the august cocktail hour: sultry days & sunflowers {escape to iceland tomorrow!}

Friday, August 12:  Welcome to my almost-finished house for our final happy hour of summer! This is our last time to mingle before I head off to Iceland tomorrow.  Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink.  I’m sorry to say I haven’t graduated from my Moscow Mules (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer); I’ve been quite content to drink these since our last cocktail hour.  I imbibed on some strawberry daiquiris when I visited my sister in Maryland this month.  If you’d like one of those, I’d be happy to whip one up, or I can offer wine, beer, or even some soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

It’s been the most hot and humid summer imaginable, so I think we’ll just sit on our new counter stools at the bar. They finally arrived after our last happy hour. 🙂  It’s nice and cool inside, so it will be much more pleasant.  I’m sad to admit that we’ve hardly been able to use the screened-in porch because it’s been over 90 degrees and very humid every day.

Our counter stools are in!
Our counter stools are in!

Tell me about your summer. 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?  How’s your garden?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

summer flowers
summer flowers

I’ve been to a couple of movies, some wonderful, and others not so Absolutely Fabulous. My favorite was the intense and moving Dheepan, about an ex-Tamil fighter who cobbles together a makeshift family to escape his war-torn Sri Lanka.  He becomes a refugee in France. His “wife” and “daughter” are strangers to him and to each other, but they must pretend to be a family in order to get papers to leave.  He ends up in France working as caretaker for a rough property where a lot of criminal activity is taking place.  He doesn’t want any part of it, so he keeps his head down and tries to avoid being noticed.  The movie shows what it’s like for a refugee family to arrive in a new country without knowledge of language or customs, and to be cast into difficult, and even terrifying, situations.  I think it should be required watching, especially for certain people who want to close borders and build walls, those who would prefer to ignore the suffering of others.  This kind of sentiment is running rampant in the U.S. these days, and I find it appalling, heartless, and sickening.

I went to see Absolutely Fabulous and though it was funny in parts, I found myself getting annoyed by its overall silliness.  Actually, the only reason I went to see it was because I had met Joanna Lumley in Oman in 2012, and I wanted to see her again. 🙂 (absolutely fabulous: a surprise encounter with patsy stone)

At home, on Netflix, we finally watched the cute movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, partly filmed in Iceland.  I always enjoy watching movies and reading books that take place in our holiday destination.  The movie was quite charming, and really got me psyched for our trip.

We also saw the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu.  He uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.  Though I don’t often enjoy movies about sports, I found this exceptionally well done as it depicted the relentless attacks on him by the NFL, a powerful organization.  I’m always for the underdog!

On the last weekend in July, Mike went with his high school friends to Ohio, so I took the opportunity to visit Sarah and Alex in Richmond.  Sarah moved into a new apartment at the beginning of June and I hadn’t been able to see it yet, so after we met for lunch at Mom’s Siam, we went straight to her house to check it out.  She hasn’t gotten it fully furnished or together yet, but she’s slowly getting settled.

Mom's Siam
Mom’s Siam

Alex and Ariana met Sarah and I for dinner at The Black Sheep, mainly because I had a craving for their marvelous chicken and dumplings.  We had a great time.  Alex looked quite handsome with a new haircut given to him by Ariana. 🙂

Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond
Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond

By the way, we found out our prodigal son Adam is now in Maui.  We knew his retreat in British Columbia ended on July 11, and we assumed he was still in Vancouver until we got a call from him on Tuesday, July 19, telling us he had bought a one-way ticket to Maui on July 12.  He’d been there a week already and was working on a banana plantation for a room and fruit.  When he called, he had just started working at a hostel four hours a day in exchange for a room. He eats food from the free shelf, where visitors leave behind food. He’s always believed in living in a world without money, and I guess he’s doing just that, sort of!  I don’t understand it and never will, but he’s got to live life according to his principles and I have to say I admire him in some ways.  On the other hand, I know he has credit card debt, so he’s not fiscally responsible nor is he actually living without money!

