the january cocktail hour: preparing for adventure in the year ahead

Wednesday, January 31:  It’s that time again – our January cocktail hour! 🙂 Please, come in out of the cold and make yourselves comfortable. I’m so glad the holidays are behind us and we can get back to the routines of everyday life. I would offer you a cocktail, my current favorite being a cucumber jalapeno margarita, but the ice maker in our two-year-old refrigerator has inexplicably stopped making ice. So, it’s either wine or beer.  For those of you who don’t drink, I have sodas and seltzer water of various flavors.  Or milk.  There’s always milk. 🙂

I hope January has been good to you so far. Have you played in snow, gone skiing, ridden dog sleds or stayed in igloos? Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you started 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?

Our first two weeks of January in northern Virginia were wicked, with temps below freezing.  A few light snowfalls made for icy messes outdoors.  Although I’d made all kinds of exercise-related resolutions, I just couldn’t bring myself to crawl out from under my furry white blanket and leave my house.  Mike has taken to calling me his Japanese snow monkey because he’s only seen peeks of my pink face enveloped in a swirl of white hair and fuzzy blanket.  No matter.  This cozy position under my blanket has been conducive to reading, as I finished 7 of my 45-book goal for the year.  Of these, I especially enjoyed The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Whistling Past the Graveyard, and Follies.

The most rewarding and challenging thing I’ve been doing is preparing for my 2018 adventures.  I have the following plans up my sleeve:

  1. A road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: March 2-4 (a three-day weekend).
  2. A road trip to the Four Corners area, the only point in the USA where four states come together: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.  I plan to take a solo road trip to Colorado, visit my son in Denver and do some hikes there with him, then go on my way to visit Monument Valley, Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Hoventweep National Monument, Four Corners Monument Navajo Tribal Park, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park.  If Alex could come with me for part of it, I’d be thrilled, but as he has to work, he may not be able to. Logistics will be tough, because I don’t want to drive him back to Denver once I leave there. I would also love it if my daughter Sarah or my sister Stephanie could join me for any part of the trip, but they have so many obligations, I’m not sure it’s possible.   Mike does plan to join me for some parts of the trip, ending back in Denver, but we haven’t yet worked out those logistics either.  I imagine the whole trip will take at least three weeks; I plan to do it in April.
  3. A 4-5/day road trip to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY, possibly crossing the border into Ontario in late June. I might be able to meet my friend Mona Lisa for some part of this trip.
  4. The pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. I want to do the route that most pilgrims do: the Camino Francés (The French Way), from St. John-Pied-du-Port to Santiago de Compostela (769 km) or nearly 500 miles.  I imagine it will take me at least 6 weeks, possibly longer, as I don’t plan to do it as a race! After I finish the walk, Mike plans to meet me in Santiago and we’ll visit Porto, Lisbon and Sintra in Portugal for our 30th anniversary.  I even have an idea about renting bicycles in Santiago de Compostela and riding with Mike to Cape Finesterre, known in Roman times as the end of the world, but I haven’t researched yet whether that’s possible.  I hope to do this in September-October.

I love preparing for trips as much as taking them. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:

For the Camino, reading:

  1. A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago by John Brierly.
  2. Camino de Santiago by Sergi Ramis
  3. In Movement There is Peace by Elaine Orabona Foster

Watching:

I have already watched the movie, The Way, and we recently watched Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, both of which I found inspirational.

Doing:

I attended a talk about the Camino by a fellow named Don Shaw at REI last night (luckily the talk made me miss the State of the Union Address, but I planned to boycott it anyway). He’s done the Camino five times using different routes. It turns out that he is also hosting a potluck at his house this Saturday to which I’ve already RSVP’d.  He started the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino, which I joined in December.  We have our first Camino group hike (8.6 miles) on Sunday, February 25.

Luckily, REI allows you to try out hiking boots and then return them if they cause discomfort.  I bought a pair of size 8 Oboz Sawtooth low BDry boots and I wore them for a five-mile walk.  My toes were hitting the end and my feet were killing me, so I’ve decided to return them.  Last night, I bought a pair of Keen Targhee low boots in size 8 1/2 and walked in them today.  They felt better, but I did feel my size 7 1/2 feet were sliding around in them a bit. I’ve been told that whatever boots I get, I need to put 100km on them BEFORE I do the Camino.  So I need to commit to a pair and get busy walking!

I have stared increasing my walking distance as it has thawed outside.  It’s not very inviting outside, as you can see from a walk on the Cross County Trail in early January.  Drab, snowy, mottled and dirty, with mostly dingy skies: days like these simply don’t entice.

An ice-over Difficult Run Stream

Walking in sub-freezing temperatures isn’t much fun, although a bit of blue sky does ease the pain.

Lake Audubon
birds at Lake Audubon
Lake Newport

I started an aerobics class to whip other parts of my body into shape: upper body, core, lower body.  I’ve also asked my son to draw up a fitness plan of calisthenics and weight lifting to build strength to carry a 16-20lb backpack.

I’ve also finished planning our Pittsburgh trip and am reading now about The Four Corners area.  I’ll write more about my planning on those later.

Family, photo outings, and restaurants:

Sarah went to her dad’s for Christmas, so even after we took our Christmas tree down, her pile of presents still sat in a pile in the corner of our living room.  Laden with gifts, I visited her in Richmond on the 19th.  She has been busy doing freelance work for Richmond Magazine, and she had an article due, so she couldn’t spend much time with me.  Before I showed up at her house, I wandered through Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden so I could get my winter dose of color.

Humpty Dumpty at Lewis Ginter
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

I especially enjoyed the cacti and succulent collection is on display in the West Wing of the Conservatory.

cacti and succulent collection
cacti and succulent collection
cacti and succulent collection
cacti
cacti
cacti and succulent collection

In the central Palm House, I enjoyed the palm and cycad collection.

palms in the Palm House

And in the semi-tropical East Wing, I wandered through tropical plants, including the orchid collection.

orchids

Outside, I walked through Asian Valley, which displays plants native to Asia and offers a place for quiet contemplation.

