocre), with fabulous views over the city and the Vltava River.  Was tempted to tango with the Dancing House, dubbed the “Fred and Ginger Building.” Passed the time with Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock. Found Gothic and Czech Art Nouveau architecture at Powder Tower and the Municipal House. Took a boat ride under the Charles Bridge on the Vltava River. Met my son’s girlfriend, Maddy, who he brought back with him from Australia. Celebrated my 62nd birthday for a week in late October. Enjoyed the play Native Gardens at Arena Stage, about our current antagonistic political environment.   Met my little nephew, Elliott, and my sister in Baltimore.  Encountered moss, ferns and bits of yellow on the Hawksbill Summit Hike in the Shenandoah Mountains.

In November & December, I: Voted for “alterations” in our current government.  Visited my father in Yorktown and my daughter in Richmond. Celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant. Met my friend from California, Leah, for bottomless mimosas at Pearl Dive Oyster Bar. Enjoyed the musical, The Pajama Game, at Arena Stage.  Enjoyed Lucky, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Victoria & Abdul, and Lady Bird in the cinema. Stressed out over my son’s problems, and began the process of learning to let go through Al-Anon Family Groups. Escaped for some alone time on a road trip to Cape May, New Jersey, where an icy wind assaulted the windows of The Pink Cottage, howling and groaning all day and night.

After Christmas, from December 27-31, Mike and I took a road trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It took about 10 hours to drive there, so two days were spent on the road and 3 days in Nashville.

Overall, we survived our first year of the Trump Presidency, and I had a great time on all my adventures.  My biggest hope for 2018 is that my children will finally grow up and take responsibility for their lives.

Happy New Year, and may all your wishes be fulfilled in 2018! 🙂

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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

 

 

 

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 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.