Thank goodness, he’s been good about calling us once a week to let us know what’s going on.  He seems very happy and says he wishes he had gone to Hawaii back in October when he first thought of going.  I wish he had; he would have saved us and himself a lot of money and heartbreak.  Who knows what will become of him, but I’m happy that for the time being he seems at peace and is actually working, even if not for money.  This past Tuesday night, he called to tell us he is starting to work for a ceramic artist helping to sell his very expensive ceramics; he gets an hourly wage and some commission on any sales.  Slowly, slowly.  I’m trying hard to have no expectations and to continue to send love his way.

On Friday morning, Sarah and I went for a hike on the Buttermilk Trail along the James River.  The trail was quite muddy as it had rained overnight.  We then went shopping at Target, where I bought her some new bedding, a hair dryer, and bath towels, all of which she needed and was thrilled to have. We also had lunch together.

Later that afternoon, I drove an hour south and visited with my dad and stepmother in Yorktown.  We had dinner together and chatted until I went up to bed to read my book, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I hardly slept all night because I was near the end and couldn’t put it down.   My lack of sleep made it hard to get off to an early start, as I planned, to drive to Salisbury, Maryland to visit my sister Joan on Saturday morning.

Here’s my review of State of Wonder on Goodreads: I loved this book about Dr. Marina Singh’s journey into the Amazon jungle to find her former professor, Dr. Annick Swenson, as well as to find answers to the questions surrounding the death of her colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman. They all work for Vogel, a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, and Marina has worked with Anders for 7 years in a small lab. Forty-two-year-old Marina is involved in a kind of secret relationship with 60-year-old Mr. Fox, the CEO of Vogel, who is not a doctor but an administrator. She calls him Mr. Fox, which speaks to the type of arm’s-length relationship they have. Mr. Fox sends Marina to look for Dr. Swenson because her research to develop a drug in the Amazon is taking too long and Vogel is getting impatient with her lack of communication about her progress. Dr. Swenson is doing research on how the Lakashi women can bear children even into their 70s. Marina’s other mission is to find out what happened to Anders and to possibly recover his body to send back to Minnesota.

Of course, I love any kind of story that takes place in exotic locales, with characters I can understand. This is an adventure and awakening story, a kind of journey into the “heart of darkness;” I found it immensely compelling and I love Ann Patchett’s writing.

I’m now reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, which I’m enjoying, as well as a book my sister recommended by Dan Harris of Good Morning America: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I’m also making my way slowly through The Mathews Men by Bill Geroux; though it’s well-written and interesting, my books of choice are not normally non-fiction.

In Salisbury, we sat out at Joanie’s pool bar, where my brother-in-law Steve served us up some mixed drinks.  My nephew Seth and his girlfriend, Julia, hung out with us too.  It was fun to visit with my sister and to hang out by her pool on Sunday too. 🙂

me, my sister Joan and my nephew's girlfriend
me, my sister Joan and Julia

On August 4, after a number of failed attempts to meet in May and June, I finally met with a lady who runs a wine touring company.  She asked if I’d like to try out being a tour guide for her company.  I agreed to give it a try on Saturday, August 6.  I went with tour-guide Jim, who showed me the ropes; we took a group of ten 30-something ladies on a bachelorette tour of 3 wineries.  Our first stop was Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, where the owner warmly welcomes guests into the main tasting room in the living room of her c.1820 house.

Zephaniah Vineyard's tasting room
Zephaniah Vineyard’s tasting room

Next we stopped at Stone Tower Winery, set on 306 acres atop Hogback Mountain.  This is a large more commercial enterprise, and though beautiful, was not as appealing to me as the other two more intimate wineries.

Stone Tower Winery
Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery

The tasting room was quite chilly, so we ate lunch in a cavernous and only a little-less-chilly room with live music.  We couldn’t easily sit outside as it was hot, humid and spitting rain sporadically.  The young ladies seemed to be having a wonderful time.  This venue is much less homey than the other two, although the setting is lovely.

