the february cocktail hour: a month of walking & reading

Wednesday, February 28: Welcome to our February cocktail hour! Please, come in out of the cold and keep me company.  This month I can offer you a special Mardi Gras Blackberry Basil Margarita, as our ice maker is now operational. I know it’s already Lent, so for those of you who honorably practice your faith, I can also offer sodas or seltzer water of various flavors.

I hope February has been good to you so far. February has never been my favorite month, except for Valentine’s day, which never quite lives up to the hype, and my husband’s birthday on the 26th.  I’m happy it’s a short month.  I always think of it as a grey and brown month, and my pictures below will confirm that view. It also is a month of preparation for the year.  Since the outdoors is so uninviting, I tend to stay in a lot, reading and embellishing my dreams.

Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new, taken any classes or just kept up with the news? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you been planning your adventures for the year? Have you had any winter getaways? Have you sung along with any new songs? Have you dreamed any dreams? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you undertaken any new exercise routines?

Preparing for upcoming travels

I’m enjoying immersing myself in my upcoming journeys.  This coming weekend, Mike and I will visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Only a four-hour drive from here, it’s pathetic that I’ve never been. For many years, I’ve overlooked American cities as worthy travel destinations. Now, I keep adding them to my travel plans. Why not take advantage of places closer to home? When I was 23, I took a three-month cross-country trip around the USA and I figured I’d been there, done that. I guess I’ve taken my country for granted.

After all my travels abroad, and after coming to appreciate all the nuances of different cultures and countries, I can more fully appreciate the variations in American sub-cultures and American places.  Even within our small towns and our national and state parks, treasures are waiting to be unveiled.

To prepare, I’ve read two novels and one memoir featuring the city, as well as Moon Handbooks Pennsylvania – the part about Pittsburgh.  Here are the three books I’ve read that feature Pittsburgh:

These books have fueled my imagination and will surely add depth to my visit.  We also watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which takes place in the city.  The movie inspires me to stand up through the sunroof of our car as we drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. 🙂

I created a playlist on Spotify for the trip as well.  Of course, one must have a playlist when taking an American Road Trip!  Here are my Pittsburgh Tunes.

I’ve now postponed my Four Corners Road Trip to May, as parts of Mesa Verde National Park don’t open until May 20. Because of this, I’m working backwards from there, and have plotted out much of my trip, beginning my drive from Virginia on May 1 with a planned arrival in Denver on the evening of May 3 after three 8-hour days of driving.  Mike will join me in Denver and will fly back home from Phoenix after 10 days; we’ll part ways in Flagstaff, and unless my sister decides to join me, I’ll be doing the rest alone. I have a long reading list around this area.

Finally, I’ve started preparing for walking the Camino de Santiago in September.  I found out that the The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela only swings the large incense burners on certain days. I had mistakenly thought they did it every day.  As I really want to be there for the pilgrim’s service where they swing the incense, I will aim to arrive there for the November 1 service on All Saints Day.  This month, I’ve continued reading the three books I mentioned last month. I’ve also increased my walking distances and started going to the gym.

To immerse myself in the Camino experience, I shared Spanish tapas with pilgrims and wanna-be pilgrims at a potluck for American Pilgrims on the Camino in early February. This month, I walked 40 miles in my Keen Targhee hiking boots, 23 miles in Brooks Ghost running shoes, and 4 miles in Merrill trail runners, in an attempt to break in boots/shoes and decide which ones to wear on the Camino.

I hiked 4 miles on the Vienna bike trail.

The Vienna bike trail

It was a gloomy day when I joined the Mid-Atlantic Hiking group on the Gold Mine Area Trails and Great Falls, but at least it didn’t rain. I somehow twisted my knee on this 7.2 mile hike, which got me a little worried. To help build strength in that knee and in my shoulders, I’ve been to the gym twice a week for weight-lifting and doing calisthenics recommended by my son, Alex, who does calisthenics coaching part-time.

Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side

I also hiked 4.7 miles at Bull Run Mountains State Natural Area Preserve with the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group and sipped wines at the Winery at La Grange afterward. We found an old cemetery on that hike.

Bull Run Mountains State Natural Area Preserve
Winery at La Grange
Winery at La Grange

On another miserable Saturday, I slogged 6.4 miles through mud and rain at Fraser Preserve and had coffee after with Susan, a Camino pilgrim I met on an earlier hike.  We were covered in mud and our hair was plastered to our heads!

delectable treats, movies and celebrations

I’ve been whipping up experimental dishes, including a simple pasta with broccoli rabe.  Mike and I ate Thai food at Kobkun Fine Thai Cuisine.  We celebrated Valentine’s Day with sushi, sake and Sapporo at Yoko Sushi.  I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for the second time, since Mike didn’t see it with me the first time I saw it. After, we enjoyed Malai Kofta at Curry Mantra.  I learned more about the complicated Palestinian situation from the movie The Insult, where a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian get into a vicious court case over an insult. After the movie, we tried a new restaurant, Havabite Eatery, where I scarfed down a white pizza.  We shared blackened swordfish tacos and avocado super toast at Earls Tyson’s Corner for a mid-week treat.

pasta with broccoli rabe
dinner at Earls Tysons Corner

Challenges… and life goes on

We stood by helplessly as my youngest son, feeling frustrated by his close friend’s emotional breakdown and the toxic environment at his job, walked out of work without telling his boss he was leaving. A week later, he announced he was taking off to live the life of freedom, or the “hero’s journey,” he envisions – a life where he will “sign no leases, fill out no resumes, work cash jobs, and treat each day as a holy-day.”  I gently suggested that if it’s his philosophy to live that way, he should be a man and stop expecting his parents to bail him out, and he should not expect to come back home except to visit on holidays.  That’s when he said, “Every day is a holy-day!”  Oh dear. There are some things I will never understand, but I know he’s going to live his life how he sees fit, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.  All I can do is choose how I will respond to what he does.  As it was, we parted on good terms, and I wished him the best and told him I love him. I’m working on letting it all go.

Though feeling gobsmacked by our son’s surprise departure, we celebrated Mike’s 64th birthday by having dinner of Zucchini Babycorn Jalfrezi and Gobi Tak a Tin at Masala Art and then seeing Hold These Truths at Arena Stage, about Japanese-American Gordon Hirabayashi’s fight against the US government’s orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast during WWII.  What an appropriate theme for today’s political environment, where immigrants are being excised daily from our society.

Dinner at Masala Art
Hold These Truths

Reading

I finished reading seven more books (14 total for the year), especially loving: The English Major by Jim Harrison and the audiobook of Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I also finished reading The Girl in the Moon Circle by Sia Figiel for an A-Z book group that is reading, in alphabetical order, books from all the countries of the world.  Our group mistakenly thought the book was about American Samoa, but it’s actually about Samoa, to the west of American Samoa. 🙂

The Girl in the Moon Circle

Blogging

I’ve also been slowly working on posts about my travels, finally finishing up my time in Japan (catbird in japan); I’m getting close to finishing with Prague (in search of a thousand cafes). I’m planning to start a new blog in March, unconnected to any of my other blogs, which will encompass all things travel: inspiration, making an art of travel, and creating art from travel.  I hope you’ll join me there when I start it.  Once the blog is live, I’ll stop posting on all my other blogs except this one, where I’ll continue to share things not related to travel.

I hope all is well for you and I look forward to hearing what’s going on with you!  I wish you a happy March!:-)

 

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a hike at great falls park

Sunday, October 16:  This Sunday morning, we talk a walk along the Potomac River at Great Falls Park. It’s a pretty day but not quite as cool as I’d like it to be for the middle of October.  The trees are not yet in full color down here in the lowlands, but in a week or so, I expect they will be.

Great Falls Park is a small National Park Service site in northern Virginia, with 800 acres and 15 miles (24 km) of hiking trails.  The park also has a Visitor’s Center and several viewing platforms that offer views over the cascades.