Asian Valley

When I arrived at Sarah’s, we enjoyed a glass of wine while she opened her presents (lots of cookbooks and a toaster oven), and then we went out to dinner at Sabai, which serves authentic Thai street food. Sitting at the bar, we shared an appetizer of Larb Gai: minced chicken seasoned with red onions, lemongrass, Thai chilies, basil, and mint in a spicy lime dressing.  Sarah ordered Koa Soi Gai:  Northern Thai style curry with bone-in chicken and egg noodles served with pickled mustard greens, red onions and spicy chili lime oil.  And I ordered Pad Se Ew: Flat rice noodles stir-fried with egg, black bean sauce, shrimp and broccoli.  The atmosphere was lively and the food was delicious.

As for the rest of the family, Alex moved successfully to Denver and is trying to adjust to his new life there.  Adam is working long hours at his job and, surprisingly, he loves it.  It’s good to see him so busy and so enthused about work.  As for me, I’ve been still attending Al-Anon and keeping the focus on myself, as no one else is my business (I keep having to remind myself of that).  Overall, I’m thankful that everything is good for the moment.  Taking life one day at a time.

Urban hikes & museum-going:

Mike and I did an urban hike in downtown D.C., stopping first at the Renwick Gallery.  Our goal was to see the exhibit of miniature crime scenes called “Murder is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.” The exhibit was packed and the crime scenes so small that it was impossible to see anything.  So instead, we just walked around the gallery, enjoying the other exhibits.

 

The Renwick

While waiting in a fast-moving line, we walked past The Blair House, the home of Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), founder and editor of The Globe (1830-1845), a newspaper which championed democratic causes and vigorous journalism notably during the administration of President Andrew Jackson in whose “kitchen cabinet” Blair loyally served.

The Blair House

At the end of this post are descriptions of the places, statues and art we encountered today.  If you’re interested in them, you can read about them based on the picture captions.

The Final Stop by Rick Araluce
Parallax Gap by David Freeland and Brennan Buck

I loved this fabulous Monopoly game made with fired clay.

Monopoly
Shadow of Amboseli

I love this delicate piece that evokes a quiet forest in Japan.

The Renwick has a fabulous variety of art and installations.

After the Renwick, it was quite a hike to the National Gallery of Art.

Washington streets

At the National Gallery of Art, our goal was to see the exhibit “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry.”  How foolish it was to attempt to see such an exhibit on the last day it was open.  Hundreds of people were in a long snaking line curled all around the perimeter of the museum.  Instead of standing in that line, we opted to drop in on a small Edvard Munch exhibit.

Across the hall, we also dropped in on another small exhibit: “Posing for the Camera.”  Many photographers were featured, but I especially loved two by Lee Friedlander of the photographer and his wife.

After this, we left by way of the fountain and began our trek back to the Renwick.

fountain in the National Gallery of Art

On our way back, we stopped for tapas and wine at Jaleo, one of my favorite D.C. restaurants.

As we continued on our way after lunch, we passed by the SunTrust Bank headquarters, where I used to work (the bank was called Crestar at the time) as a credit analyst.

Suntrust Bank

I share the sentiments of this protester!

protesters at the White House
Rochambeau

Movies & plays

As for movies, we haven’t been to many this month, mainly because we didn’t feel like going out in the cold.  We loved The Post, which told the story of how The Washington Post, and the press in general, went up against the U.S. government during the Vietnam war over the Pentagon Papers.  The press, a vital pillar of our democracy, is under attack these days by our divider-in-chief, so I’m happy when the press wins over the government.  Especially in the case of Vietnam, the government lied to the American people for years; it was the press that finally revealed to the public the extent of those lies. The audience, a full house, cheered at the end of the movie.

Another movie we saw on Netflix was a quiet Japanese movie called Sweet Bean, which told of a doryaki pastry maker who hired a 76-year-old woman and the relationship that grew between them.  I love Japanese movies for their delicate portrayal of human emotion.

Finally, at the end of the month, we went to a matinée showing at Theater J of Everything Is Illuminated; the play was based on the book of the same title by Jonathan Safran Foer.  The main character goes to Ukraine in search of a woman who possibly saved his grandfather during the Holocaust. Some parts were hilarious, some sad; we loved it overall.

Everything is Illuminated

Then we went to Logan Tavern for a delicious early dinner.  I took a picture of the Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup, but I was so hungry, I didn’t think to take pictures of my Trumpet Mushroom ‘Risotto:” cauliflower and squash “risotto”, chimichurri, fig balsamic, & crispy Parmesan. It was so delicious, I polished it off in one fell swoop.

Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup

Other stuff:

I’ve been reading a lot, working on my memoir, and still trying to catch up on editing pictures and blogging about all my travels to Japan and Czech Republic.  I haven’t begun to write about my solo trip to Cape May, NJ and Mike’s and my trip to Nashville, TN in December!

I hope you’ll tell me what you’ve been up to in January. I can’t wait to hear of your plans for the year, as well as your everyday lives and what you make of them. 🙂

********************

Here are some of the details about the art shown above, as taken from signs at the museums, unless stated otherwise:

The Renwick

The Final Stop by Rick Araluce. Visitors find themselves transported to an anonymous subway station, an eerie subterranean world nestled within the gallery, where flickering lights and distant rumblings suggest the passage of trains and cavernous tunnels seemingly stretch for miles.

Parallax Gap by architects David Freeland and Brennan Buck.  To create Parallax Gap, nine ceilings from iconic works of American architecture were drawn, printed at large-scale, and then suspended in layers above the Renwick’s Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon. The architects have challenged the medium’s typical role by transforming their drawings from two-dimensional illustrations to three-dimensional installations.

Shadow of Amboseli (2016) by Wendy Maruyama.

Monopoly (2007)- paint and ink on unfired clay by Kristen Morgin: Morgin’s illusionistic sculptures resemble found objects weathered by time, but they are in fact meticulously crafted assemblages made from unfired clay.  Inspired by abandoned objects from people’s pasts, she investigates age, nostalgia, and value in culture – themes rooted in the mythology of the American Dream.