Our last stop was The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards, a family owned and operated winery housed in a refurbished dairy farm. The restored hundred and six-year-old stone and wood bank barn has been transformed into a tasting room, surrounded by eleven acres of rolling hills and woods.

The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station

The tour was fun and the owner has booked me for two tours in September.  It’s very occasional work, she has told me, which is fine by me.:-)

This week, we’re having our entire basement painted.  It hasn’t been painted since we bought the house in 1994 and it was sorely in need of refurbishing. Our boys grew up hanging out with their friends down there, and you can only imagine what disrepair it was in. There were several holes punched in the wall from some wild activities.  As soon as we return from Iceland, the whole basement will also be re-carpeted, and with a new sectional we just had delivered, it will become Mike’s “man-cave.” I’ve gently nudged him out of the living room, where I have my desk and computer.  Now we’ll both have space to work and not be crowded together into one corner of the living room. 🙂

The house projects never seem to end!  It seems they have been going on all year, but I guess it’s to be expected after so many years of neglect.

Several weeks ago, I received my refurbished Canon Rebel back from Canon USA Inc. and I hadn’t had time to try it out.  I’ve needed to decide which camera to take to Iceland, my Canon or my trusty old Olympus.  Wednesday, I finally took the Canon out to Burnside Farms, where the sunflowers are now in bloom.  I didn’t take my Olympus, because I’ve already taken sunflower pictures with it in the past at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area: an afternoon with light-crazed sunflowers.  Below are all the pictures I took with the Canon.  I’d love to know your opinion.  It seems to me that the pictures are sharper than they were before, but too many of them were overexposed and I had to adjust them in post-processing.  Any hints from the photographers out there?  I’d love to hear advice.

Below this batch of Canon pictures are pictures taken with my iPhone 6s.  Which do you think are better?  I think I’ve pretty much decided to leave my Canon at home and take my much-used and dependable Olympus to Iceland.

sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON

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

Here are the photos taken with the iPhone.

Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)

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

It’s pretty sad when iPhone pictures are better than a camera for which I paid $400, as well as another $300 for a telephoto lens. 😦

Thanks so much for dropping by for cocktail hour.  It was sure great to see you all again.  I really haven’t had a very exciting or interesting month, but I hope to have more adventurous things to report when I return from Iceland.  I hope you’ll share what you’ve been up to.  I may not be able to answer you until after August 25.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!  I’m so ready for fall and cooler weather. 🙂

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!  🙂

the june cocktail hour: the screened-in porch edition :-)

Sunday, June 19:  Happy Father’s Day and welcome to the first cocktail hour on our finished screened-in porch.  I’m so glad to see you again!  It’s a warm but beautiful day today, so please come in and have a seat on our new porch furniture.  You can help me break it in.   What can I get you to drink?  I have some chilled white wines, a Spanish Rioja, some Shock Top Belgian White, and the makings for dirty martinis.  I also have a bottle of Chambourcin from Hiddencroft Vineyards, one of our many Virginia wineries.  I’ll tell you more about our visit to this winery later.

I do have to warn you that Mike is a little confused tonight.  He made our dirty martinis with olive OIL instead of olive JUICE.  You know how olive oil floats to the top of the glass, in a thin band of gold?  That’s what you’ll see if you order a dirty martini. 🙂  I wish I had some martini glasses, as they’d look a lot more elegant than these squat drink glasses.

me in our new screened-in porch - Welcome! :-)
me in our new screened-in porch – Welcome! 🙂

Have you been enjoying the early summer? Have you gone on any fun excursions?  Have you started planning your summer travels to exotic lands or will you be having a staycation?    Have you gone to any outdoor concerts or wine tours? Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges? Have you reconnected with old friends? Have you accomplished any goals?  Have you been on any retreats? Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners?  Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you planted flowers and vegetables?  Have you been exercising and eating healthy? Have you been on any shopping sprees?