Great Falls
Great Falls

The park has a picnic area and parking spots for about 600 vehicles; most of them are filled today and there is a line at the entrance to the park.

Great Falls
Great Falls

The falls drop a total 76 feet (20 m) over a series of major cascades and are rated Class 5-6 Whitewater according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. The first kayaker to run them was Tom McEwan in 1975, but only since the early 1990s have the Falls been a popular destination for expert whitewater boaters in the DC area (Wikipedia: Great Falls Park).

Great Falls
Great Falls

As Great Falls Park is only about a half hour from our house, we come here almost once every year, either spring or summer.  Sometimes we walk on Billy Goat Trail along the Maryland side of the river, and sometimes we walk on this, the Virginia side.

Great Falls
Great Falls

Today, the park is swarming with people anxious to get outside in the fall weather.  It’s only when we hike further down the trail along Mather Gorge that we can have some space to ourselves.

Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls

Downstream from the falls is Mather Gorge, named after Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service.  For the most part, Mather Gorge is lined on both sides by cliffs, which are often used by rock climbers.  Here, the Potomac River is rated class 2-3 and has been a popular kayaking run since the 1960s.

Towards the southern end of the gorge, the cliffs become tree-lined bluffs as the gorge widens out into the wider and larger Potomac Gorge (Wikipedia: Mather Gorge).

Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

Mike is always willing to walk closer to the cliff edges than I am.  I always feel a little dizzy when I get close to steep drop-offs.

Mike at Mather Gorge
Mike at Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

Across the river, on the Maryland side, we can see the hikers on Billy Goat Trail and some rock climbers.  On our side, we also see some ropes dangling over the cliffs, but unless we go stretch our bodies out over the edge of the cliffs, we can’t see the actual climbers.

Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge

This is about as close as I’ll get to the edge.

me at Mather Gorge
me at Mather Gorge

I feel quite sad today as we leave this place.  When we first arrived for our walk, I ran into an old friend of mine from Oakton; our kids used to play together in various playgroups.  She’s here with her husband and her father.  She seems to be giving me the brush-off and I feel quite hurt by this.  I try to think what I’ve done wrong, or why she’s so obviously uncomfortable talking to me, and I guess it could be several reasons.  The major reason, of course, could be that Mike and I separated for a 7-year period and I went off the gallivant around the world, living and teaching in Korea, then Oman and China (although Mike and I had reunited before I went to China).  I have found many do people judge me for this.  If that is the case, then so be it.  If people want to judge me for choices I make in my life, then I can’t change their minds and I cannot consider them friends.  I myself try not to judge people who struggle over difficult personal decisions, and who do what they feel is necessary in their lives. That being said, I do often question whether I can in good conscience maintain friendships with people who are racists, misogynists, liars, or haters as a general practice.

Of course I could be wrong in assuming that is why she behaved the way she did, and if that isn’t it, then it could be that I didn’t make much effort with people in Oakton once I started living abroad.  I do have to say that I found many of them boring and superficial, focused only on their kids or how big their houses were or how much money they had. I felt like none of those Oakton mothers had lives of their own.  To be honest, I had simply lost interest in the suburban life myself.  This was part of why I needed to escape.

I never did feel this way about this particular friend though.  She was always interesting and kind.  She went back to school at the same time I did, and we both pursed careers of our own.   I liked her a lot.  But living abroad, it takes an extra effort to stay in touch with people, on both sides.  She didn’t make an effort with me, and neither did I make much effort with her.  So, it seems the friendship, which was at one time a nice one, is gone.  This is what happens, I guess; friends are in your life for a time or a season, and then they’re gone.  It made me more than a little sad to have this encounter and this realization.  Combined with the upcoming third presidential debate on October 19 and the overall oppressive political environment in the States these days, I feel pretty depressed when I leave Great Falls today.

