fare thee well, for now, virginia {a walk through lewis ginter botanical gardens}

Monday, March 27:  It’s 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning.  My bags are packed and I’ll leave in about an hour for BWI airport.  My journey to Japan is about to begin. 🙂

This is the fourth time I will have lived and worked abroad. I taught Omani and Chinese university students on my two most recent gigs; the first time, I taught Korean elementary students.  I always leave home with excitement and some trepidation, mainly because I never know what the work environment will be like. Each of my experiences has been completely different from the others. I never worry about the travel, because each place offers limitless exploration potential.  I’ve rarely been disappointed in my travels.  I’ve enjoyed each country in which I’ve lived while at the same time struggling to deal with cultural differences. I think every person should live in another country at least once in his or her life; it’s an eye-opening experience to be a foreigner, a minority, in another land.  It gives one an understanding of what immigrants to our country must go through when they embark to the strange world that is America.

I don’t know why, but for this flight they recommend we get to the airport 2 1/2 hours ahead of flight time, which is 7:59 a.m. That seems awfully early to me, but who am I to question these crazy rules?

I made a day trip to Richmond on Monday, March 20, to visit my two kids.  Before meeting them, I went for a walk around one of my favorite gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  I got a glimpse of spring here in Virginia, but now I’ll have to leave it behind. I’ll be immersed in Japan for full-on spring and through the heat of the summer. Tokyo’s weather is much like ours – cool and rainy in the spring, hot and humid in summer.  It will be similar to Korea’s weather as well.

Butterfly bench at Lewis Ginter
Conservatory
tulips and such

Inside the conservatory, I found orchids and tropical plants.

Outside, I found a Japanese tea house and garden, a children’s garden and tree house, and a pond.

to the Japanese tea house
pretty pond
pretties on the path
green and red leaves
Japanese tea house
all abloom
A Celebration of Resourceful Women
Kids Tree House
Kids Tree House
Kids Tree House on Sydnor Lake
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
in the conservatory
orchids in the conservatory
delicacies
Palms
tulips
tulips
gingerbread house
bunches of flowers
fir
arbor

I hope to see you all in Japan!  You can follow my adventures here:  catbird in japan.

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the december cocktail hour – the fall into winter edition

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

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

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  I’d love to hear about your holiday season.  Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you had any special family gatherings?  How was your Thanksgiving?  Are you ready for Christmas?  Are you preparing resolutions for the New Year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Union Station
Union Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, we had quite a lively evening!

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

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas and happy new Year!!

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

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

the october cocktail hour: festivals, reunions, and farm tours, along with the more mundane things in life :-)

Saturday, October 15: Welcome to our October happy hour! Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. It’s the perfect day to sit out on our screened-in porch.  Would you care for a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer), an Appletini, a dirty martini, or a Cosmos?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

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

Please, do share what’s been going on with you.  I’d love to hear about the end of your summer and your early fall.  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?

Admittedly, I’ve been imbibing on whatever alcoholic drink I can find to drown out the sorrows and frustrations of this election season.  I’ve been spending way too much time reading everything that comes along in the news and on Facebook about the election, including keeping tabs on the various polls.  I have been trying to post only intelligent political articles on my Facebook page, without sinking to the level of the trolls and haters.  All my Facebook friends are perfectly clear on who my candidate of choice is and ISN’T.  As I don’t care to infect my blog with U.S. politics, I will not discuss my preferences here, other than to say I’ve been evaluating my friendships in light of all that I’m seeing and hearing.  In addition, though I’ve never been much of a political person, for the first time in my life I’ve actually donated money and volunteered to work the phone bank during a political campaign.  Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely despise making cold calls of any kind, so this is a big step for me, and one of which I’m quite proud. I cannot stand by idly and not participate when so much is at stake.

I’m not going to discuss the campaign any more except for some comments I’ll make toward the end of this post regarding friendships.  Enough said.

I totally missed posting a September cocktail hour because in the middle of September I organized a big party/family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday.  The only person who didn’t show up was my youngest son, Adam, who is trying to settle in and carve a life out for himself in Maui.

Soon after we returned from Iceland at the end of August, we went with my sister-in-law, my son Alex and his girlfriend Ariana to Cirque de Soleil at Tyson’s Corner.  It was a spectacular show titled Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, with fantastic costumes, acrobatics and amazing feats.  What a way to immerse ourselves back home after our fabulous trip abroad.

