the january cocktail hour – boy, do i ever need a drink!

Welcome to our January happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I don’t know about you, but January has been a rough month, so I really need a drink (or two or three!).  Today I’m serving up a new concoction I discovered at Lolita in Philadelphia: a jalapeno-cucumber margarita.  I’m not a big fan of sweet drinks, so this is perfect and refreshing.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.  I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.  Cheers!

I’m happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How are you surviving since the election?  Have you taken a stand in politics or are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to shake out? How are your resolutions coming along?  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?

Some of you may remember my ambitious plans for 2017: here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

Well.  Let’s just say, at least for now, my plans have been slightly waylaid.

downtown Harper's Ferry
downtown Harper’s Ferry

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” ~ Allen Saunders

The day after I signed up for three writing classes at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and one class through Fairfax County Adult Ed on starting a new business, I got a call from Virginia International University, a small private university not far from my house, to have a phone interview.  This was a shock as I had applied and been rejected for a job with them last August.  The phone interview was followed by a request to do a 20-minute teaching demo, which I also did.  They hired me as an adjunct to teach two intensive ESL classes, Mon-Thur (9:00-2:40).  I didn’t have much time to prepare as the classes started on Monday, January 16, on Martin Luther King Day, so I was pretty stressed out.

the town of Harper's Ferry
the town of Harper’s Ferry

When I teach, though I only have 20 contact hours/week, I end up working almost double that amount.  So, now and for the duration of the 7-week session, my time is not my own. Not only do I have to prepare for and mark papers for two classes, but I also am taking one writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks, and I have two more one-day classes I’ve signed up for, one this Thursday and one on a Saturday in March.  The writing teacher gives us writing assignments; we’re supposed to submit a piece for work-shopping every Saturday.  On Thursday night, I finished the two-night entrepreneurship course. In the last class, a speaker discussed franchising for most of the class, which I have no interest in!  It was mostly a waste of time and money.

Luckily the semesters are very short at 7 weeks, and I only have five more to go.  Also, as I’m an adjunct, VIU can either offer me a position next session or not, and I can choose to teach classes or not.  After seeing how much of my time is consumed, I’ve decided to either teach only one class, or none at all, in the next session.  It’s hardly worth it when I divide what I make per contact hour over the hours I actually work, plus take taxes off the top.  I’d rather focus on my personal goals.

That being said, the students are enjoyable.  I do love being in the classroom and interacting with my students, but I don’t enjoy the time I have to spend outside class hours to prepare.  As I am often a perfectionist, I can let the preparations get out of hand, and I never seem to know when to stop.

The Terrace Garage - Harper's Ferry
The Terrace Garage – Harper’s Ferry

On top of this, I applied back in December for The English Language Fellow Program, which sends experienced U.S. TESOL professionals on paid teaching assignments at universities and other academic institutions around the world.  It was quite an extensive application process; I had to write numerous essays about various aspects of teaching.  They don’t even look at an application until all references are turned in, and I knew my Chinese reference would hold me up.  Finally, in early January, after much prodding from a friend on the ground in China, my former supervisors submitted their references and I was contacted to have a Skype interview, which I did. The next day, I was informed that I’m now in the applicant pool and will be considered for programs worldwide.  Though there is no guarantee that I’ll get a fellowship, at least I’m happy I made it into the pool.  This would be for the 2017-2018 academic year.

So, this is why you haven’t seen much of me in the blogosphere. My classes end March 2, so I should have more time after that.

Wax Museum and Scoops
Wax Museum and Scoops

As for other random stuff in January, I’ve been to see three movies: Hidden Figures, Julieta, and La La Land.  I enjoyed them all, but I especially loved Hidden Figures because I grew up in southern Virginia near Langley during the early years of the NASA space program, and the fathers of many of my friends worked at NASA.  I also enjoyed the light-hearted romance and music in La La Land, as it gave me a welcome escape from the dark times our country is facing since January 20.

view above St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
view above St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

By the way, I made up a January playlist on Spotify that you might enjoy.  I call it: of true detectives and highway vagabonds:

  • “Far From Any Road” – From the HBO Series True Detective / Soundtrack
  • “Highway Vagabond” – Miranda Lambert – the weight of these wings
  • “The Angry River” – True Detective (From the HBO Series)
  • “Inside Out” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “Do You” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  • “Hold On” – Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
  • “Gocce di memoria” – Giorgia – Spirito Libero
  • “Somebody’s Love” – Passenger – Somebody’s Love
  • “What I Am” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars
  • “Love of the Loveless” – Eels – Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1
  • “Tighten Up” – The Black Keys – Brothers
  • “City of Stars – Ryan Gosling – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – Emma Stone – From “La La Land” Soundtrack