I may have told you I got a Canon EOS Rebel SL-1 for Christmas.  It took me a while to even open up the packaging and take the camera out, but finally, on May 19, I took it out to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens to test it out.  I’d already taken a few pictures here and there, and I felt that the pictures were not as sharply focused as the pictures from my Olympus PEN.  I wasn’t sure if my eyesight was getting worse or the camera just wasn’t focusing properly, so I was dragging my feet about doing something to correct the problem.  I finally talked with the help desk at Canon, and the person there told me to test it out using two different lenses.  I have a telephoto lens and a regular lens, and I tested them both.  The pictures below are my first extended test with the camera.  I still have to say I’m not very happy with the sharpness of the photos, especially compared to my Olympus.  I think I’m going to send it back to Canon to see what can be done.  It wasn’t a cheap camera, and now it makes me depressed every time I use it because I know the pictures will be inferior.

purple
purple

The reason I even got a new camera was because my Olympus lens kept self-adjusting and readjusting, and I thought it was hopelessly broken.  But I also went online with Olympus and sent my lens to them, and now it works better.  The whole camera is quite worn out from my years of travel and photography since 2010, when I bought it in Korea.  But it still takes the best pictures.  I wish now I’d bought a new Olympus rather than the Canon.

little dainties
little dainties

I find it so annoying these days that all our local camera shops have gone out of business.  Much the same as local bookstores.  This is the result of all of us buying everything from Amazon.com or online through different websites. Even when we started looking for furniture for our house, it was hard to find showrooms where you could actually go sit on the furniture, or see it in person. I don’t want to order furniture online without trying it out or without seeing the quality of the product in person.

flora
flora

It used to be you could take your camera to the local camera shop and explain to the person what was wrong with it, and even demonstrate the problem.  Now we have to wrap the camera in bubble wrap and send it via UPS to the camera company.  Everything has become less personal.  I really hate the way commerce is becoming these days.

man vs. nature
man vs. nature

We had rain nearly every day from the end of April until late May.  It was cold and grey, a long depressing spell.  Finally, the rainy season stopped and we went right into the heat and humidity of summer.  Since then, the weather has moderated, and we’ve had some gorgeous days, in the mid- to low-70s (F), with nice breezes and low humidity.  I’ve tried to get out as often as possible.

log cabin at Meadowlark
log cabin at Meadowlark

On top of the relentless period of rain, we have been feeling quite depressed about our youngest son, Adam (23).  We thought we were helping him to get on his feet by getting an apartment for him in Richmond.  He was supposed to get a job and start taking over the rent payments, with us contributing less and less over time.  Since we co-signed his lease, and he made no effort to get or keep a job, we were stuck making the payments.  He has decided he doesn’t want to work in life, he wants to “trust in the universe” to provide for him.  His vision of living in a society without a need for money works only if you live in a commune, but even then, he would have to do some kind of work to contribute to the commune.  I believe he would consider most work as “not the kind of work he wants to do.”  Apparently he wants to do no work at all!

white flowers
white flowers

He insisted he wanted to take an entrepreneurship course online, which we decided to help him with, in the interest of furthering his education and helping him to start his own business.  After attending only one session, he dropped the course; thus we lost around $3,000.  When he came up to northern Virginia to inform us of this, I was furious.  I said, “We’re done!”  I am so tired of him taking advantage of us, and now Mike and I have informed him we are no longer contributing to him financially.  So far he doesn’t seem to mind this, as banks are sending him credit card offers right and left.  He doesn’t even live in our house any more, but I get credit card offers from major banks addressed to him at least three times a week.  I promptly tear them up and toss them in the trash, but of course I’m sure he’s getting the same offers at his apartment in Richmond.  Whereas he once told us he had maxed out all of his credit cards, he now suddenly has available credit again. We have warned him continually about getting himself in over his head with debt, but he never listens to anything we have to say.  Of course, I’m having a little trouble feeling sorry for these credit card companies who have about as much chance getting paid back as getting nectar from a stone.  How on earth do they justify sending so many credit card offers to someone with no verifiable source of income?