You can read about our Iceland trip on my blog about my European travels: in search of a thousand cafés.

Cirque de Soleil - Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque de Soleil – Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities

It was hard to return from Iceland’s cool and sometimes frigid weather to the heat and humidity in Virginia. I always prefer cold weather to hot, so I was glad for the escape.  But.  Maybe it was the sudden change from sweltering to cold and then back to hot that caused Mike and I to both get sick on the trip, that and the tendency to go, go, go while on vacation.  When we returned home, Mike got better while I got worse.  I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and I suffered through three weeks of pure misery.  When I felt slightly better, I walked my daily three miles in the heat, sweated profusely, then got chilled; after these attempts at my normal routine, I was wiped out for days.  I repeated this several times, thinking I was better, but then was knocked back down.  Finally, I surrendered to the illness, rested a lot, drank fluids and pampered myself.  Finally, by mid-September, I was fine again.  What misery that was!

On September 4, Mike and I want to the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.  Mike was particularly interested in watching the Border Collie sheep herding, but it turned out there was only one Border Collie and he was herding goats.  Apparently this Border Collie costs $7,000!  He was very keen to round-up the goats when his owner gave the signal.  We watched a parade, ate haggis (which I’d never had) and Scotch eggs, and checked out the shiny British cars.

We stopped at the Living History exhibit, where a man taught us a bit about Scottish history.

Living history
Living history
Scottish paraade
Scottish paraade
Scottish parade
Scottish parade

The week before the Scottish Festival, we had a faux painter paint our dining room (from a deep red to a Sherwin Williams Whitetail and Intricate Ivory using a troweling process); the week after, she did our foyer (using a stippling process with a Sherwin Williams Cooled Blue, Rivulet , and Thermal Spring glaze mixture).  I am pleased with the results in both areas. 🙂

It’s been a long year of renovations, painting, landscaping, and KonMari-ing, and our house feels like new now.  We’re exhausted by the whole process and are now ready to relax for a good long while.  We still have to renovate our upstairs bathrooms, but I won’t be ready to dive into that project for a long time.

Here’s our stippled foyer.  The three paintings to the right were ones I picked up at the Longji Rice Terraces in China and had framed.

Foyer with Chinese paintings
Foyer with Chinese paintings

I planned a big family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday on the weekend of September 17.  My sister from California and my brother from New Jersey came, as well as my sister and her whole family from Maryland.  Sarah came for part of the time and Alex and his girlfriend were also here.  Adam was the only one missing, sadly.  We shared a lot of food and drinks and infectious laughs, especially playing Apples-to-Apples and a rip-roaring game of Charades.  My siblings and I have always been game players, so it was great fun for all of us to be together and let loose with some crazy competitions.

Sadly, I am unable to post pictures of our whole family together as my sister from California does not want her picture posted, and she of course was in many of them. 😦

On September 24, I went to Richmond to attend a day-long farm tour with my daughter.  Sarah wrote a great blog about it: Where Farmers Grow.  I hope you’ll check it out.  She’s a fantastic writer. 🙂

We started our tour at Victory Farms.

Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms

I didn’t know okra plants had such pretty flowers.

After touring three other gardens, we ended up back at Victory Farms, where we enjoyed a feast of small plates prepared by Richmond chefs.

Back at Victory Gardens
Back at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens

Sarah’s friend Colin, marketing director of Ellwood Thompson’s, a locally-owned and independently operated natural food market, got us the tickets for this event.

Sarah and Colin
Sarah and Colin
Sarah and me
Sarah and me

Shalom Farms, our next stop on the tour, partners with community organizations and existing nutrition programs to meet the needs of families and children. Among others, their partners include after-school programs, food banks, and community kitchens. In 2015 over 200,000 servings of Shalom Farms produce was distributed through local partnerships to meet the growing needs of nutrition programs in the greater Richmond area.

We both found the work at this farm inspirational.

Shalom Farms
Shalom Farms

Shalom, a 6-acre sustainable farm at Westview on the James in Goochland, Virginia, is an agricultural learning lab for visitors and volunteers of all backgrounds. In 2014, over 4,400 volunteers and visitors gained hands-on education and experience, helping the grow over 250,000 servings of fresh produce, according to their website.