I haven’t had time for much else of interest, but I did go on Friday, January 13 to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for a bit of an outing.  It was before my first week of teaching and I was determined to do an outing each week on Friday (since I’m off); I’ve been trying hard not to let the job run me!  However, the following Friday was the inauguration and I didn’t want to go out in the traffic (and I certainly had no desire to attend the inauguration) and last Friday (the 27th), I had a mandatory teacher meeting (which I don’t get paid for, by the way).  So, it seems the job is running me after all.  The pictures scattered through this post are from Harper’s Ferry; I’ll write a blog post about it later.

The Small Arsenal - remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper's Ferry
The Small Arsenal – remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper’s Ferry
tree along the Potomac River
tree along the Potomac River

I finished reading several books this month.  My favorite was Nabokov’s Lolita, which is shocking by way of subject matter, but wonderful in terms of prose.  I listened to the audio book, and I felt thrilled with so many of Nabokov’s passages, just for his amazing use of language, that I had to go out and buy the book so I could reread many of the passages I listened to.  I plan to write about this in a separate post.  I also enjoyed City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris.  It takes place in Saudi Arabia and is a murder story, not my usual cup of tea, but I love it because it portrays the nuances of Saudi culture.  I also listened to the audiobook Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves, which I enjoyed because she traveled to places like Egypt and Yemen, echoing some of my own travels.  And everyone knows from my recent posts about visiting museums, that I also enjoyed the small book: How to Visit a Museum, by David Finn.

As for the aftermath of our election, I don’t want to ruin our cocktail hour, so I’ll write a separate post about it.  All I can say is I’m extremely proud of all the women who marched in the Women’s March on January 21, and I’m proud of the protestors at airports and at the White House who are protesting the Muslim Ban.  You can count me as part of the Resistance!!  We will NOT stand down.

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

I hope you’ll share what’s been going on with you.  As always, I wish wonderful things for all of you. 🙂

the december cocktail hour – the fall into winter edition

Monday, December 19:  Welcome to our December happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink.  We’ll be indoors today because we’re in the midst of a cold spell now, 29 Fahrenheit (-2C).  Would you care for an Appletini, a dirty martini, a glass of Scotch or amaretto?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities (or at least Mike is — he’s become quite adept at whipping up delicious dirty martinis).  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  I’d love to hear about your holiday season.  Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  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?  How was your Thanksgiving?  Are you ready for Christmas?  Are you preparing resolutions for the New Year?

I’m hoping against all odds that 2017 will be a better year than 2016, which I found to be pretty miserable overall.  That being said, there were some bright spots sprinkled here and there.

Fall colors in our front yard
Fall colors in our front yard

Maybe you noticed, or maybe you didn’t, but I missed my November cocktail hour.  I was much too depressed after our election on November 8.  I could barely bring myself to get out of bed, much less write anything.  More about that later.

Before the election, and even after (it seems from now on I’ll see the world as BEFORE and AFTER that doomed day), Mike and I went out for numerous happy hours.  I like to break up the monotony of the work week with a happy hour on Wednesdays or Thursdays.  I’m not always successful at convincing him to do this, but when we do, we’re always glad to have made the effort.

We went out for a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant, Zeffirelli in Herndon, for our 28th anniversary.  As you know from other posts I’ve done, we also went to West Virginia for a combination birthday/anniversary trip.

I’ve been to a lot of movies over the last couple of months, including: Sully, Denial, Girl on the Train, the Brazilian movie Aquarius, MoonlightArrival and Manchester by the Sea.  I enjoyed most of them, but I lately I get impatient — movies seem too slow-moving these days.  The exception in this bunch is Girl on the Train, which is a tense thriller/mystery.  I enjoyed Manchester by the Sea, but it didn’t need to be 2 1/2 hours long!  Mike didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did.  Sully was fabulous as well, with just the right pacing.  I also enjoyed Arrival, though space movies about aliens aren’t usually my thing.