Notice – Forest  (Autumn) 2002 – McDonald’s Neverland paper bag and colored pencil by Yuken Teruya born Okinawa, Japan.  Teruya transforms paper bags into magical tableaux. He cuts the silhouette of a tree into one side, then bends the paper inward to seemingly take root, leaving the lacy holes above to evoke mottled sunlight.  Teruya’s reuse of these discarded materials memorializes the trees in ingenious floating worlds and suggests a cycle of renewal.

Untitled #192 (1989) burdock burrs and apple wood by John McQueen.

Woman and Child (2002) by Akio Takamori, born Nobeoka Miyazaki, Japan 1950.

Raft (1997) by William Morris.

Downtown D.C.

General Casimir Pulaski is a bronze equestrian statue at Freedom Plaza,13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Pulaski immigrated to North America to help with the American Revolutionary War. He distinguished himself throughout the revolution, most notably when he saved George Washington’s life. Pulaski became a general in the Continental Army and reformed the American cavalry as a whole. At the Battle of Savannah, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was gravely wounded, and died shortly thereafter (Wikipedia: Casimir Pulaski).

At the National Gallery of Art

Edvard Munch: Man’s Head in Woman’s Hair: It is unclear whether the woman is imagined by the man, or if the man’s head floating in the woman’s hair is a figment of her mind…Perhaps she is thinking of him sympathetically, or he is recalling a woman he encountered.  One figure conjures the image of the other, producing the image of the thought.

Lee Friedlander: Los Angeles: Friedlander and his new bride, Maria, seem eager to embark on their journey together through life.

Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, California: Maria Friedlander candidly wrote in the introduction to her husband’s 2004 book, Family: “There are no photographs of arguments and disagreements, of the times when we were rude, impatient, and insensitive parents, of frustration, of anger strong enough to consider dissolving the marriage… a book of pictures doesn’t tell the whole story.” Nevertheless, she concluded, Friedlander’s pictures are about “the celebration of the small moment that only Lee saw.  [They are] Lee’s gift to me of my own private memoir in pictures.  I look at it and feel the moments both revealed and evoked, the joy and the hard times – it’s all there.”

***********

Happy February, everyone! 🙂

 

 

 

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the july cocktail hour: the renovation wrap-up edition

Sunday, July 17:  Here it is, time for our “dog days of July” cocktail hour. Welcome! I’m so happy to see you again.  Please come in and I’ll mix you up a drink.  We can sit on the screened-in porch, but in today’s 91 degree (F) heat, even with the ceiling fan stirring the air, we might prefer to move inside.  Our kitchen and family room renovation is done, but I must apologize that our counter stools for the kitchen island haven’t arrived.  We’ll just have to sit on couches or chairs or, better yet, just mingle.

You’ll be happy to know that my repertoire of drinks is improving daily.  Mike told our contractors, who have given us a two-year warranty on our home improvements, that he would like a warranty on his wife.  He fears he will have an alcoholic on his hands in two years’ time as I’m always trying new drink concoctions to enjoy on our screened-in porch.  My inspiration comes from my friend Beatrice, who swears by mixed drinks on ice during the hot summer months.  You know I’ve always been a wine and beer drinker, but I’m learning to enjoy a good cocktail.  Besides my recent foray into dirty martinis, Beatrice has introduced me to the Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer), which is usually served in a copper mug.  I don’t have any copper mugs, but I did get some colorful cocktail glasses.  I’ve also tried Beatrice’s favorite, the Cosmopolitan, or Cosmo, although she never told me about the Triple Sec. My daughter Sarah, who has worked for a long time as a bartender/waitress, would be proud!

I’m dying to know what you’ve been up to in the last month. Have you been enjoying your summer? Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home? Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges? Have you reconnected with old friends or made any new ones? Have you indulged yourself with daydreams? Have you changed jobs?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners?  Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  How’s your garden?

It seems I haven’t done much but to make endless decisions on our renovation.  We had a couple of mishaps and two of my children have gone on some adventures, although I haven’t been anywhere myself. Our trip to Iceland is coming up on August 13; we’ve booked our flight, rental car and accommodation, and I’m slowly working my way through the guidebook.

My daughter Sarah went on a trip to Puerto Rico for a week with some girlfriends at the end of June.  I’ve talked with her by phone, but I haven’t made it down to Richmond to catch up with her about her trip or to see her new house. Hopefully, I’ll be visiting her within the next two weeks.

As of June 21, this is what our renovation looked like.

The bulk of our renovation was finished up on Friday, June 24, so we were able to move back into our kitchen.  Some of the electrical work needed to be finished up after the electrician returned from vacation on July 4, but at least we were now able to cook!

I completed the Landmark Advanced Course on three long days 10:00 a.m. to midnight on June 24, 25, 26, and then a Tuesday night.  It was tough going, but many parts of it were very eye-opening and inspirational.  One of the things we had to do was to write in stream-of-consciousness style for about 10 minutes straight about some problem we have in our life.  Then we sat knee-to-knee with another participant and read aloud what we had written, over and over, until we were told to stop.  The story I wrote was about my inability to find a decent job, and my story is quite extensive.  As a matter of fact, most of you have probably read about it many times on my blog!  After reading it multiple times, it became embarrassing, and ludicrous!  What a story I’ve been telling myself for all these years. I hope I can create a new story and put an end to that old story, although I imagine I will still pull that old story out when it suits me.

During the Saturday session of the Landmark Forum, I got a text from Mike asking me to call him when I could.  I ducked out and called to find out he’d been in a bad bicycle crash right in our neighborhood and had just spent three hours in the emergency room.  He admits he was being quite cocky in taking a sharp turn, and when he had to alter the turn because a car pulled up, he went sliding out on a patch of gravel.  He shredded his whole left side, leg and arm, with a huge gouge scooped out of his left forearm.  He also suffered a mild concussion.  I’ve had to help him change his bandages twice a day for the last two and a half weeks.  Finally the wounds have started to heal, but it’s been tough on him because he hasn’t been able to swim or bike, his two favorite activities.