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery , our third stop, supplies its brewery operations with on-site hop, barley, rosemary, hay and pumpkin farming.  We were able to enjoy a beer here and listen to some good classic rock-n-roll.

Tricycle Gardens is an urban garden whose mission is to grow healthy food, healthy communities and a healthy local food system. Their aim is to restore urban ecologies and create beautiful public spaces throughout Richmond, Virginia.

Tricycle Gardens
Tricycle Gardens

I made the mistake of standing in line at the porta-potty near the compost bins, where I was devoured by blood-sucking mosquitoes.  I must have been bitten at least 20 times, and it made the rest of my time at this garden miserable!

On September 30, Mike and I went into D.C., which we don’t do often, to China Chilcano for dinner, followed by a play at the Woolly Mammoth.

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

me at China Chilcano
me at China Chilcano

At China Chilcano, known for its union of Peruvian Criollo, Chinese Chifa and Japanese Nikkei, we sampled some Dorado Dim Sum (pork, shrimp, jicama, shiitake mushroom, peanut topped with golden egg), Bok Choy as Sillao (Baby bok choy, shiitake mushroom, oyster sauce), and Chupe de Cameron (Pacific wild shrimp soup with fresh cheese, choclo, rice, potato, poached egg).  For dessert we enjoyed Suspiro Limeña (Sweetened condensed milk custard topped with soft and crunchy meringue, passion fruit).

At the Woolly Mammoth, we saw another avant-garde play: Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops.  Woolly Mammoth is always on the cutting edge with their performances, and this one is no different.  In Jen Silverman’s absurdist romantic comedy, five different women named Betty collide at the intersection of anger, sex, and the “thea-tah,” according to the playbill.  I enjoy it, but am always a little taken aback by the radical ideas in these plays.

Wooly Mammoth
Wooly Mammoth

Before the play, we sat and enjoyed a glass of wine, which was included in the price of our theater ticket.  Mike was awfully blue and I awfully pink. 🙂

We haven’t done much else these two months other than taking our trip to Iceland and recovering from said trip.  I have watched a number of good movies, notably Hell or High Water, in which a divorced father (Chris Pine) and his ex-con older brother (Toby Howard) resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. I enjoyed this movie and felt some satisfaction at the brothers’ attempts to get back at the bank that tried to cheat their family out of its inheritance.

I also enjoyed the atmospheric The Light Between Oceans, in which a lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.  I went to see this with my sister from California as she stayed an extra two days after the rest of the family left the reunion.  After the movie, we enjoyed sushi and Sapporo and hot sake with Mike at Arigato.

One day last week, I went to see The Queen of Katwe, in which a Ugandan girl’s poverty-stricken life becomes more promising after she is introduced to the game of chess, for which she has great aptitude. I love this movie, as I always love movies that take place in foreign and exotic locales and feature an underdog rising up to meet success.

As for books, I have read some captivating books.  Here’s what I’ve read since we last met for a cocktail hour: Glaciers; And the Mountains Echoed; The Disappeared; 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I listened to my first ever audiobook, Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (read by Hope Davis).  I’ve never listened to an audiobook because I can be a terrible listener, with my mind always wandering off.  But, despite a few wandering thoughts where I lost the thread of the story, I was engrossed in this book and LOVED IT!! I’m now sold on audiobooks.  I’m looking forward to listening to a lot more during my daily 3 mile walks.

I’ve now added another exercise to my walks, a Tuesday-Thursday Pilates class.  I’ve never done Pilates, but I’ve done Yoga.  Both of them I find excruciatingly boring.  But I’ve decided I like Pilates better and I think I’m getting stronger as a result of it.

In addition to Pilates, I’m taking a Memoir class at the Reston Community Center on Monday mornings.  The class is for 55+ people — that includes me!  I’m finally beginning to write a memoir; I’ve dreamed of doing this for a long time; because of the weekly deadlines, I now have four chapters under my belt. I’m getting positive feedback on it too, which encourages me to go on.  Because of this class, I’m reading Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach.  I’ve always been told that if you want to write in a certain genre, you should read a lot in that genre, so in that vein, I read and enjoyed immensely Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son.