Adam has possession but not ownership of a 2004 Toyota Sienna van.  We have already told him when his lease expires, he cannot live with us.  If we let him live with us, then he gets exactly what he wants, a free ride!  So, we figured he could live with the homeless people in Richmond (he says he’s befriended many of them!) and sleep in the van.  Well, voila, just last week, the van broke down and now needs a whole new engine, at the cost of about $3,500.  We thought we might be able to sell the van and help him pay down some of his debts, but now we can’t even do that.

sculpture at Meadowlark
sculpture at Meadowlark

Apparently, when Adam’s lease expires on July 8, he’s considering flying to Vancouver (I assume paying for this flight and expenses with his credit card), where he will meet up with “like-minded people” at some retreat and try to “make a go of it.”  We reiterated that we are not contributing to him financially, and he seems to not care at all.  We have now finally realized that all our good intentions regarding our son, who we love dearly, have only hurt him and made him feel entitled and unappreciative.  He has made one bad decision after another, in an unending chain.  We have now decided that we need to let go.  He’s an adult now and though we’ve tried to give him advice and provide him with every opportunity, he is not of a mind to appreciate any of it.

Since making this decision, I feel a burden has lifted.  Though it horrifies me to think of him starving or being homeless, there is really nothing we can do, and we just have to let him suffer the consequences of his bad choices. If he does go to Vancouver, at least he won’t be right under our noses, and maybe we can put him on the sidelines of our minds.  We’re both trying to create the possibility that this is a phase, that he will grow out of it, that he will eventually get his life together.  We at least hope for this outcome.  Ultimately, we have no control.  And I’m tired of having his situation ruin my emotions.

But wait.  The Adam situation changes by the moment.  Just tonight, he called to wish his dad a happy Father’s Day and said he’s now considering renting a cheap room from a friend he knows in Richmond because he enjoys some of the camaraderie with his brother in Richmond and lately has been participating in a hand-balancing class there.  What?? He says he doesn’t want any money from us and is thinking of working a couple of days a week at the place where Alex works.  Oh my gosh!  He is all over the place.  Mike says he’s decided: Expect anything and everything, and expect the unexpected!

Why on earth are we worrying about him and torturing ourselves when he seems not to have a care in the world about himself??

In letting go of Adam, we’re trying to focus on ourselves and our lives.  We’ve spent the last couple of weeks planning our trip to Iceland (August 13-25), booking our flights, a rental car, and all of our accommodation around the Ring Road.  We’ve gone to a number of outdoor concerts. We’ve gotten together with friends.

outreach
outreach

On one sunny Wednesday at the end of May, we went to Kalypso’s Sports Tavern, a nice outdoor restaurant on Lake Anne.  It was packed with people who had been cooped up inside for well over a month, but we enjoyed our dinner and wine, despite having the worst waitress on the planet.

On the last Friday in May, Mike and I went to the Herndon Town Center for Friday Night Live! The band, The Reagan Years, recreated the sounds of the 1980s. We enjoyed the music with beers and Lime-a-ritas.  It was Memorial Day weekend and one of the first sunny weekends in ages, so it was totally packed with people!

Saturday turned out to be a stunning day, so Mike suggested we go visit a couple of wineries in the western part of the state.  We first stopped at Hiddencroft Vineyards.  The tasting room is in a circa 1830s farmhouse with two tasting counters; it has a view of the backyard, Dutchman’s Creek and a period kitchen building.  A large deck seats 44 guests under colorful umbrellas, and has an open view of the vineyard.  Behind the deck, a large patio and massive fire pit provide additional seating and warm ambiance in cool weather.