After the Landmark Advanced Course, I was feeling inspired and decided to host my whole family here at my house for my dad’s 86th birthday on the weekend of September 17.  I’ve told my sister in California, who hates to fly, that come hell or high water, I would get her here, even if it means I have to fly out there and then drive across the country with her.  Most everyone in my family has committed to this event, except for Adam.  This event will now preclude me getting any kind of teaching job abroad as most semesters begin in early September.

Our contractors had painted a pale yellow base coat on the kitchen and family room walls; this base coat was in preparation for a decorative art painter, Sarah Zehala, we hired to stipple a rich yellow color on the walls. She was here two days, on June 29-30.  I was highly pleased with the results!  We’ve had a lot of compliments from friends, family and the contractors, who came back on July 5 to finish all the electrical work.  I’m hiring Sarah to come back to do our dining room (which I’m changing from a formal dining room to a farmhouse dining area – since our kitchen has no table) and our foyer.

As of June 29, her paint job was about halfway done:

Kitchen almost faux painted
Kitchen almost faux painted

As of June 30, the painting was finished and we moved some of our furniture back in:

Family with some furniture in after painting
Family with some furniture in after painting
Famil room looking into the kitchen
Family room looking into the kitchen
Family room faux-painted
Family room faux-painted

Mike was supposed to go to Detroit for a wedding on Friday, July 1, but his flight was cancelled.  I was glad he didn’t go because he was able to accompany me to my friend Beatrice’s cocktail party that night.  It was fun to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in years, and although I swore I wasn’t going to talk about Adam, of course I did, because, as is the case at every gathering in northern Virginia, people always ask about the children.

On Saturday night, I was making some nachos in our new oven.  This was the first time we used the oven.  I had the broiler on and though most ovens have a high and low broil, we couldn’t figure out how to put it on low.  I had the rack at the topmost setting.  I put the wedge-cut corn tortillas in a pan on the top rack for two minutes and then took them out and turned them over.  When I put them back in for two more minutes, I suddenly noticed that they were on fire!  We should have just turned off the oven and kept the door closed, but Mike picked up the pan with a pot holder and carried it out to the screened porch and through the screen door, with the flames leaping viciously.  He then tossed it face down on the ground beneath the deck and ran around trying to put out the fire on the grass!

Oh my gosh!  How horrible it would have been to have just done this whole renovation and then caught our house on fire!

On Sunday night, we figured we were safer NOT cooking at home, so we went out for Mexican food at Chevys Fresh Mex and to see the movie about Thomas Wolfe, Genius.  Lately, I get so impatient with movies.  I enjoyed the movie but it just went on too long.  I remember a time when I’d be so engrossed in a movie,  I wished it would never end.  I haven’t felt that way about any movie I’ve seen recently.

We never do much on July 4 as it’s my least favorite holiday.  I don’t enjoy fireworks and I hate the heat, so we usually keep it low-key and cook something on the grill.  Mike’s sister Barbara came over and we cooked hamburgers and potato salad and sat on the screened porch as it rained all around us.  I loved the cool air and the sound of the rain, so unusual for an Independence Day holiday.

I had lunch one day with an old friend of mine, Sarah, at Sakoon Thai.  It was great to catch up with her after not seeing her for a couple of years.  I went another day to see The Music of Strangers with Yo-Yo Ma and other musicians with whom he collaborated on the Silk Road Project.  It’s funny, but as I listened to Yo-Yo Ma talk in the movie, I realized he was using some of the Landmark Forum language and I remembered that Landmark has Yo-Yo Ma in some of its advertising films. I wonder if he was inspired to do the Silk Road Project after attending the Landmark Forum?

As of July 6, most of our lights and electrical were finished.

As of July 6
As of July 6
As of July 6
As of July 6
Pendant lights as of July 6
Pendant lights as of July 6

For several months, we had a big date looming ahead of us, July 7.  Adam’s lease on his apartment in Richmond expired on this date.  We co-signed the 6-month lease with the understanding that he would get a job and start contributing to his own support.  He never stepped up to the plate to get a job; in fact, he has insisted continuously that he’s never going to work full-time. He doesn’t want to work for anyone else and he can’t seem to get it together to start his own business, despite our attempts to help him. We were forced to give notice that we would not renew the lease. We’ve also told him he cannot live with us.  He always talks about being homeless as if it’s some kind of romantic thing and has often talked about wanting to give up all his possessions and live “off the grid.” We figured this would be as good a time as any to let him feel the consequences of his irresponsible decisions and his fantasy-land beliefs.

To top off this bad situation, the mini-van he’s been driving broke down a couple of weeks before his apartment lease was up.  Since he thinks it’s so romantic to be homeless, we figured he could just live in the van, much like in the movie, The Lady in the Van.  We decided to go ahead and replace the engine in the van, because we can still get some use out of it and can sell it eventually for a slight profit. However, Adam informed us he didn’t want the van.  A few days before his lease expired, he informed us he was buying a one-way ticket to Vancouver to attend a retreat, International Tribe Design.  Between the airplane ticket and the retreat cost of $1,900, he must be getting himself deeper into debt. He’s been living off of credit cards that the banks foolishly gave him; we have no idea how much debt he’s gotten himself into. The van still wasn’t fixed, so he counted on his brother to help him move out of his apartment.  Then he loaded some boxes into Alex’s car and said he would drive up to our house, drop the boxes and then go to the airport.  We got a message that he hadn’t had time to stop by our house, so he just left Alex’s car at the airport.  Luckily he texted us which garage and spot the car was in, and Alex had to come up later with his girlfriend and the key to retrieve the car from the airport.

On July 9, I put up the curtains in the family room.

me putting up the curtains in the family room
me putting up the curtains in the family room

Alex and Ariana came up on July 10, picked up his car from the airport, dropped Adam’s boxes in our garage, and shared a Thai dinner with us at Kob Kun Fine Thai Cuisine in Oakton. It’s always so nice to spend time with our oldest son, who has a girlfriend, is going to university, working a job, and saving money.