Of all the books I’ve read, I think I enjoyed The Disappeared the most.  Here’s the review I wrote about it on Goodreads: This book tells the poignant and tragic story of a young Cambodian man who was forced to leave his country during the Khmer Rouge reign and genocide, and who, while in exile in Montreal, meets and falls in love with a 16-year-old Canadian girl. Their love is beautifully and poetically rendered, and is physical and spiritual at the same time. The story is written in 2nd person, an unusual point of view. When the borders of Cambodia open again, Serey, the Cambodian student and musician, feels compelled to return to his country to search for his family. It is over a decade before his lover, Anne Greves, is able to travel to Cambodia in search of him, and when she finds him, they live together with the dark cloud of the country’s genocide hanging over them and reverberating through their lives. Serey is secretive about his days and when Anne comes to find out he is working for the opposition, she rebels against his secrecy and fears for his life. Beautifully rendered, this book reminds us of sweeping tragedies in countries where peasants or the disenfranchised take up arms and kill off intellectuals and musicians and teachers. Like China’s Cultural Revolution, and like the Nazi extermination of the Jews, it is a dark and grim reminder of the horrible things human beings do to each other when embraced with hatred and fear.

I guess this book struck home with me because of the political atmosphere in our country during this 2016 election.

In regards to that, I’ve been looking closely at and evaluating my friendships.  I read a great article posted by my favorite philosopher, Alain de Botton, on Facebook, from The Book of Life: What is the Purpose of Friendship?

The article starts with: “Friendship should be one of the high points of existence, and yet it’s also the most routinely disappointing reality.”  And then it goes on to say that relationships have a purpose which are boiled down to the following: networking, reassurance, fun, clarifying our minds, and holding on to the past.  I know I can look at most of my friendships and say they have one of these purposes.  They say friends come into our lives for a reason, or a season.

I truly wonder if we can hold on to friends forever.  Maybe I lived in a fantasy world, but I used to believe I could.  Sometimes I still like to believe it is possible.  But how can I really be friends with people who don’t share my basic values of inclusiveness and love for all of mankind; how can I be friends with people who harshly judge and even condemn those who are a different race, religion, or sex than us? How can I be friends with those who condone ugliness and hatred?

I’m beginning to think that I agree with the final paragraph in this article: “We should dare to be a little ruthless. Culling acquaintances isn’t a sign that we have lost belief in friendship. It’s evidence that we are getting clearer and more demanding about what a friendship could be.”  That’s where I am now.

It’s been the nastiest time I’ve ever lived through in the history of my country.

So, on that note, I leave you to go forward into this great month of November, when the election will be upon us, and to make decisions with good conscience. What we decide in November will be of grave consequence to the future of our country.

Cheers!!

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. 🙂

my daughter’s graduation

Saturday, May 14:  Today, we celebrate my daughter Sarah’s graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University.  This big day has been a long time in coming for Sarah and her two families.  We’re very proud of her for persevering over many years to finally get her B.A. in English at the age of 32.  She’s been supporting herself by working at Joe’s Inn as a waitress and attending school, paying her own way for her education during the latter years, not an easy feat living on tips from waitressing. She finally finished her degree without accumulating any student debt.

Mike and his sister Barbara and I arrive at Sarah’s house in Richmond at around 11:30 this morning to find a nice spread of bagels and toppings.  Sarah’s Aunt Barbara always provides the balloons for every celebration in our family.

Balloons for Sarah
Balloons for Sarah

Sarah has set up a spread of bagels with cream cheese, red onions, avocado, capers, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and bread & butter pickles.

the bagel toppings
the bagel toppings

Watermelon and cherries accompany our brunch spread.

watermelon and cherries
watermelon and cherries
the bagel spread
the bagel spread

When we arrive, Sarah’s father and stepmother, Bill and Kema, are already there, along with the youngest of Sarah’s half-brothers, Cody, 20.

The graduation for the entire university is scheduled for 10:00 a.m., but Sarah has opted out of that one to attend the English Department graduation at 2:00.  The larger graduation was going to be by department only, and no individual names were going to be called. She decided she’d rather enjoy quality time with her family rather than be stressed out having to sit through the two-hour larger graduation plus her English Department graduation.

We sit outside in Sarah’s backyard and enjoy each other’s company. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen the other half of Sarah’s family.

