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. 🙂

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stuck in a moment: a morning walk at little difficult run stream valley park

Saturday, October 22:  This Saturday morning in late October, a walk in the woods.  It’s been Indian summer and the leaves have been slow to change. Things feel muted, quiet, not jubilant, not exciting.  Dull, quiet, intractable.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

Last October, I was excited to be back home in Virginia after my year in China. I looked forward to spending more time with my family. Now, a year later, I’ve lost my enthusiasm. I came home hoping to spend time with my kids, but alas, they are growing up, slowly, and growing away.  I came home to spend time with Mike, but alas, he is working long hours and on weekends doesn’t have the level of energy or wanderlust I have.

Last year, Mike and I went to Chincoteague for my birthday, October 25, and to Antietam for our anniversary on November 13, but this year he’s been inundated with work and we are combining my birthday and our anniversary by going the first weekend in November to Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the supposedly beautiful Babcock State Park and the New River Gorge. We had a wonderful time in Iceland and we renovated our house this year.  All of these things I should be happy about. I am pleased about these things, but it’s not enough. Something is missing — a sense of purpose, a sense of moving forward, a sense that I’m not bogged down in stagnation.  A sense of love, belonging, acceptance.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I look around me at an America that is teetering on the edge.  I fear that instead of progressing in our values, we’re going backwards.  I’m afraid that the upcoming election could be the start of regressing to 1950 or before.  I look around me and see nearly half of all my fellow countrymen full of hatred and fear and anger.  I am uneasy and anxious.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I am carefully considering whether go abroad again.  When I go abroad, I meet people of all nationalities who are generally more open-minded than many Americans.  I learn that most people are not that much different than I am.  I learn that though cultures may vary, people are the same.  They want justice, fairness, love and success. They want opportunity and acceptance for who they are.  They want to participate in the wealth the world has to offer.  They don’t want to be struggling to put food on the table.  They want to be happy.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

No matter how much I try to escape it, the old reverse culture shock is kicking in.  I’ve talked about this phenomenon before, upon returning home from abroad, that uncomfortable and disoriented feeling you get when you don’t quite fit back into your own country after spending an extended amount of time abroad.  Though at first I was happy to be back, that old feeling is creeping in. I try to shake it off, to ignore it.  I’ve tried to assimilate, to melt back into America.  But I can’t quite do it.  I feel acutely the need to escape.  Wanderlust is like a genie dancing before me, enticing me back out into the world at large.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I need a purpose.  I need adventure.  I need to have like-minded, progressive people around me.  I have been waiting until our disgraceful election is over, then I’ll be making my decision.  Leave or stay?

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

This October has been the worst one I’ve ever had, as far as my outlook, my mood.  Usually, I love the fall.  I love the freedom, the change that is promised with cool crisp air and the bright burst of color in the leaves.  But this year, I just feel trapped, bogged down, frustrated.

I don’t have a complaint about the people in my family except that their lives go on without much understanding of how I feel.  Maybe it’s because I try to put a smile on my face and pretend I’m fitting in. But inside, I don’t really feel that.

I think whatever feelings you have in life, they’re bound to rear their heads and make themselves known.  No matter how much you try to put a lid on them, to deny them, they sit percolating beneath the surface.  I just love it (not!) when well-intentioned people say, Get a job!  Get a hobby!  I have tried to find a job to no avail, and I occupy myself with writing (my blog, a memoir), daily walks, and cooking.  These are solitary pursuits.  I need to get out and interact with people and have a purpose and an adventure.  I don’t want to volunteer my time at this point in my life, as I have experience to offer that I should get paid for!  My hobbies — travel, writing, photography — all call out to me. They’re intertwined, my three loves, and they’re beckoning me, as a package.  I find it dull doing one without the others.

I’m lucky to have a good husband who will support my dreams.  He will support them, but of course he really doesn’t want me to go.  This means I’ll feel guilty, as if I’m abandoning him.  I feel bad that he might be lonely while I’m away.  But he has his hobbies too, and he can do them perfectly well without me: biking, watching sports, and of course, work; though it’s not a hobby, it’s a time-consuming activity nonetheless.

Mike at Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Mike at Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I’m reading a cute Swedish book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. In the book, 59-year-old Ove is informed at work that they are “retiring the older generation.” Suddenly, he’s not a person, but a “generation!” Ove is a curmudgeon, that’s for sure.  But he speaks some truth when he thinks, later in the book, “This was a world where one became outdated before one’s time was up.”

I’ve talked to many people of my generation who are not seen, not heard.  I want to be seen as a person who can contribute, not a burden, not a has-been!  I often think back to the disheartening time when I faithfully applied for 250 jobs, every day for a year, only to never hear anything back.  At that time I had just completed my Master’s degree at age 52.  Now, though I haphazardly apply for jobs, my heart isn’t into going through all that hassle for no return!  Especially now that I’m 61.  I have the best chance of finding something abroad, although I know I’ve aged out in many places.  But at least I know I have a better chance of finding a job in some far-flung place than in the “land of opportunity!”