Adam’s International Tribe Design retreat sounded fascinating but it ended on July 11 and we haven’t heard a word from him since. Of course, we’re worried about him, but he doesn’t seem to want our help now and needs to figure things out on his own.

Mike and I went out for Japanese sushi at Yoko Sushi in Oakton on Saturday after Adam took off, and we enjoyed hot Sake and cold beer with our meal.  It was fun to go out without having a movie obligation after, as we could just enjoy our drinks and conversation without being rushed.  We’re trying hard not to let thoughts of Adam paralyze us; we’re working on letting go.  He’s going to need to go through whatever he needs to in order to either get his life together or fall hard.

I have applied for numerous teaching jobs in Morocco, but I haven’t heard anything back.  I also have applied for several jobs here in the U.S.; I applied for one in April as a front desk receptionist at an Urgent Care; it’s operated through the big hospital system in northern Virginia, INOVA. I applied for this position, only requiring a high school education, because a friend of mine told me about it and encouraged me to apply.  This friend had told me that the hours were flexible and you could work part-time. However, I had been told by the hiring manager that INOVA had frozen hiring for the position.

On the weekend after Adam left, I was considering what I could do in the fall since no jobs were panning out and since I’ve now planned that big family reunion for my dad’s birthday.  I talked to Mike about doing the The Camino de Santiago: The French Way.  I was feeling very gung-ho about it, and Mike was supportive of the idea. I wrote to a Scottish company to see what the cost might be.  The itinerary they gave me was for 53 days at about 5,040 pounds, or $6,650!  Ouch.  I think I either need to consider a shorter version, or plan it myself for a later time.

Alex gave me a plan to start upping my walk distances by a mile each week, so I walked 4 miles/day last week.  Next week, I’m supposed to go 5 miles/day.  Feeling very excited about committing to the Camino, on Monday morning, July 11, I got an email from the woman at INOVA saying they’d like to interview me for the job at the Tyson’s Corner Urgent Care.  The interview was set up for Friday, the 15th.  Of course, if I got the job, I wouldn’t walk the Camino.

On July 13, we had a small bistro table and some chairs delivered for our porch.

bistro table and chairs
bistro table and chairs

On July 14, we had a coffee table delivered for our living room.  It took me two days to assemble it!

coffee table assembled - check!
coffee table assembled – check!

I went to the INOVA interview on Friday and it turns out there was quite a misunderstanding about the hours.  The job is not flexible at all, and is full-time.  It is five nights a week from 3 pm – 8:30 pm (and often later) and then every other weekend, all day.  So basically I would have to work 12 days in a row, have two days off, work 12 days, ad infinitum.  That wasn’t what I was looking for at all!  Now, I might go back to thinking about the Camino. 🙂

Yesterday, the decorative painter Sarah came by to look at our paint projects for the dining room and foyer.  Then Mike and I went to Vienna Floors to look at carpet as we need to paint and re-carpet the basement, which has taken quite a beating over the years.  Mike is in the process of creating his own man-cave down there, with his desk and a TV so he can do his paperwork and watch sports at the same time.

Last night, we went for Mexican at  Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen at the Mosaic District, a very upscale area in Fairfax.  We watched the movie Captain Fantastic.  I couldn’t help but think of Adam and his dream to live off the grid; the fictional father in the movie lives in the wilderness in the Pacific Northwest and forces a strict regimen – a rigorous physical and intellectual education – on his six children.  Like the father, Adam is extremely well-read, deep thinking, philosophical, and physically fit.  Sadly, he also has some of the emotional instability that the mother in the fictional family had; she committed suicide.  I am waiting to see what happens down the road to my gifted and idealistic son.

While we were at the Mosaic District, the area was swarming with young people on their phones.  All seemed to be absorbed in the new Pokémon GO app!  It was insane!  I thought if some aliens arrived on our planet, they would wonder what on earth was going on here.

As of today, this is what our house looks like.

family room
family room
family room
family room
family room looking into kitchen
family room looking into kitchen
laundry room
laundry room
kitchen near door to screened porch looking into family room
kitchen near door to screened porch looking into family room
island in kitchen
island in kitchen
looking from the family room to kitchen
looking from the family room to kitchen
kitchen island
kitchen island
screened porch
screened porch
small deck for grilling
small deck for grilling

I’m so happy our renovation is finished, although we’re still doing some cosmetic things in the months ahead (basement, dining room and foyer – carpet and paint).

Once again, enough about me and enough about my struggles with my children and our renovation. I apologize for my chattiness.  Please, do tell me about you!  I’d love to hear what you’re up to.  Please share anything and everything. What do you have in the pipeline for the summer?  Please, do tell all!  🙂

decluttering & demolition… & opening up to possibilities

I have apparently designated this as my year to declutter, clear out, demolish. This has happened without my full realization, but as each month progresses, I’m sure that the year is meant to unfold this way.

In the process of cleaning out and demolishing, I hope to create space for new possibilities.  I am spending this year in a process of self-discovery, and my quest is multi-faceted and I hope, life-changing.

This process started in January after I read the book: the life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo.  She dubs her method The KonMari method, advising her clients to work by category, not by where clutter is located in their houses. She outlines a specific order to the categories, beginning with clothing, followed by “books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value.”

Marie Kondo says in her book: “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective” (p. 3).  Why?  Because “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too” (p.4).  She says, “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future” (p. 181).  She suggests that when you get rid of clutter, you should touch each item and let it go with thankfulness for the part it played in your life.  I have found her method freeing, and so far, though I’ve only gone through clothing and books, I’ve been able to let go of things I’ve been holding on to for sentimental reasons while giving thanks for the part those things played in my life.  I feel unburdened every time I let something go.

Marie Kondo claims by decluttering and tidying, you will experience a dramatic change in your life.  You’ll clear up space where you can fill it with only the things you love.  Choosing to keep only those things that “spark joy,” you can focus on only the things you love without distractions.