Mike, Kema, Bill, and Cody
Mike, Kema, Bill, and Cody

It’s been a rough and rocky road for Sarah.  Bill and I married in 1979 and we separated in 1986 after 7 1/2 years. Sarah, born in 1984, was only 2 1/2 when we separated.  Bill married Kema shortly after our divorce was finalized in 1988, and I married Mike at the end of that same year.  Sarah was 4 1/2 at the time Mike and I got married.

Over the years, Bill and I maintained a good relationship.  We were determined to try to make the best of the situation and do what we thought was best for Sarah and for us.  Maybe in retrospect, it wasn’t the right thing, but we decided Sarah would live in Northern Virginia with Mike and I for 3 years; then she would live for three years with Bill and Kema in Virginia Beach.  The next four years, Mike and I had her with us, and the last four years of high school, she lived in Virginia Beach. Whichever one of her families she lived with for the 3- or 4-year periods, both families would drive up and down I-95, not an easy drive, meet halfway in Richmond and exchange Sarah, so we could keep our relationship with her when she didn’t live with us.  We did this every other weekend at first; as she got older, we dropped to every third weekend and eventually to once a month.

Kema and Sarah
Kema and Sarah

It was very complicated, and probably very confusing and disorienting to Sarah, but we tried to emphasize the positives of having four parents and four brothers who loved her dearly and wanted to be vital parts of her life.  Her two families have loved and supported her through thick and thin.  We even spent weekends at each other’s homes when Sarah had special events such as birthdays, sporting events and school plays; in one, she played Alice in her high school’s production of Alice in Wonderland.  We tried our best, I think better than many parents do in divorce situations, but still, I know it was hard on our little girl.  I believe because of the hardship of going through a divorce, she experienced a lot of anxiety.

After high school, Sarah tried to go to school at James Madison University but for various reasons, that didn’t work out.  Finally, she took a hiatus from college, moved to Richmond and took a job at Joe’s Inn.  During some later attempts at college, she dropped a number of classes AFTER the add-drop period, causing both her families to lose a of money with nothing to show for it; in addition, she failed some classes.  I think her heart wasn’t in it for a number of reasons, some of which may have had to with living through a divorce.  I’m sure there were other factors as well.

Sarah eventually decided once and for all she would dive in and complete her education.  It’s been a challenging time for all of us, but in the end, I’m so proud of her for being strong and dedicated and for completing this milestone in her life, despite all the hardships.

flowers along the way
flowers along the way

This afternoon, Alex and Adam, my two sons, arrive in time to partake in the feast. After chatting and enjoying our bagels, coffee and orange juice, we walk several blocks to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church for the English Department Commencement Ceremony.

Adam and Alex
Adam and Alex

Our adorable redhead is all ready to go.

Sarah the graduate
Sarah the graduate

While she joins the other graduates, we go inside and take our seats.

Inside Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
Inside Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church

As the graduates walk in to the “Pomp and Circumstance March,” I catch a glimpse of my darling girl.

a glimpse of Sarah
a glimpse of Sarah

Sadly, the acoustics in the church are terrible.  We can’t hear the opening remarks of Dr. David Latane, nor can we hear the commencement address, titled “Reflection,” by Dr. Elizabeth Hodges.  It’s very disappointing.  Either the microphone was bad, or the speakers didn’t know how to use them properly and didn’t project their voices. It seems people should have training in using sound systems properly before such a big event.

Department of English graduates
Department of English graduates

Finally the ceremony begins, and Sarah stands in her row to wait for her name to be called.

Sarah getting ready to walk
Sarah getting ready to walk

She goes up to accept her diploma, but sadly, all I get is a blurred photo.  Hopefully we can later get a better professional picture from the hired photographer!

a blurry Sarah accepts her diploma
a blurry Sarah accepts her diploma

Outside the church we get pictures with the graduate.  Here’s the Geroux clan: Bill, Sarah, Kema and Cody.  Sarah’s other half-brother Nicholas is at a bachelor party and won’t arrive until 5:30 this evening for our family dinner.

Bill, Sarah, Kema and Cody
Bill, Sarah, Kema and Cody

And below is our clan: Alex, me, Mike, Sarah and Adam.

Alex, me, Mike, Sarah and Adam
Alex, me, Mike, Sarah and Adam

Our whole family is here, including Sarah’s Aunt Barbara, Mike’s sister.