I’ve been reading like crazy.  I had a goal to read 35 books in 2016, and so far I’m up to 34.  I should meet my goal by year-end.  Since our last cocktail hour, I finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (about the Armenian genocide), A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Ambassador’s Wife by Jennifer Steil, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (I’ve been reading this for about 2 years!), The Artist’s Way at Work (another two-year project)Girls in the Grass (a book of short stories I started several years ago) by Melanie Rae Thon, and finally Love in a Torn Land: Joanna of Kurdistan by Jean Sasson. Of these, I have to say my favorite was The Ambassador’s Wife. I also enjoyed A Man Called Ove and The Girl on the Train.

We went to see Lillian Hellman’s play, The Little Foxes, at the Kreeger at Arena Stage Theater in downtown D.C., eating dinner beforehand at our favorite Indian restaurant, Masala Art.  This was a sort of birthday celebration, as it was the Sunday (October 23) before my Tuesday birthday.  The play was a good one; I’d read the play long ago, when I’d been on a Lillian Hellman kick.  In it,  Southern aristocrat Regina Hubbard Giddens struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th-century society where a father considered only sons as legal heirs.

Adam and Sarah called me to wish me a happy birthday on the 25th, but I mysteriously didn’t hear from Alex.  It turned out he was failing a class at VCU and didn’t want to admit to it, so he simply avoided me.  I was hurt, as you can imagine, and when I went to celebrate my birthday with Sarah in Richmond on October 28, I didn’t see Alex at all.  Sarah and I had a nice visit though, having lunch at The Daily (lettuce wraps and seared red tuna salad), dinner at Bamboo Cafe, and then a visit to the farmer’s market near her house on Saturday morning.

Mike and I went to West Virginia on the weekend of November 4-6.  On the Monday following our weekend, I worked for the Clinton campaign doing “Get out the vote” calls.  On Tuesday evening, while votes were being counted, we went to Coyote Grill, a Mexican restaurant (in protest of the “Build that Wall” slogan during the campaign).   We also went to see A Man Called Ove.  Mainly we were trying to distract ourselves while we waited for the votes to come in.  Once we returned home, we watched in shock and bewilderment as our nation elected the most pompous, narcissistic, and hateful man imaginable. I was so shocked and upset the next day, I could barely function.  It seems we now have a kakistocracy: government by the worst elements of society, government by the least qualified or unprincipled citizens. I can hardly look at my fellow Americans, at least the 62 million of them that voted for that man.  Since the election, our CIA and FBI agree that Russia influenced our election in favor of Trump.  Great!

On our anniversary day, Sunday, November 13, Mike suggested we go downtown to visit the National Museum of the American Indian.  I know he was trying to cheer me up; he always manages to have a bright outlook even when things look bleak. We went to the museum, which would have been fascinating on any other day, but I had a hard time staying focused.  By that time, it was five days after the election, but I still felt darkness enveloping me.  I still do now, and with the ongoing news about our President-elect’s continuing hate-filled rallies, his political appointments, his ridiculous tweets, and his conflicts of interests, it’s hard to find much hope for our country and today’s world.

The American Indian Museum
National Museum of the American Indian
outside the American Indian Museum
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
pond outside the National Museum of the American Indian
pond outside the National Museum of the American Indian

After leaving the museum, we walked to Union Station, passing the Capitol building.  There, I could see the grandstands being erected for the inauguration on January 20.  That depressed me so much that all I wanted to do was sit somewhere and have a drink.  I felt the hopelessness that Thoreau described:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

Union Station
Union Station

Sadly, we were a long way from any good place to eat, so we had no choice but to walk quite a distance.  Usually I don’t mind a walk, but on that day, every step seemed a burden.  We plodded and plodded, block after block.  Finally, we settled ourselves in Oyamel, where we had some Spanish tapas and a glass of wine.  At this point, I didn’t care if I slept the rest of the day.  Honestly, I didn’t care if I slept through the next four years.  Let’s hope it’s only four, or that we’re not all living under a nightmare where our civil liberties are dismantled, or worse yet, we’re all dead from WWIII.

BB&T bank in D.C.
BB&T bank in D.C.

The only relief from our despair over the election is offered by our fabulous comedians, especially The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, the Alec Baldwin impersonations of Trump on Saturday Night Live, and John Oliver.  Thank goodness for those who can make us laugh in the aftermath of this disaster.

