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. 🙂

weekly photo challenge: one shot, two ways

Sunday, August 11: The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is One Shot, Two Ways.

Cheri Lucas of WordPress writes: This week, photographer Jeff Sinon talked about his process of finding the best shot. Before taking a picture, he studies his scene — looking at a shot horizontally (as a landscape) and vertically (as a portrait). With this honed, critical eye, he decides what orientation works best for his photograph.

For this challenge, capture two images — a horizontal and a vertical version — of the same scene or subject. There are no concrete “rules” here, but a) it should be evident that both shots are of the same place/location or person/thing, and b) your photographs should ideally have been taken during the same shoot.

Here are several attempts at one shot, two ways.  These pictures were taken yesterday at The Old Luckett’s Store near Leesburg, Virginia.  The Old Luckett’s store has its own blog: The Old Luckett’s Store.  The store has been around for 17 years this August.

This is a hallway full of vintage windows.  Click on any of the images to get a full-sized mini-slideshow.

Here’s another set.  This room features old stained glass or beveled glass windows.

This set was taken in one of the many rooms in Old Luckett’s Store.  I like the slanted ceiling in this room.

The last time I visited this store, probably 7-8 years ago, it had a bit of charm, but most of its merchandise was simply junk.  Now the owners have elevated the store to a new level, what they call “vintage hip,” or what I’ve heard others call “shabby chic.”  I love how there’s a Buddha in the midst of American kitsch.

leesburg: a farm market, fabbioli cellars and temple hall farm park

Saturday, August 10:  When I leave Old Luckett’s Store, I head down the road and make a stop at Heider’s Country Store & Farm Market, where I buy some nice plump peaches, some fat juicy tomatoes, some fresh bi-color corn on the cob, and, since those apple pies look so good, I buy one of those too.

Heider's Country Store & Farm Market
Heider’s Country Store & Farm Market
peaches
peaches
baskets of peaches
baskets of peaches
red tomatoes
red tomatoes
yellow tomatoes
yellow tomatoes
corn
corn
plants
plants

I love the way the sky looks today.

at Heider's Country Store & Farm Market
at Heider’s Country Store & Farm Market

I decide to make a stop at one of the wineries along the way, so I drive down Limestone School Road to Fabbioli Cellars.  People are sitting outside at tables drinking wine in happy camaraderie.  I wander into the building and a lady, picture blonde California chic, accosts me and in a fake-friendly manner asks if she can help me.  I say, no thanks, I just came in to check out the winery.  She says, “Well, we have a tasting of 6 wines and 6 bites for $15.  Miss so-and-so here can help you when you’re ready.”

I’m thinking that I just ate that sautéed kale sandwich at Luckett’s and I’m not really hungry so I don’t think I want to pay $15 since it includes 6 bites.  I don’t want any bites, I just want a few sips of wine.  So I say, I think I’ll just wander around and look at what you’ve got.

As I’m looking at the wine bottles, the cheapest of which is a raspberry Merlot for $22, a little steep for my wallet, the Cali-chic lady comes over to me and in an overenthusiastic voice says, “I just LOVE solitary travelers!”

Traveler?  Am I a traveler?  After all, I’ve probably been a Virginian longer than she’s been alive and I don’t think you’d call me, on this little day outing, a “traveler.”  And anyway, why should she point out so loudly and obnoxiously that I’m solitary?  Why single me out as someone who’s alone?  I don’t get it.  I’m immediately taken aback and say, “I travel alone a lot.  I just spent a month in Spain and Portugal traveling by myself.”  Now that’s “traveling,” not this little day outing to Leesburg, Virginia, only about 40 miles from my house.

Now I’m quite proud of myself that I’m able to travel alone, and I don’t find it weird at all because I’ve done it so much.  Actually, I often prefer traveling alone. But so many people in the world feel sorry for a person traveling alone. They assume a solitary traveler has no friends or family or anyone at all in their lives.  Or maybe they know there is no way they themselves could ever travel alone and maybe they’re just a little threatened by someone who’s independent enough to do it.  Who knows what it is, but believe me, I get plenty of weird reactions when I’m in my “solitary traveling” mode.