Adam, Alex, Sarah, Mike, me and Barbara
Adam, Alex, Sarah, Mike, me and Barbara

And here’s me with Sarah and her dad, Bill.

me, Sarah & Bill
me, Sarah & Bill
the graduate
the graduate
Mike and Sarah
Mike and Sarah

After graduation, we head back to Sarah’s house to wait until our dinner reservations at 5:30.

a rooster in the garden
a rooster in the garden

While sitting in the backyard, clouds gather overhead and it starts raining, forcing us indoors.  This has been the rainiest May I’ve experienced in a long time.

Mike and Kema
Mike and Kema

At 5:00, we drive in two cars to Lucy’s Restaurant for a celebratory dinner.  We share a lot of wine, dirty martinis and general toasts all around.  Since Sarah also works part-time at Lucy’s, they bring out complimentary appetizers of FONDUE (creamy boursin and gorgonzola cheese fondue with fried cauliflower, sliced apples and croutons), OYSTERS & COLLARDS (Fried oysters over braised collard greens with bacon and lemon aioli), and a VEGGIE PLATE (Sauteed baby carrots, grilled zucchini pickled radishes with tzatziki style dip).  Of course, everyone orders a variety of entrees; I order grilled French quail glazed with an apricot barbecue sauce over a saute of farro, scallion, baby mustard greens, and sausage.  It’s all delicious and we have a fabulous time.

After dinner, we return to Sarah’s house for a fond farewell.  We take some more pictures of our extended family. Below is Princess Sarah with her four half-brothers.

Sarah and her four brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
Sarah and her four brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
Adam, Alex, Sarah, Nicholas and Cody
Adam, Alex, Sarah, Nicholas and Cody
the four half-brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
the four half-brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
Adam, Alex, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Adam, Alex, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Shenanigans
Shenanigans
Alex, Adam, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Alex, Adam, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Me, Adam, Sarah, Alex, Barb, Mike, Kema, Bill, Cody and Nicholas
Me, Adam, Sarah, Alex, Barb, Mike, Kema, Bill, Cody and Nicholas
the parents with their graduate: Mike, me, Sarah, Bill and Kema
the parents with their graduate: Mike, me, Sarah, Bill and Kema

It was a very special day for all of us, especially for her dad and me, who shed a few tears throughout the day.  It’s been a long road, but we’re beaming with pride today.  Sarah is a marvelous young lady, talented, smart, funny, beautiful and charming.  She has a marvelous life of possibilities ahead of her.  We truly love her and look forward to her next steps in life. 🙂

WONDER at the Renwick… and bewilderment on the homefront

Sunday, January 17:  Today, Mike and I go on an outing to see WONDER at the Renwick Gallery, which has just opened after a two-year renovation.  He jokes that he’s taking the Yeti to Washington, because I’m wearing a fuzzy white vest I bought at Target.  Sometimes I like to wear funky clothes, as some of you know. 🙂

In the WONDER exhibit, “nine contemporary artists created site-specific installations, each taking over a different gallery.  The nine artists are connected by their interest in creating large-scale installations from unexpected materials like thread, tires, marbles, and blocks of wood — commonplace objects that are assembled, massed, and juxtaposed to transform the spaces and engage visitors in surprising ways.” (All descriptions are from Explore the New Renwick Gallery brochure. All photos are taken by me).

We arrive early and fall into place at the end of a long line that’s already formed outside the gallery.  Luckily it moves fairly quickly; before long, we’re inside with hordes of people.  I guess everyone is desperate to get out on this gray winter day.

 

WONDER at the Renwick
WONDER at the Renwick

The first installation is Shindig by Patrick Dougherty.  He uses willow osiers and saplings to weave enormous pods that offer discovery and sanctuary to visitors and Yetis alike.

the Yeti at Shindig
the Yeti at Shindig
Shindig by Patrick Dougherty
Shindig by Patrick Dougherty

“Dougherty has crisscrossed the world weaving sticks into marvelous architectures. Each structure is unique, an improvised response to its surroundings, as reliant on the materials at hand as the artist’s wishes: the branches tell him which way they want to bend.  Finding the right sticks remains a constant challenge, and part of the adventure of the art-making sends him scouring over the forgotten corners of land where plants grow wild and full of possibility” (plaque at the exhibit).