I’ve been trying to pull myself out of my funk.  As I swore I would, I started applying to work abroad on November 9.  Sadly, I haven’t had any luck finding a job.  I even had a Skype interview with the American University of Kurdistan.  The two interviewers seemed suspiciously jaded about the students; they described them as lazy, entitled, and unmotivated.  They said the administration wasn’t all that helpful in helping teachers get their accommodation organized or getting their visas.  I tossed and turned all night thinking I’d turn them down if they offered me a job.  I got a rejection letter the next morning.  Oh well, I guess that wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve been figuring out how I will live here in the U.S. if I can’t get a job abroad.  I have determined that I will never watch that man on television (unless in parodies or impersonations!).  I will turn the channel whenever he comes on.  I’ll continue to read trustworthy and FACTUAL journalism, such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other high quality publications in order to stay informed.  I will support progressive groups and I will speak up when I see people being mistreated.

We went to see the appropriately titled one-woman play “The Year of Magical Thinking,” with Kathleen Turner playing the role of Joan Didion, on November 19.  It gave me a lot of food for thought about my personal “year of magical thinking,” as I tried during 2016 to convince myself that Americans were kinder, more open-minded and progressive than what I was seeing right before my eyes — on Facebook, on news coverage of Trump rallies, etc. Over the months leading up to the election, I deleted a bunch of people from my Facebook “friends” list (mostly acquaintances but some good friends), mostly people who went to my high school in southern Virginia and who are ultra-conservative. At this point in time, I feel like I will never return to my hometown again.  Thank goodness that northern Virginia (basically the suburbs of Washington, D.C.), where I live, pushed the entire Virginia vote to Clinton, although it was by an uncomfortably close margin.  I ultimately decided on November 20 to get off Facebook altogether, at least until January 1.  I was getting way too upset reading all the fake news and the hate-filled rhetoric swirling around the election.  I honestly haven’t missed being on it, although I do miss all my friends from abroad, and the progressives who are my friends.  Staying away from social media other than Instagram, my travel inspiration, has helped my mental health considerably.

On Thanksgiving, it was hard to feel a sense of gratitude, but having family around did cheer me up somewhat.  Alex and Sarah came, as well as Mike’s sister, so we had a small group.  It ended up being a nice day.  The next day, Sarah and I went to see Nocturnal Animals, and then went for sushi, sake and Sapporo at Yoko Japanese restaurant.  Mike and Alex went for a hike in the mountains, but I wanted to have some mother/daughter time with Sarah.

I finished up my Memoir Writing class on November 14 and I was inspired to write 7 chapters.  I also got a lot of positive feedback, which was encouraging.  I’m considering taking another class in the spring.  Having deadlines encourages me to get words on paper.

In my ongoing attempts to keep fit, I’ve been doing an old exercise video from the 1980s, The Firm, which is aerobics with weights.  I do that on rainy or other bad weather days.  It’s funny to watch the people in the video with their 1980s haircuts.  I’ve done that video so much over the years that I have it all practically memorized and can repeat verbatim the instructor’s directions.

I gave up the Pilates class that I started in early fall.  No matter how many times I try yoga or Pilates, or any other slow-moving or stationary exercise, I get bored out of my mind and am looking at the clock the whole time.  Mike says I am hopelessly impatient, and he’s right.  I am.  I doubt I’m going to change at this point in my life. 🙂

I’ve also been continuing my 3-mile walks, varying my routes here and there. I’ve enhanced my daily walks considerably by listening to audiobooks.  Since our last cocktail hour, I’ve listened to: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and finally All the Breaking Waves by Kerry Lonsdale.  Though they’ve all been good, I especially loved Circling the Sun and The Glass Castle.  You can read any of my reviews on Goodreads by following the link on my sidebar.

Here are a few views from one of my walks around Lake Newport in Reston.

grasses around Lake Newport
grasses around Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport

We’ve been watching a lot of TV series and movies on DVD or Netflix, in addition to our movie theater outings.  I’d already seen Downton Abbey, but Mike hadn’t, so we’re watching that together.  I love it as much the second time as I did the first! We’re also watching the first season of True Detective, which I saw in China but Mike hadn’t seen. Others we’re watching include Madam Secretary, Longmire, Stranger Things, The Night Manager, and Dicte (Danish). We finished and LOVED Rita (Danish) and Borgen (Danish); we’ve also watched Lovesick, Love, Rules of Engagement, Top of the Lake, Island at War, and Indian Summers. Ones I didn’t care much for include: Olive Kitteridge and Mildred Pierce (I hated the awful daughter!)