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I’m waiting.  After November 9, I’ll decide whether to begin a search in earnest either here or abroad.  I’m not ready to call it quits yet.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

You can find my previous post from 2013 about this trail at: a weekend of indian summer & work, & a little walk in nature.

weekly photo challenge: earth

Saturday, May 7:  The Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth invites us to share: On this day, between the global Earth Day celebration, and Mother’s Day in the United States, share your vision of our glorious Mother Earth.

To celebrate the earth, here’s a walk among the skunk cabbage carpeting the Difficult Run Stream Valley along the Fairfax Country Cross-County Trail.

skunk cabbage
skunk cabbage

Skunk cabbage is a flowering perennial that is one of the first plants to emerge in spring, especially in woodlands, wetlands and near streams.

The Difficult Run stream
The Difficult Run stream

Apparently, skunk cabbage gets its name from the unpleasant odor it emanates.  The scent attracts pollinators that are attracted to rotting meat.

I do have to say I didn’t smell anything unpleasant on our walk. 🙂

skunk cabbage galore
skunk cabbage galore

It’s amazing how the earth is a living, breathing system that abides on its own terms, beyond our understanding.

Difficult Run
Difficult Run
Skunk cabbage and tree branches
Skunk cabbage and tree branches

Happy Earth Day and Mother’s Day! 🙂

weekly photo challenge: layers

Sunday, November 17:  The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is layers: Layers can reveal, conceal, and make something more complex. They can vary in size, texture, color, or functionality. Each layer can have its own story, meaning, or purpose. They can overlap, blend, or be distinctly separate. A layer doesn’t have to be a part of a single object but can even be a slice of a multifaceted image or scene.

Here are some layers I found this weekend on the Difficult Run stream feeder trails and the Fairfax Cross County Trail.  The world is looking browner these days; it won’t be long before it turns a hundred shades of gray.

layers of groundcover
layers of groundcover: I think it’s pachysandra 🙂
layers of colorful but dying leaves
layers of colorful but dying leaves
layers of brown
layers of brown
layer of a pine cone with layers of forest behind
layer of a pine cone with layers of forest behind
layers of roots
layers of roots
layers of dead leaves
layers of dead leaves
layers of leaves and ferns
layers of leaves and ferns
layers of leaves and rocks
layers of leaves and rocks
layers of dried grasses
layers of dried grasses
layers of moss-covered logs, plants and leaves
layers of moss-covered logs, plants and leaves
layers of leaves
layers of leaves

weekly photo challenge: infinite

Tuesday, October 15:  The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge for this week is Infinite.  Writes Ben Huberman: We continue to encounter these moments of wonder as adults, too, when the infinite catches us by surprise. We stumble upon it in things both big and small: on the beach, staring into the horizon; in the depth of a loved one’s eyes; or even drowning in the emptiness of a Berlin subway car.

IN A NEW POST CREATED FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO THAT SHOWS US A GLIMPSE OF THE INFINITE.

Infinity can produce contrasting effects on (and in) us: it might make us feel dwarfed or amplified, afraid or empowered. It might take the form of a wide panorama or a zoomed-in fraction of an object. A starry sky? A sea of commuters on a train platform? Rows of corn in a field? No pun intended, but the possibilities really are endless.

Infinite leaves on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
Infinite leaves on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
Infinite leaves and trees
Infinite leaves and trees
Infinite leaves
Infinite leaves
Infinite Torii gates in Kyoto, Japan
Infinite Torii gates in Kyoto, Japan
Infinite torii gates in Kyoto
Infinite torii gates in Kyoto
Infinite lotus blossoms at the Summer Palace in Beijing
Infinite lotus blossoms at the Summer Palace in Beijing
infinite arches in Cordoba's Mezquita
infinite arches in Cordoba’s Mezquita
Boseong Tea Plantations in South Korea
Boseong Tea Plantations in South Korea
Suncheon Ecological Bay in South Korea
Suncheon Ecological Bay in South Korea

a weekend of indian summer & work, & a little walk in nature

Sunday, October 6:  The first weekend in my favorite month of October was marred by a lingering Indian summer and all-encompassing work because of midterms this week.

starting out in the evening
starting out in the evening

High humidity and temperatures in the high 80s are not exactly hiking weather, in my eyes.  No matter, I hardly had time to hike, because nearly every minute of the weekend was taken with work.  I did manage to carve out a little time to take two brisk morning walks in the neighborhood, to shop for some new (& bigger) jeans 😦 , and on Saturday night, to go to out Mom’s Organic Market for a quick dinner followed by the thriller Prisoners at the Angelika Film Center at the Mosaic District in Merrifield with Mike and Alex.

The Cross County Trail of Fairfax
The Cross County Trail of Fairfax

This evening, I was able to snatch an hour out of what was left of the weekend to go for a lovely walk along a small bit of the 40-mile long Cross County Trail (CCT) of Fairfax County, Virginia, starting in the middle of Oakton at Gabrielson Gardens Park.  The trail connects the entire county from one end to the other, over hill and vale, and through streams, meadows and urbanized landscapes (Fairfax County: The Cross County Trail).

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

It was relaxing to walk outside and get a bit of fresh air, though it was still humid.  I could see little tinges of fall in the leaves on the path and in the stream, as well as some yellow bits on the trees.  Thank goodness a cold front is moving in tomorrow. 🙂