Mike in Shindig
Mike in Shindig

In the next gallery, Gabriel Dawe develops dazzling waves of colored light using miles of embroidery thread spanning floor to ceiling.  His installation is called Plexus A1.

Gabriel Dawe - Plexus A1
Gabriel Dawe – Plexus A1
Gabriel Dawe - Plexus A1
Gabriel Dawe – Plexus A1
Gabriel Dawe - Plexus A1
Gabriel Dawe – Plexus A1

In Untitled, Tara Donovan glues thousands of styrene index cards to create ten towers — looming spires that seem like natural accretions.

Tara Donovan - Untitled
Tara Donovan – Untitled

“Employing mundane materials such as toothpicks, straws, Styrofoam cups, scotch tape, and index cards, Donovan gathers up the things we think we know, transforming the familiar into the unrecognizable through overwhelming accumulation. The resulting enigmatic landscapes force us to wonder just what it is we’re looking at and how to respond.  The mystery, and the potential for any material in her hands to capture it, prompts us to pay better attention to our surroundings, permitting the everyday to catch us up again” (plaque at the gallery).

Tara Donovan - Untitled
Tara Donovan – Untitled
Tara Donovan - Untitled
Tara Donovan – Untitled
Tara Donovan - Untitled
Tara Donovan – Untitled

In a central hallway, Leo Villareal’s light sculpture, called Volume, evokes the movement of falling stars; 320 hanging rods are encrusted with 23,000 LED lights that shimmer and sparkle in endless non-repeating sequences.

Leo Villareal - Volume
Leo Villareal – Volume
Leo Villareal - Volume
Leo Villareal – Volume

One of my favorite installations is Janet Echelman’s 1.8.  She explores volume without mass in a suspended net lit by colored lights; it surges across the Grand Salon in waves evoking a tsunami.

Janet Echelman - 1.8
Janet Echelman – 1.8

This exhibit is huge, covering the entire ceiling.  Visitors line up around the periphery before moving into the next gallery.

Janet Echelman - 1.8
Janet Echelman – 1.8
Janet Echelman - 1.8
Janet Echelman – 1.8
Janet Echelman - 1.8
Janet Echelman – 1.8

Some people lie on the carpet and take pictures from the floor.  I have a lie down as well. 🙂

people on the carpet observing Janet Echelman's 1.8
people on the carpet observing Janet Echelman’s 1.8
people on the carpet observing Janet Echelman's 1.8
people on the carpet observing Janet Echelman’s 1.8

In the next gallery, John Grade found a 150-year-old hemlock in the Cascade Mountains, made a plaster cast of it (without harming it), and then invited hundreds of volunteers to re-create the tree in recycled cedar strips – a tribute to the 150-year-old Renwick building.  He titles his work Middle Fork (Cascades).

John Grade - Middle Fork (Cascades)
John Grade – Middle Fork (Cascades)
John Grade - Middle Fork (Cascades)
John Grade – Middle Fork (Cascades)
John Grade - Middle Fork (Cascades)
John Grade – Middle Fork (Cascades)

After the exhibition closes, Middle Fork (Cascades) will be carried back to the hemlock’s location and left on the forest floor, where it will gradually return to the earth.

John Grade - Middle Fork (Cascades)
John Grade – Middle Fork (Cascades)

In Folding the Chesapeake, Maya Lin’s deluge of glass marbles flows across walls and floor, creating a map of the Chesapeake Bay.

Maya Lin - Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin – Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin - Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin – Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin - Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin – Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin - Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin – Folding the Chesapeake

Not part of the WONDER exhibit, Dale Chihuly’s Seafoam and Amber Tipped Chandelier was commissioned in 1994 for an oceanfront residence on Long Island, with shimmering seafoam colors and fanciful shell shapes echoing the seascape outside.  It is one of the first of a series of the artist’s “chandeliers” inspired in 1992 by a light fixture in a Spanish restaurant.  This series consists of large-scale nonfunctional sculptures with a dramatic presence in the space surrounding them, each made of hundreds or thousands of repeated elements.

Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly

Chakaia Booker transforms hundreds of recycled rubber tires, splicing and weaving them into a mysterious labyrinth.