As for movies we’ve watched at home, the good ones include: Remembrance, The African Doctor, The Words, Night Train to Lisbon, and Besieged.  The ones I didn’t care much for: Money Monster and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

On Dec 7-8, I went to Richmond, this time to visit Alex and to see his new apartment.  He moved in last August, but I hadn’t had a chance to see his new abode since he moved in. After enjoying a glass of wine in his cold apartment (he hadn’t had the gas turned on yet), Alex and I went to Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s first urban cidery in Scott’s Addition.  Sarah joined us.  Then we all met Alex’s girlfriend Ariana at Tarrant’s Cafe for dinner.  There, we had quite a boisterous conversation about a recent incident in Richmond that involved the restaurant Balliceaux.  Apparently one of the employees wore blackface to a Halloween party hosted at the restaurant with the intention of “trying to be offensive” and people flooded the restaurant’s social media pages with angry messages. Alex had wanted to try the restaurant this evening, but Sarah refused, saying people were boycotting it.  We got into a big discussion about whether the business should be boycotted over an employee’s behavior.  Sarah and I felt, especially in our current political climate, that boycotting is the appropriate response.  We must reject such behavior and boycotting a business that turns a blind eye is the perfect response.  Alex disagreed that the business should have to suffer.  Since the incident, which caused a lot of outrage in Richmond, the restaurant apologized, and the employee apologized and resigned.  (You can read more about the incident here: WRIC News: Blackface costume sparks controversy and Richmond music promoter resigns after backlash for blackface Halloween costume, calls incident ‘my worst nightmare’).

All in all, we had quite a lively evening!

Alex doesn’t have a place for me to sleep, so I booked an Airbnb house in Church Hill.  It was a bit of a weird experience because I thought the owner would be there and I kept looking to meet him.  He did come in late in the evening; somehow I heard but didn’t see him.  My “bedroom” had only a screen separating the bed from the hallway – there was no door to close – so it was a little disconcerting.  Though the house and the neighborhood were really nice, I’m not so sure I would stay there again.  In the morning, I took a walk around the neighborhood and took this picture looking down at an old Lucky Strike factory before my phone battery died.

Looking to the James River from Church Hill
Looking to the James River from Church Hill

Last Wednesday, December 14, Mike and I met at Tyson’s Corner for another happy hour at Earls Kitchen and Bar.  We’d never been there before. You all know how much I love trying out new places. 🙂 We enjoyed some craft beers and I had mushroom soup (with sherry) and Baja Fish Tacos: two corn tortillas with crispy battered cod, jalapeno pineapple salsa, cabbage slaw and avocado crema.  Mike had Pork Carnitas Tacos: two tacos filled with marinated slow cooked pork with pico de gallo, in corn tortillas.  Yum!!

The open area they’ve added to the mall since I went abroad has an ice rink and a festive Christmas tree.

I know I shouldn’t wait two months between cocktail hours because I have so much catching up to do that I talk too much.  Please, do share what you’ve been up to!  I’ll shut up now. I sure hope you have happier news and a better outlook than I have. 🙂

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas and happy new Year!!

Happy holidays and cheers to you all!
Happy holidays and cheers to you all!

I’m really hoping for a better year in 2017.  I hope the best for all of you too! 🙂

ode to october

Tuesday, October 1: October is my bliss, my dream.  Having lived in endless summer in Oman for the last two years, I’ve yearned for the onset of autumn in Virginia.  I love so much about October: pumpkins, gourds, leaves the color of pomegranates and oranges, pumpkin spice lattes, jack-o-lanterns & trick-or-treaters. I love farmers markets and hay rides and corn mazes.  I love driving in the Shenandoah mountains and picking apples at Stribling orchard.  I love hiking through technicolor forests in the crisp cool air.  I love Columbus Day, Halloween, and the birthday I share with Pablo Picasso on the 25th of the month. I love sleeping with my windows open, cuddled up under a warm comforter, my cheeks chilled by the cool. I love the change that it promises.

Over the years, whenever I have fallen in love, it’s been in October.  I don’t know if that will happen this year, but at least the promise of it lingers in the air.

In an ode to my favorite month of the year, I’m going to try to take at least a picture a day of the things that I love.  My work schedule is hectic beyond belief and I find it almost impossible to blog, take pictures or do anything other than work, prepare for work, mark papers and presentations, and collapse in exhaustion at the end of every weekday.  But I must carve out time to enjoy my favorite month, especially since I’ve been separated from it for three long years.