Oh well, life is not always happy, even when skies are blue and it’s the middle of October in a beautiful place.

great falls park & the patomack canal

Sunday, March 16:  Today we go for a stroll along Great Falls in northern Virginia.  It’s only about a half hour from my house, but it’s probably been over 5 years since I’ve been here.  That shows how little we pay attention to the treasures in our own backyards.  On sunny spring days, there’s often a long line of cars waiting to get into the park, but today is cool and overcast, so luckily we get in without delay.

Great Falls, Virginia
Great Falls, Virginia
Bailey and Alex
Bailey and Alex
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
me with Alex at Great Falls
me with Alex at Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls, Virginia
Great Falls, Virginia
Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park
churning waters at Great Falls
churning waters at Great Falls
Mike, Bailey and Alex with the high water line marks from previous hurricanes and storms
Mike, Bailey and Alex with the high water line marks from previous hurricanes and storms
Great Falls
Great Falls

Great Falls is spectacular because here the Potomac River gathers all its force and speed and tumbles over jagged and steep rocks before it funnels into the narrow Mather Gorge, named for Stephen T. Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, from 1917-1929.  He had untiring enthusiasm for the National Park idea, a philosophy of conservation which has spread throughout the world.

Great Falls
Great Falls
the path along the Potomac
the path along the Potomac
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
From the cliffs
From the cliffs
Downriver from Great Falls in Mather Gorge
Downriver from Great Falls in Mather Gorge

Swimming and wading are prohibited near the river due to dangerous currents and hydraulics.  According to the National Park Service, many people have died over the years swimming in the Potomac River Gorge, as well as from falling in the river along the steep rocky shorelines. More than half of all river related injuries in the Potomac River Gorge are fatal and 72% of river related incidents are shoreline based activities (not kayaking/canoeing).

Potomac River at Great Falls
Potomac River at Great Falls
Looking down Mather Gorge
Looking down Mather Gorge
stream feeding into the Potomac
stream feeding into the Potomac
tree growing from rocks
tree growing from rocks
lichen
lichen
Mather Gorge
Mather Gorge
view from cliffs
view from cliffs
tangles of fallen trees
tangles of fallen trees
dried leaves
dried leaves

The Patowmack Canal, including its series of locks, was built to bypass the rapids of Great Falls to make the Potomac River navigable as far as the Ohio River Valley.  This project was George Washington’s dream, but he didn’t live to see its completion.

According to the National Park Service: The Patowmack Canal:  Thousands of boats locked through at Great Falls, carrying flour, whiskey, tobacco, and iron downstream and transporting cloth, hardware, firearms, and other manufactured products upstream.

Construction begun in 1785 and took seventeen years to complete — six years longer than the time required to locate, build, and begin occupying Washington, D.C., ten miles down river.

Patowmack Company had to dredge portions of the riverbed and skirt five areas of falls.  By far the most demanding task was building a canal with locks to bypass the Great Falls of the Potomac. Roaring over the rocks, the river drops nearly 80 feet in less than a mile.

The work force was composed of hired hands, indentured servants, and slaves rented from local landowners. The river’s swift currents, solid rock, and constant financial and labor problems hindered progress on the Patowmack Canal.

The Patowmack Company succumbed in 1828, turning over its assets and liabilities to the newly formed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The new company abandoned the Patowmack Canal in 1830 for an even more ambitious undertaking: a man-made waterway stretching from Georgetown to Cumberland on the Maryland side of the river.

Here is one of the remaining locks.

Alex runs across the old locks
Alex runs across the old locks
Alex walks in the lock
Alex walks in the lock
locks
locks

The Company House was built in the late 1790s by the Patowmack Company.  It was intended for the canal superintendent and his family, but it took so long to build that only one superintendent lived there.  It was later occupied by the canal lock tenders.  This chimney is all that remains of it today.

the Company House
the Company House ruins

We walk back to the parking lot on the inland trial where we see tangled forests and moss-covered rocks.  To see a full-sized slide show, click on any of the images below.

To read more about Great Falls Park, see National Park Service: Great Falls Park.

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