At the same time I began my decluttering project, I started taking a real estate course through Moseley Real Estate Schools that lasted from early January into mid-February.  I took the course like the perfect student I always am, passed the class test on the first round, and then passed the state and national exam, again on the first round.  I cleared all hurdles to get my real estate license and to sell real estate, but after talking with numerous firms, all of whom want me to come on board (at no cost to them, I might add, as selling real estate is totally commission-based and you have to pay a couple thousand dollars just to begin), I just cannot take that final step. No matter how much I try to tell myself I could do it, my heart just isn’t in it.  So I’m back to my perplexing dilemma: what to do with my life?  This has been a quandary for me since I was in college, and at age 60, I still haven’t figured it out.  I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, and I want desperately to figure out what I can do that gives me pleasure and some sense of accomplishment while I’m still “young at heart!”

In the early part of this year, I was seeing a Sikh therapist who I’ve seen from time to time over the last couple of years.  She recommended that I read The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity by Catherine Ponder.  Though the book is Christian in principal, my Sikh therapist thought it was applicable for people of all faiths in teaching the power of affirmations. In a chapter titled “The Vacuum Law of Prosperity,” Ponder says: “Basically, the vacuum law of prosperity is this: if you want greater good, greater prosperity in your life, start forming a vacuum to receive it!  In other words, get rid of what you don’t want to make room for what you do want.” She poses that nature abhors a vacuum, and by getting rid of what you don’t want, you’re automatically making room for what you do want.  She says that you should talk about prosperity, not lack, and envision that your prosperity is already visible in great abundance (p. 41-51).

At the book’s suggestion, I’ve made a vision board and a list of affirmations, but I have to say I haven’t been totally devoted to using them because I’m still unsure what vision I have!

In the midst of my personal self-discovery project, a major remodel of our kitchen, laundry room, and screened-in porch/deck has gotten underway. We’ve been planning this since the fall; during that time, we talked to several contractors and ended up choosing Northwood Construction.  It took us a long while to go through the planning and the many choices of cabinets, countertops, deck material, floor plan, appliances, sink/faucet, lighting, etc.  Following are pictures I took in early February of our kitchen, family room and deck BEFORE the project began.

Friday, February 5: Our kitchen is original to our house, which was built in 1981.  When we moved here in 1994, we replaced the floors throughout the first level with hardwood, painted the kitchen cabinets white, replaced the countertop with formica, got new appliances, removed wallpaper throughout the house and put new wallpaper in some rooms and painted other rooms.  Twenty-two years later, after many years of neglect, things were looking pretty ratty, especially our deck, which was literally about to collapse.  The steps off the deck had broken in several spots, leading to a dangerous situation.

The previous owners had moved the laundry room from the basement, which they’d refinished nicely, to the garage — into a kind of small makeshift room that wasn’t heated or cooled.  We decided when we moved in that the laundry room was the first thing that needed fixing.  Despite our declaration to fix it immediately, we’ve lived with it for 22 years, despite it being uncomfortably hot in summer or icy cold in winter and in such ramshackle condition.

Laundry room - BEFORE
Laundry room – BEFORE

Our family room is adjacent to the kitchen and is a very narrow rectangular room. Its strong point is that it has four long floor-to-ceiling windows that let in beautiful natural light.  We decided we’d like to have the more open plan seen in modern houses, where the kitchen and family room are one big room.  However, because of the narrow dimensions and the four nice windows on the opposite wall, there is only one place to put a couch, on the wall between the family room and kitchen. In three-dimensional drawings made by the contractor, I didn’t like seeing the back of the couch from the open kitchen.  Since there’s no space behind to put a sofa table, we decided on a knee wall behind the couch.  This change requires major structural changes, as the wall we’re partially removing to give a more open feeling is a load-bearing wall and needs a steel beam and major structural changes to make it work.

Our deck was a hazard.  Not only was it dilapidated, but it also got the sun full-on in summer, making it virtually unusable.  Also, mosquitos are a big problem in Virginia.  Thus we opted to demolish the deck and build a screened-in porch, with an open deck behind the garage for outdoor grilling.  Our backyard is a very narrow sloping yard, perfectly useless in my opinion.  Hopefully this will give us a more inviting outdoor space.

Deck - BEFORE
Deck – BEFORE

Friday-Sunday, April 8, 9, 10:  Before the project began, I attended an intensive 3-day “transformation course”: The Landmark Forum.  The reason I signed up for this was because my son had done the Forum in March, as well as the Advanced Course in April, and I was seeing a positive change in his behavior, his confidence and his willingness and ability to communicate.  The change in him so far has been dramatic.

At my forum, about 140 people gathered every day, Friday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Three thirteen-hour days! All the description in the world can’t equal experiencing the Forum.  However, I can say I discovered some realizations about myself that have dictated my life since I was a child and a teenager. Some of the discoveries I made are things I knew at a superficial level before, but after participating in the Forum, listening to other people share, sharing myself, and engaging with the speaker in a kind of Socratic method of dialogue, I felt  a deeper understanding of the limiting beliefs I’ve been governed by, “stories” I made up about actual events that happened in my life that have been determining my behavior for my WHOLE LIFE.  The speaker guided us to understand how ludicrous it is that our behavior is totally governed by “stories” and fears based on something that happened to us when we were 3 or 5 or 10 or 15 years old!  Again, a kind of decluttering, a demolishing of old beliefs and an opening up of possibilities for a transformed existence.

At the end of my forum, I signed up for a series of 10 “Commitment” seminars, weekly or bi-weekly, to keep me on track applying what I learned.  I also signed up for the Landmark Advanced Course, which should enable me, now that I’ve been stripped down to “nothing,” to create a life of new possibilities.

You can find allegations online and elsewhere that Landmark is a “cult,” but I don’t believe it to be so; they actually address that allegation by emphasizing that the Forum is about YOUR life.  It’s not about a group mentality, but about transforming your relationships and reaching your dreams and goals.  I guess you could say that many things in life are cults, including addictions and religious affiliations.  I have to say I don’t care for the marketing aspect of Landmark, as they encourage you to bring more people to sign up, but I do see the value in the Forum itself, especially when I can witness the transformation in my son, as well as my own self-realizations.