Here’s my first day of my first “real” October in three years, at a stop at Whole Foods on my way to work.

squash displays at Whole Foods
squash displays at Whole Foods
squash at Whole Foods in Fairfax
squash at Whole Foods in Fairfax
colors of October
colors of October
gourds of all colors and shapes
gourds of all colors and shapes

I wander around the store and find this freshly baked bread.  The baker behind the counter glares at me and asks if she can help.  I say, no thanks, I’m just looking … and taking pictures.  She says, “You need to get permission from Customer Service to take pictures here.”  What???  It’s a store, for god’s sake; it’s not some museum full of priceless masterpieces.  I look at her like she’s crazy; I shrug and say “No, I don’t think so!” and then I brazenly snap another picture.  What is wrong with this world when people won’t allow you take simple pictures?  No matter.  I’m not going to let her, or anyone else, ruin my October.

Fresh bread in the bakery at Whole Foods
Fresh bread in the bakery at Whole Foods

a little glimpse at our no-name oakton neighborhood behind oak vale

Wednesday, August 7:  Today I take a walk around my Oakton neighborhood and take pictures with my iPhone of some houses and yards, as well as a path in the woods that’s overgrown with ferns and grasses and fallen trees.  Here’s a little glimpse of my neighborhood on a cloudy Virginia day.

We live in a neighborhood with older normal-sized Colonial-style houses.  When I turn off of our road, the scenery is upgraded quite a bit to newer and bigger houses, McMansion territory.

Much of Oakton is quite wealthy, though our neighborhood is in the lower echelons.  According to a 2010 estimate, the median income for a household was $167,512, and the median income for a family was $188,308. Males had a median income of $111,856 versus $73,254 for females. The per capita income was $65,934. About 3.9% of families and 4.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.7% of those under age 18 and 6.7% of those age 65 or over (Wikipedia: Oakton, Virginia).

Oakton is part of Fairfax County, one of the largest counties in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.  As of 2012, the county’s population was 1,118,602, making it the most populous jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with 13.6% of Virginia’s population (Wikipedia: Fairfax County, Virginia).

my neighbor across the street
my neighbor across the street
walking down the road
walking down the road
the road downhill
the road downhill
still at the back of Oak Vale
still at the back of Oak Vale
big yards
big yards
around the corner
around the corner
now we're in McMansion territory
now we’re in McMansion territory
storm clouds a brewin' in the McMansion neighborhood
storm clouds a brewin’ in the McMansion neighborhood
flowering trees
flowering trees
nicer homes in the McMansion neighborhood
nicer homes in the McMansion neighborhood
weeping willow
weeping willow
the weeping willow blowing in the breeze
the weeping willow blowing in the breeze
back into a normal neighborhood
back into a normal neighborhood

We have a walking trail at the bottom of our hill that goes along a stream that runs through an overgrown forest.  The stream feeds into Difficult Run a 15.9-mile-long tributary stream of the Potomac River in northern Virginia.  Difficult Run runs through Fairfax County to Great Falls Park on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.

green in the stream bed that feeds Difficult Run
green leafy plants in the stream bed that feeds Difficult Run

There’s a lot of green in Virginia as it’s a fairly humid and wet place, especially in summer.  It’s certainly the opposite extreme from where I’ve been living in the desert climate of Oman for the last two years.

overgrown forest with a walking trail
overgrown forest with a walking trail
ferns
ferns

I’m surprised to find so many downed trees in the forest.  Apparently many of them were knocked down during some strong storms over the last couple of years. The June 2012 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest derecho was one of the most destructive and deadly fast-moving severe thunderstorm complexes in North American history. The progressive derecho tracked across a large section of the Midwestern United States and across the central Appalachians into the mid-Atlantic on the afternoon and evening of June 29, 2012, and into the early morning of June 30, 2012. It resulted in 22 deaths, widespread damage and millions of power outages across the entire affected region (Wikipedia: June 2012 North American derecho).