A bit of reverse culture shock?

With that, I decide I’ve had enough of this place.  I head outside, where I’d rather be anyway, and take some pictures of the sky and the wispy clouds and the fields of grapevines.

fields of grapevines at Fabbioli Cellars
fields of grapevines at Fabbioli Cellars
fields outside Fabbioli Cellars
fields outside Fabbioli Cellars
at Fabbioli Cellars
at Fabbioli Cellars

I drive back down Limestone School Road and pull off at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park, where I take some pictures of the sky again with the cornfields in the foreground, because I don’t want to miss the 4:50 showing of The Way Way Back at Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax.

Cornfields at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park
Cornfields at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park
Cornfields at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park
Cornfields at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park

So I head back down Limestone School Road and back down Route 15 and the Dulles Greenway and then all the way to Fairfax just in time for the quirky independent movie from the same studio who made Little Miss Sunshine and Juno.  Oh it’s so nice to be back in the U.S. where I can see good movies again. 🙂

Limestone School Road, from whence I came
Limestone School Road, whence I came
Limestone School Road, going forward to Fairfax
Limestone School Road, going forward to Fairfax

the old lucketts store near leesburg

Saturday, August 10: As everyone knows by now, I hate the suburbs.  Having to fight my way through them is one of the biggest challenges I face as I settle back into life in the old U.S. of A.  Because of my continual annoyance with them, you will find me trying to escape these said suburbs as often as I possibly can.  Today, I venture out to Lucketts, near Leesburg, Virginia, 33 miles west-northwest of Washington; sadly it is becoming a bit of a suburb itself, as the Washington metropolitan area insidiously reaches its greedy fingers into the countryside.

I remember an old store I used to visit that sold a bunch of junk, The Old Lucketts Store.  The store has been around for 17 years this August.  The last time I visited it was about 7-8 years ago, before Mike and I separated and when I was still into decorating my house.

The Old Luckett's Store
The Old Lucketts Store

Before I delve into the store to explore its many treasures, I stop at the Cowbell Kitchen where I order a sandwich with local sautéed kale, mayo and cheddar.

Welcome to the Cowbell Kitchen
Welcome to the Cowbell Kitchen
Cowbell Kitchen
Cowbell Kitchen
local sauteed kale, mayo and cheddar on rye
local sautéed kale, mayo and cheddar on rye

After lunch, I make my way to the front porch.

the front porch of Old Luckett's store
the front porch of Old Lucketts store
Yep!
Yep!

And then I venture inside the house where I’m so excited to find so many treasures, I can hardly breathe. 🙂

I’m surprised to find the store has now metamorphosed into what decorators term “vintage hip,” what I’ve always called “shabby-chic.”  I wish I had taken photos years ago so you could see how the store has transformed itself.  It used to be that I could walk through the store and find maybe one or two items, for very cheap, that I might use in my house.  Now, I am tempted to buy everything, if only I didn’t already have a house full of “stuff.”  Sadly, I couldn’t fit one more thing into my house.  Which is a good thing financially.  Because now that the store has become trendy, its prices have gone up.

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

So, instead of buying any of the enticing things in this store, I just go on a picture-taking excursion, which is just as much fun as buying.

And when I venture outdoors, I find even more enticing things, set up in these little spaces that look like children’s playhouses.

The Old Luckett’s store has its own blog: The Old Lucketts Store.  Now you can even buy things online!  They really are getting with the modern age. 🙂

"Paris Market"
“Paris Market”
a little playhouse display
a little playhouse display

Across the street, I see there’s another shop, Really Great Finds, that sells yard ornaments.  I cross the dangerous Route 15 and then wander around that place for a bit.

Again, click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slideshow.

I love these kinds of places, off the beaten track, with their colorful arrays of “stuff” arranged neatly into little still life portraits. 🙂