Hiddencroft Vineyards
Hiddencroft Vineyards
Mike at Hiddencroft Vineyards
Mike at Hiddencroft Vineyards
Me at Hiddencroft Vineyards
Me at Hiddencroft Vineyards
pretty and fragrant tree
pretty and fragrant tree
Hiddencroft Vineyards
Hiddencroft Vineyards

Of course, having wine in the middle of the day made me pretty sleepy, but that didn’t stop us from going to another winery, Creek’s Edge Winery.  This is a larger winery than Hiddencroft, situated on 11 acres of rolling hills. The building is an Amish structure, in the tradition of raised barns.

Creek's Edge Winery
Creek’s Edge Winery
inside the silo at Creek's Edge Winery
inside the silo at Creek’s Edge Winery

At this winery we sit at a table with two young people wearing shirts that say: DiVine Wine Tours of Virginia.  We ask them about their company, and they tell us they drive groups of about 10 people to wineries for the day, so the participants can enjoy drinking wine without driving.  The company focuses on the educational aspects of wine.  According to their website, they “offer unique experiences and insight into the business, the grapes, the process, and other interesting facts that the wineries love to share with new as well as experienced wine enthusiasts. Some stops will include behind the scenes tours, some include food pairings, some will have historical stories that will really grab your attention and still some simply have stunning views.”  I ask them a bunch of questions about the job, and they said they are hiring and take down my name.  I was contacted by the hiring person, but we still haven’t actually met.  I thought it might be a fun “occasional” job, but we’ll see if it ever comes to fruition.

On Tuesday, June 7, I met an old friend Layne, in Winchester, Virginia to see the Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.  I’ll write more about our meeting later.  Layne is interested in social entrepreneurship and has lived a number of years in Chang Mai, Thailand, and is now living in western Australia.  As an expat, she understands me and my expat experience.  It’s great to meet up with someone from my “tribe,” someone who shares an affinity for the expat life and travel.

I’ve been trying my best to be healthy, but it’s been awfully hard without having a normal kitchen in my house. The month of rain also put a damper on my 3-mile daily walks.  My current addiction to Creamy Dill Lentil Chips dipped in Whole Foods Jarlsberg Cheese Dip doesn’t help my plight.  It’s no surprise that I have now gained back almost all the weight I lost since I returned home from China last July. 😦  I can’t wait until my kitchen is back together and I can start drinking smoothies again and eating more healthy foods.

Below are some views along one of my walks around Lake Newport in Reston.

Since Mike works Monday through Friday, often until 6:30 at night, I don’t see much of him.  As I don’t have a job, I find myself getting lonely.  I have applied for a number of jobs here in the U.S. all to no avail.  Though I’m fully qualified for the jobs, or even overqualified, I never even get a call to come in for an interview.  Because of this, I’ve started applying to teach abroad again, mostly in Morocco, but though I’m way overqualified, I never get any response.  I can’t help but think it’s because of my age, which they can tell by looking at the year I graduated from college.  In many cases I have to send my birth date! I’ve even talked to some friends in Oman about returning there, but I haven’t applied because I was hoping to go somewhere different.  Of course, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar offer the highest pay.  The jobs in Morocco, Poland and Turkey, where I would actually love to live, have the lowest pay. I was contacted by a Polish school but the pay was only $500 a month + free accommodation.  I didn’t even want to pursue it because if I lived in Europe, I’d certainly want to travel and I’d never be able to afford it on that salary!

Meanwhile, I’ve been sending my novel out to agents and getting no response whatsoever.  I consider myself lucky to get a rejection letter.  I also follow a blog about publishing and self-publishing, and in one of the blogger’s posts, she said, “Any time I see a book that opens with a funeral, a death, a hospital scene, I cringe. This is going to sound cruel, but we really just don’t care. If we have not been introduced to the characters who are clinging to life or recently deceased? We have nothing emotionally vested and so sections like these are just tedious.”