Someone, probably people who live along the stream bed, came in with chain saws and cut the trees into manageable pieces.  Apparently the trees were blocking the path following the destructive storms.

ferns and downed trees
ferns and downed trees

Here’s a part of the stream.

the stream
the stream
a hint of autumn to come
a hint of autumn to come
ferns and mossy tree trunks
ferns and mossy tree trunks
mushrooms
mushrooms
ferns and leaf
ferns and leaf

I’ve lived in this neighborhood since 1994, except for the three years I lived abroad in Korea and the Sultanate of Oman. For quite some time, I have found it to be quite dull here, and I’ve never been fond of the Washington metropolitan area.  I really dislike the suburbs;  this is all coming back to me now that I’ve returned home from living abroad.  I would rather live either in a big city or in a small town.  Suburbs seem like lifeless sprawling things that make ordinary life seem dull and repetitive and empty.

Right now, it seems I’m having a bit of hard time adjusting to life back home. 😦

getting settled: taking care of feet, computer space, transport & the hair disaster

Saturday, July 27:  First things first: I must get a pedicure.  I head out first thing this morning to take care of this essential piece of business. I have to explain to the Vietnamese ladies at Paradise Nails where I’ve been the last year, as I had to do last year when I was home and the year before.  I’m a regular there, but obviously not too regular in the last 3 years.

Then I head to the Apple Store at Reston Town Center to find out about getting more space on my hard drive.  All during my last months in Oman and my entire trip through Spain and Portugal, I’ve been receiving messages on my MacBook Pro:  Your startup disk is full!  I have been deleting files right and left, but I’ve now reached the point where I have nothing else I want to delete.

The Apple Store directs me to go to Micro Center in Fairfax, as they are the authorized service dealer.  Oh dear, here begins my driving to and fro in northern Virginia to do annoying errands!  To buy the new hard drive costs me $80 and to have them install it and clone all my stuff to the new hard drive will cost $150.  Already, my hard-earned money is flowing right out of my pocket into things I don’t want to buy!  But these are the necessities of life and the money must be spent.  There are so many other things I’d rather spend money on; this is certainly NOT one of them.

It will take them about 3 hours to do this process, so I’m without a computer for a while.  Throughout the rest of the day, I keep getting phone calls from Micro Center telling me it’s taking much longer than they anticipated; apparently there are a lot of pictures that are very slow to transfer over.  Surprise, surprise!  It turns out the computer will not be ready until tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, Mike has gone on an 88 mile bike ride with his biking club and I am still trying to fight my way through the disaster in the basement.  This will keep me occupied for weeks, so it’s a good thing I don’t have to start work yet!

When Mike returns home, he does a bunch of research online about the list of cars I’ve told him I’d be interested in buying.  He wants me to buy a slightly used Toyota Corolla because he feels it would be the best value for the money.  I have told him I’d be interested in a Fiat, or a Toyota Matrix or Camry.  We already have a 1997 Toyota Camry and a 2004 Toyota Sienna, and so we head straight to Ourisman Toyota, where we meet the very laid back salesman, Kofi from Uganda.  I’m immediately attracted to a black Toyota Corolla; the new ones are so nice!  After test driving the Corolla, I think it’s perfect.  Especially with the new touch screens for audio and the Bluetooth! 🙂

We decide then and there to buy a brand new 2013 black Toyota Corolla. I’m never one to linger over car decisions; every time I’ve ever bought a car, I’ve just gone out in one fell swoop and bought one!  We take the money I got from the sale of my GMC Terrain in Oman and Mike contributes the same amount again, and we sit for hours buying the car.

my new Corolla
my new Corolla

As you can see, Mike is not very happy with the time it takes to do all of this, mainly because he hardly ate anything today after his 88-mile bike ride and is starving.

Mike at Ourisman Toyota
Mike at Ourisman Toyota

I drive the Corolla right off the lot.  We also bought, suckers that we are, the Environmental Protection Plan, which means I will need to bring back the car for treatment one day this week.

Sunday, July 28: Today, I must run more errands.  This seems to be the nature of my life in Virginia.  Oh how I remember this, and hate it.  I have to go pick up my computer, which is now cloned.  The only problem is that a product key is needed to activate Microsoft Office on the new hard drive.  I search the house high and low and can’t find the packaging for the Microsoft Office I bought in 2011, so now it looks like I will have to buy it again.  So irritating!

The rest of the day, I spend tackling the basement.  Unbelievable.  This clutter and disorganization is so annoying and claustrophobic after my nice clean and spare house in Oman.  Things are piling up in the garage right and left as I dispose of anything and everything in my path.  I figure anything I give to charity will benefit someone else, and any money we spent on this stuff is a sunk cost anyway.  I can’t debate or tell myself maybe we should keep this for a time when we might need it.  It simply has to go!  I’m on a rampage.