Monday, April 11: On Monday morning after I completed my forum, our contractor showed up and in one day demolished our deck.  All the debris was carried out to the street awaiting delivery of the dumpster.

Thursday, April 14:  By Thursday, our laundry room was demolished, materials were delivered, a dumpster was set up for construction debris and a porta-potty was installed on our property.  The contractors will be working on our house through the end of June, apparently.  At this point, they were waiting for us to move everything out of our kitchen and family room, so they could begin the inside demolition on Monday morning.

Friday, April 15:  On Friday, the concrete was delivered for the porch footings.  The holes were already dug in preparation for this and the concrete was poured and leveled and left to dry over the weekend.

Concrete arrives for porch footings
Concrete arrives for porch footings

Saturday & Sunday, April 16&17:  We spent all weekend going through every item in our kitchen and dining room.  We boxed a lot of stuff which we took to Goodwill.  We packed unessential items into boxes and put them in the basement.  We set up a makeshift kitchen in the dining room with essentials: refrigerator, coffee pot, wok, rice cooker/food steamer/slow cooker, hot water heater, toaster, toaster oven, plastic dishes and utensils and cabinets of food.

Makeshift kitchen in dining room
Makeshift kitchen in dining room
Makeshift kitchen in dining room
Makeshift kitchen in dining room

Monday, April 18: Our contractors are here every weekday by 7:30 and they leave promptly at 3:30.  They work non-stop while they’re here.  So far, I’m impressed by their professionalism and capabilities.

On Monday, the foreman let me do some of the first strikes to begin the kitchen demolition.

I pose for demolition
I pose for demolition

Don’t laugh too hard.  I know, I look like a wild woman!

I’m surprised by how quickly our construction foreman demolished the entire kitchen and the drywall between the kitchen and family room all by himself.  The porch is also being framed simultaneously with the kitchen demolition.

Tuesday, April 19:  Now we can see the backbone of this portion of our house.  When the drywall was pulled off, the contractor found a number of ant colonies and wood destruction.  Two times we’ve had to call our pest control person to treat certain areas under floorboards and on the ceiling.

the contractor in what remains of the kitchen
the contractor in what remains of the kitchen

In addition, we found a lot of water damage in the area where the skylights were.  That means the plywood and several joists on the roof need replacing, adding another $800-$1,000 to our already expensive project. 😦  We knew we would find some degree of water damage, but we didn’t know it would be this extensive.

the water damage and rot around the skylights, adding another $1,000 to our project :-(
the water damage and rot around the skylights, adding another $1,000 to our project 😦

The kitchen is open to the garage now, so we have to be careful of critters getting into the house until the laundry room and wall are rebuilt.

The kitchen opened to the garage
The kitchen opened to the garage

The porch flooring is framed.

framing of the porch
framing of the porch

Wednesday, April 20:  Today, the contractor spent most of his day shoring up the load-bearing wall was so that he could place a steel beam sandwiched between two wood beams.

the steel beam is sandwiched between two beams to replace the load-bearing wall
the steel beam is sandwiched between two beams to replace the load-bearing wall
the open look we've been waiting for
the open look we’ve been waiting for

And the work continues.

So, here I am in the middle of my story, with a demolished house and a stripped down set of “stories,” beliefs, and “rackets”: an unfinished life with possibilities.  I’ve given a lot of thought to both the house and my life possibilities over the last couple of months.

As for the house, at this point most of the decisions have been made.  We’ve picked almost everything except the cabinet hardware, and the ceiling fan and outdoor lights for the porch and deck.  Now we will move forward with our choices, seeing them set in place and watching the evolution.  The possibilities presented by creating new spaces in our house are set in motion and all we have to do is sit back and trust the process.

That’s the thing about decisions.  Once you make them, other possibilities fall by the wayside.  Well.  Maybe that’s not true. If we don’t like the choices we’ve made and decide to make changes, it will cost us in some way, more money or more time.

I think that’s one reason I’m so afraid to make decisions about my life.  Once I make a decision, all other possibilities are off the table, unless I’m willing to pay the cost of lost time or money. I’m not getting any younger or any richer, so I want to make the right decision.  I’m hoping the “Commitment” seminar series, the Landmark Advanced Course, affirmations, my vision board, and being open to the universe will help me to find my way to creating a transformation in my quality of life. 🙂

 

snowmaggedon 2016, aka “storm jonas” & a decluttering project of major proportions :-)

Saturday, January 23:  Beginning at about 1:00 pm on Friday, the blizzard of 2016, dubbed “Snowmaggedon” and “Storm Jonas” by the TV stations and newspapers, began its assault.  Also known as “Snowzilla,” the storm dumped a record amount of snow on the mid-Atlantic region and the East Coast of the USA.  The storm was a media sensation.  You can read about it here, if you haven’t already heard about it through a million other sources:

Winter Storm Jonas Rivals Biggest East Coast Snowstorms on Record

Winter storm inundates the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast

The Blizzard of 2016 from space compared to other great Northeast snowstorms

The snow fell all Friday afternoon and through the night, and this is what we woke up to on Saturday morning when we opened the garage door.

view from our garage on Saturday morning - the Toyota RAV
view from our garage on Saturday morning – the Toyota RAV

The snow continued to fall throughout Saturday, but we still spent over an hour shoveling our driveway.  The snow continued to accumulate over the parts we shoveled, but I would have hated to see what it would have looked like on Sunday morning if we hadn’t done this initial shoveling.

I worked hard on shoveling a narrow path between the Toyota RAV and our bushes, while Mike shoveled the other side.

the path I shoveled Saturday
the path I shoveled Saturday

There was no chance of actually going anywhere in our cars, as the snow was almost two feet deep on the roads.  We didn’t see a plow all day Saturday, although we had seen one go by on Friday night.

After our shoveling session, we took a walk out the neighborhood to the main road, Vale Road, only one lane of which had been plowed.  A few trucks and SUVs were creeping along Vale Road, but most people stayed hunkered down in their warm homes.  I was thankful we didn’t lose power, as widespread power outages were predicted throughout the region.