Oh dear!  I found this so discouraging, as my book starts with a funeral, and, since I read this, I’ve been paralyzed wondering if I need to write the book all over again!  I’ve been so disheartened, I haven’t sent it out in weeks.  Luckily, I had someone at the Landmark Forum volunteer to read it, a young Russian woman.  She read it and liked it a lot, and told me she was hooked by the funeral scene, so she encouraged me not to change it. The main thing she didn’t like was the number of sex scenes!  I didn’t think I had that many, but I’ll have to look it over again. 🙂

To break up the work week, Mike and I often go somewhere for dinner; on Wednesday night, June 8, we went back to Lake Anne to eat dinner at another outdoor restaurant, Cafe Montmartre.  We had a lovely evening, sharing a half carafe of red wine and a fairly decent but not stellar meal.  I love eating outside at Lake Anne Plaza because it’s less crowded than the more trendy Reston Town Center.  Despite Lake Anne’s Soviet-era architecture, it is still a lovely spot for an outdoor dining experience. 🙂

On Thursday-Friday, June 9-10, I went by myself to Philadelphia to explore four gardens: Shofuso Japanese Garden, Chanticleer, Longwood Gardens and Winterthur.  I’ll write more about that trip later.  While I was in Philadelphia, our contractor Morgan sent me a picture of our finished laundry room.  Hooray!  At least we don’t have to drive back and forth to my sister-in-law’s house in Vienna 20 minutes each way to do laundry.  The color of the laundry room is Sherwin-Williams “Coral Reef,” and I was at first a little shocked by the color as the faux painter who’s doing our kitchen/family room suggested I use a satin finish, which is much brighter than the flat finish I used to test the color.  Though I was shocked at first, I’ve now come to love it.  It makes me smile every time I go in there. 🙂

Our laundry room: Sherwin-Williams Coral Reef
Our laundry room: Sherwin-Williams Coral Reef

I finished reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker and I really enjoyed it.  This was a fairly quick read about an enduring love story set in Burma. Because I spent two weeks in what is now called Myanmar, I wanted to read a story set there. I enjoyed the story of Julia, who goes in search of her father after he mysteriously vanished one day from her life. After finding a love letter to a woman in Burma, Julia goes in search of him. There she meets U Ba, a man who has a story to tell Julia about her father.

I’m reading an engrossing book now, Hummingbird House by Patricia Henley.  The main character Kate is a midwife who comes face to face with the horrors of war in Nicaragua and Guatemala.  I’m almost finished it and am really enjoying it.

As for movies, I’ve seen a lot of movies since we last met: A Bigger Splash, The Man Who Knew Infinity, Love & Friendship (confusing), The Lobster (bizarre and disturbing), The Idol (about an Arab singer from Gaza on an Arab Idol Show in Cairo), Dark Horse, Me Before You, and finally, Maggie’s Plan.  The best of this bunch were The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Idol, and Me Before You.  The others I thought were mediocre.

The Lobster took place in some not so distant future and people had to be coupled or they would be turned into animals.  What was so disturbing was the truth of it.  People in societies all over the world are expected to be part of a couple or they are outliers and often ostracized.  I found this during my 7-year separation from Mike.  In China, in Oman, all over Asia, in Turkey, and even in the U.S., I’ve found people who actually felt sorry for me because I was alone.  I HATED that attitude!  I enjoyed traveling alone and often living alone, and I resented that people saw me as less than whole because I was single.