Tuesday, July 30:  Next thing, I must get my hair fixed.  It’s a mess.  I spent tons of money in Oman first getting a cut and highlights and low lights.  Six weeks later, I had it straightened; the chemicals from that process basically destroyed the original highlights and low lights and turned my hair yellow.  It was too late to do anything about it before I went on my holiday, so I had to live with it during my entire trip.  Today, to remedy the situation, I head to my trusty Diane T Salon in Vienna to get a decent cut and highlights and low lights again. I tell her to make the low lights darker and chunkier, instead of in fine strands like she usually does them.  She follows my instructions and I personally like the effect, but when I get home, Alex says, “Wow, nice hairdo.  You look like a zebra!”  What??  Oh my gosh!  Kids will say the darndest things, but I run into the bathroom and look in the mirror.  I guess he’s right, I slightly resemble a zebra. 🙂

Out in the front yard, I take a picture of Alex with my new car, and then he takes a picture of me, the zebra, with my new car.  Joy. 🙂

Alex with my new car
Alex with my new car
Zebra-lady with her new car
Zebra-lady with her new car

In the afternoon, I attend an iPhone class at the Verizon Wireless store, where I discover the thrilling things that I can now do on my new iPhone.  Welcome to the modern age!

the iPhone class
the iPhone class

getting in the mood for ethiopia at sheba… & hope springs

Saturday, August 25:  Tonight Mike and I go out to eat Ethiopian food at a restaurant in Fairfax called Sheba.   We’ve eaten Ethiopian food before, usually in Adams Morgan in D.C., but it’s been a long time.  Since I just bought a ticket to go to Ethiopia from Muscat during the Eid at the end of October, Mike thinks it will be fun to put me in the mood for my first trip to east Africa.

Inside of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant

The restaurant is small but cutely decorated with colorful Ethiopian basket-tables.  A beautiful painting evokes the real Ethiopia.

Ethiopian basket-tables
Ethiopian artwork

One of the virtues of Ethiopian food is that you can eat with your fingers — no utensils provided. Instead, food is served on injera — spongy, slightly sour flat bread, traditionally made from fermented teff, an iron-rich native grain. Injera serves as both platter and utensil.

Sheba

We order the vegetable combination, with servings of all the side dishes— mild and spicy lentils, beans and carrots, cabbage, and collard greens served on a pizza-sized round of the bread with extra injera on the side.  We tear off a piece of injera and grab some vegetables, using the injera much like a pair of soft tongs.  With each bite, we eat a piece of the bread, so we get full very quickly.  Mike keeps telling me that the spongy bread will expand in our bellies during the course of the night, so we will feel like blown-up balloons!

the vegetarian combination with injera
Mike enjoys a taste of Ethiopia

We meet the owner and manager, Azeb Gide, who checks on our happiness level and tells me places I should visit in Ethiopia.  The waitress is excited to hear I’ll be going to Addis Ababa, where she is from originally, though she hasn’t been home in 16 years.

the Ethiopian owner, Azeb Gide, and me

After we eat our dinner, we go to Cinema Arts Theatre, which is in Fair City Mall right across the street from the strip mall where Sheba is located.  We watch the movie Hope Springs, with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are a middle-aged couple whose marriage of 30 years has gone down the tubes.  They sleep in separate bedrooms and show no affection to each other.   They basically live parallel lives that intersect only in routine ways. Their marriage is basically dead, even though they haven’t made any formal arrangement to end it.  Incredibly frustrated, Kay signs up for an intense counseling session with Dr. Feld after reading his book about mending marriages.  Arnold, being the curmudgeon that he is, doesn’t want to go because he sees nothing wrong with their marriage; however, he reluctantly agrees to go on the expensive excursion that Kay has paid for with her own income, probably because he gets an inkling of what he might be on the verge of losing.  What follows is an insightful experience as Dr. Feld struggles to help the couple understand how they have emotionally drifted apart and what they can do to reignite their passion. It seems a difficult, if not impossible, task, especially with all the baggage this couple is carrying deep inside themselves.

Interesting movie, especially in light of my situation and my marriage.  Mike and I are now in the midst of our 6th year of being separated.  Who knows what the future holds?  An intense counseling session with Dr. Feld?  Or a divorce attorney?   The only thing we’ve decided so far is that we will work on our friendship.  Which I believe we already have…  🙂