Since we were going to be stuck inside for at least several days, I decided it was time to start tackling our major decluttering project, following the guidelines in Marie Kondo’s the life-changing magic of tidying up, aka The KonMari method.

The author advises to work by category, not by the location of clutter in your house.  She outlines a specific order to the categories, beginning with clothing, followed by “books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value.” Her first two categories, clothing and books, are the biggest categories of clutter in my house.  People who know me know I have a big weakness for both of these things: any kind of textiles and all kinds of books.

Her method involves touching every item in your house and only keeping those that “spark joy.”  This is very subjective, but I know exactly what she means.  I had gone through all my clothes when I returned home from China, tried many of them on and got rid of some things, but not nearly enough.  I was looking at them with my brand of selection criteria: are they still in style, do they fit now, are they likely to fit in the future, are they worn out and looking tired, will they come back into style in the future?

I started tackling the project with the question: “Does this spark joy?”  I am amazed at how much I have been able to part with.  I started with tops (Kondo’s first category of clothing), and it took me three days!  Mike has been doing the same, although he doesn’t have nearly as much as I do.  Just from the category of tops alone, I had 6 large garbage bags.  Don’t worry, I won’t be throwing these away.  I usually give all my belongings to one of the local charities like Purple Heart, AmVets or Big Brother Big Sister.

walk through the neighborhood
walk through the neighborhood

In the evening, I took a picture of our deck, which is very decrepit and about to collapse under normal conditions.  We’re going to be replacing this with a screened-in porch and a new deck in our upcoming renovation.  I hope it doesn’t fall under the weight of the snow!

Saturday evening - the grill on the deck
Saturday evening – the grill on the deck

In the evening, we made a big pot of Damn Delicious Cauliflower Chowder.  It was delicious!  Perfect food for a snowy night. 🙂

Sunday, January 24:  By Sunday morning, the snow had stopped falling and the skies were blue.  We had to shovel again to get rid of the extra snow that had fallen all Saturday afternoon and evening.  It took us over an hour.

I read somewhere that most people who died in this snowstorm died from shoveling snow.

the morning after
the morning after
buried
buried
our house
our house
our house
our house

When all was said and done, the blizzard left us with 24 inches of snow.

24 inches
24 inches

We cleared most of the driveway, but the roads were not plowed enough to get out, so we were stuck for another day.

finally - the driveway shoveled out
finally – the driveway shoveled out

As we were shoveling, we saw our neighbors congregating at the end of their driveway and we went to check it out.  They had a little bar set up on a snow bank and were drinking  bourbon and Scotch.  We went to join them for a drink.  This is one of the few times I’ve started drinking before noon! 🙂

step up to the bar!
step up to the bar!
having drinks with the neighbors
having drinks with the neighbors

After our drinks, Mike and I took a brief walk through the neighborhood, but it was difficult walking through the deep snow on the roads.

aftermath of Snowmaggedon - in the sunshine
aftermath of Snowmaggedon – in the sunshine
our neighborhood after the blizzard
our neighborhood after the blizzard

We settled in with leftover soup (which we originally made Friday evening): Spark Recipes: Winter White Bean and Italian Sausage Soup.  Another perfect remedy to a cold snowy day.

Monday, January 25:  This morning I woke up to a beautiful sunset.  One lane of our neighborhood had been plowed overnight, and Mike decided to venture out to work for a half-day.  All the area schools were closed and so were the government offices, so he didn’t have to contend with much traffic.  It was lucky that not many folks were on the roads that were narrower versions of their normal selves. Piles of snow banks on either sides of the road created a dilemma for the Virginia Department of Transportation: there was nowhere to put all the snow!

Monday sunrise
Monday sunrise
sunrise after the blizzard
sunrise after the blizzard
Monday morning whites
Monday morning whites
sunrise in the neighborhood
sunrise in the neighborhood
mountains of snow
mountains of snow
our house hunkered down in the snow
our house hunkered down in the snow
sunrise
sunrise

Today, I was finally able to move on from the “tops” category in my KonMari method of decluttering.  I began work on bottoms, including jeans, hiking pants, exercise pants, work pants, and skirts.  This occupied me today and Tuesday!  I ended up with four garbage bags of bottoms!  This was probably my easiest category because I had been holding on to so many pairs of pants and skirts that will NEVER fit me again.  I had been holding out hope that I would lose weight enough to wear them, but I finally accepted the fact I will never be that thin again. I realized when touching all of these bottoms that they certainly did not spark joy. In fact, they always stressed me out because when I saw them, they made me wish for younger and skinnier days.  GONE!

heading out for a walk
heading out for a walk
afternoon delight
afternoon delight

I didn’t have to shovel my driveway today, but I put on my snow boots and took a two-mile walk in the neighborhood.  It was slow going and I slipped and fell once on an icy patch.  When I returned home, one of my neighbors, who is a nurse at Fairfax Hospital, had returned home after staying at the hospital for the storm’s duration, and found she had nowhere to park her car.  She was outside shoveling her long driveway by herself.  I spent about 45 minutes helping her to carve out a spot for her car; another neighbor joined and helped too.

Saturday, January 30: Wednesday and Thursday, I was able to walk 3 miles as the snow remaining on the roads had melted enough that the pavement was showing.  There was still too much snow on the paths to walk through the woods.  I moved on Wednesday to decluttering suits and coats and jackets, and on Thursday to dresses.  By Thursday, I finally drove out in my car to run a couple of errands.  On Friday, I was able to drive out to my contractor’s office, Northwood Construction, to work with him on our plans for our big renovation.  He had presented some plans to us on Wednesday evening before the storm, January 20, and we wanted some changes to be made. I spent about 2 hours going over some ideas with him in his office.

Last night, Friday, I drove to Tyson’s Corner and met Mike at Seasons 52.  It felt so good to get out for happy hour and dinner.  It seemed everyone in the world was out at the cluster of restaurants at that end of the mall — all the snowbound people finally released into the world!