On the Saturday evening after I returned home from my solo trip to Philadelphia, Mike and I checked out an Indian restaurant at a nondescript little strip mall along the way to our favorite movie theatre, Cinema Arts Theatre.  We were surprised when we went inside Curry Mantra to find the most colorfully decorated restaurant. The outside was nothing special, believe me!  In the hallway from the bathroom to the restaurant, I found the color of my laundry room!  I was so excited.  After dinner, we went to see the documentary Dark Horse, which was interesting, although I was expecting it to be a regular movie, not a documentary. 🙂

Having dinner at Curry Mantra
Having dinner at Curry Mantra

The following Sunday morning, Mike and I took a 5-mile walk around Burke Lake.  I always complain because though it’s a nice walk, it isn’t very photogenic. 🙂

Burke Lake
Burke Lake
the edge of Burke Lake
the edge of Burke Lake

This past Friday night, June 17, we met our friends Karen and Michael, along with Carlos who works with Mike, at Friday Night Live! to listen to Burnt Sienna.  The five-piece band hails from Philadelphia; they’re young and full of energy.  They have a great stage presence and play music from every era.  Also unusual for a band, they have three excellent singers who take turns performing.  All are equally talented.  We’ve already put on our calendar to see this band in Arlington on August 5.

While at this concert, I went with Karen to the food kiosks where I ran into the Principal Broker at Keller-Williams Realty, the one who taught the real estate class I took in January.  I passed both the class test and the state and national exam on the first attempt, something that is apparently rare. However, I still haven’t decided whether I want to sell real estate or not.  My first inclination is NOT to do it.  When I ran into this broker, he said, “Why haven’t you gotten your license yet? I admit, I’ve been stalking you because I knew you passed the test! I keep looking at the list of new licensees and your name isn’t there.  Why haven’t you gotten it?” I said, “I’m just not sure I want to do it!”  He told me if I decide to do it, to please contact him, no matter how long it takes.   Well, of course, I must make some decision within a year of passing the test — by mid-February of 2017.  I’ve kind of decided that if I can’t get a job here or abroad by the fall, maybe I’ll try it out after all!

Our renovation is proceeding nicely.  The cabinets are in, and as of this week, the counter tops have been installed.  I was in Richmond, helping my older son Alex find a new apartment, as his lease expires on July 31.  While I was there, the contractor sent me pictures of the new counter tops.  Because of the way the light was shining on the white island counter top, I thought, Oh my god, it’s so bright!  It’s actually a white marble-looking quartz counter top.  The perimeter of the kitchen has black counter tops with beige veins in it. Since I returned home from Richmond, the island counter top has been covered in cardboard because the floors are being sanded and finished.  So I actually haven’t yet seen it in person.

The screened-in porch was finished this week, and our furniture was delivered, so we can now sit out there for cocktails!  The electrical work hasn’t been finished out there yet, so we don’t have the fan or lights, but those should come this week or next week.  Our contractor tells us we should be in the kitchen by the end of this coming week.  However, we won’t be able to move our family room furniture back in because the faux painter is coming on June 29-30.

Last night, we went to Eastwind Restaurant, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Fairfax.  I love this restaurant and the Vietnamese owner, Dong. He always greets us warmly when we come in and I can’t help but think it’s because I’ve been to his home country and we can talk easily about his home and Asia. Tonight he gave me this hat as a gift; his son recently visited Vietnam and brought it back. Dong has been in the USA since he was 17 (1979) and has only been home once. He is the nicest man imaginable and seeing him again made me miss Asia. (My legs look especially short here because Mike is tall and looking down on us short people!)

me with Dong, the owner of Eastwind
me with Dong, the owner of Eastwind

Dong said he’s been here 37 years so he considers this his home now. His parents are dead and he has a big Vietnamese community here, so he doesn’t really miss his home country. He was one of the boat people who escaped Vietnam during the war, from home to Hong Kong to LA to Washington with the the help of Catholic Charities.

Ok, enough about me.  I know I’ve been very chatty this evening.  Now, please tell me all about you!  I love to hear what you’re up to.  Please share if you’ve read any good books or seen any good movies or concerts or have experienced any exotic travel destinations.  What do you have in the pipeline for the summer?  Please, do tell all!  And please, please, I beg you, share with me if you have any problems with your adult children. I feel like I’m the only one in the world with challenging children!! 🙂

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!