Chakaia Booker - ANONYMOUS DONOR
Chakaia Booker – ANONYMOUS DONOR

“Booker was inspired to explore tires as a material while walking the streets of New York in the 1980s, when retreads and melted pools of rubber from car fires littered the urban landscape.  By massing, slashing, and reworking the material we see daily yet never fully consider, she jolts us out of complacency to grasp these materials for what they are: a natural resource marshaled through astonishingly complex channels into a product of great convenience and superabundance” (from a plaque at the gallery).

Chakaia Booker - ANONYMOUS DONOR
Chakaia Booker – ANONYMOUS DONOR
Chakaia Booker - ANONYMOUS DONOR
Chakaia Booker – ANONYMOUS DONOR
the Yeti at Chakaia Booker - ANONYMOUS DONOR
the Yeti at Chakaia Booker – ANONYMOUS DONOR

My other favorite in the gallery is Jennifer Angus’s In the Midnight Garden.  This artist creates spiraling designs across the gallery walls from shimmering, brilliantly colored insects, a novel “wallpaper” that displays nature’s spectacular range of colors and shapes in small-life forms.

Jennifer Angus - In the Midnight Garden
Jennifer Angus – In the Midnight Garden

From a plaque at the gallery: “Angus’s genius is the embrace of what is wholly natural, if unexpected.  Yes, the insects are real, and no, she has not altered them except to position their wings and legs. The species in this gallery are not endangered, but in fact are quite abundant, primarily in Malaysia, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea, a corner of the world where Nature seems to play with greater freedom.  The pink wash is derived from the cochineal insect living on cacti in Mexico, where it has long been prized as the best source of the color red.  By altering the context in which we encounter such species, Angus startles us into recognition of what has always been a part of our world.”

Jennifer Angus - In the Midnight Garden
Jennifer Angus – In the Midnight Garden
Jennifer Angus - In the Midnight Garden
Jennifer Angus – In the Midnight Garden

I’m amazed at this exhibit. First, I’m surprised and delighted that the insects are real.  And the way they are displayed is amazing.

Jennifer Angus - In the Midnight Garden
Jennifer Angus – In the Midnight Garden

After exploring WONDER at the Renwick Gallery, we take a walk down to the White House, passing some interesting buildings along the way.

The Renwick Gallery
The Renwick Gallery
Renwick Gallery
Renwick Gallery

We stop to admire the White House, where I’m hoping a certain candidate will NOT be living come January of 2017.

The White House
The White House

We walk past the stately Executive Office Building.

Washington building
Washington building
Washington row houses
Washington row houses

We’re hungry for lunch by now, so we go to Cosi to grab some lunch.

We feel slightly more relaxed today than we’ve been over the last several months, having had to deal with the emotional upheaval and crash of our youngest son, Adam (23).  Last week, on January 8, we moved him out of our house to a loft apartment in Richmond, VA.  As of today, it doesn’t seem he has been looking for a job and we’re worried that he is just sleeping all day every day.  He hasn’t really communicated much with us, so we don’t know anything for sure.

Two days after today’s outing, late on the night of Tuesday the 19th, Adam comes up from Richmond to visit, telling us he is giving a permaculture presentation to some people in Maryland on Wednesday.  He spends all day sleeping in the basement on Wednesday.  While I’m out running errands, he goes out and we don’t see him the rest of the night.  I assume he has gone to give the presentation.

However, on Thursday morning the 21st, while I am still in bed, Mike comes up and turns on the light.  Grumpy, I ask why he is turning on the light.  He says, “You’re going to go crazy.”  Then he proceeds to read me the following note, written by Adam:

What we woke up to on January 21
What we woke up to on January 21

We are both aghast.  If he had already bought the ticket to go to Hawaii in December, as he claimed, why the heck didn’t he tell us BEFORE we got him an apartment in Richmond and committed to a 6-month lease?  We feel duped, furious and hopeless.  Not to mention totally baffled as to what to do.

The next 10 days are torture for us as we don’t know whether or not he’ll come back home at all (we half wish he’ll just stay in Hawaii as he’s been wanting to go there for some time and frankly, we’re sick of being stressed out about him); neither do we know how he plans to live or eat while there as we know he has no money; in addition, his credit cards, which several stupid banks gave him, are maxed out.

We never hear a word from him in the 10 days he was there.  In some ways, I have to say it’s a welcome break, although I try hard to send positive thoughts his way.

Argh!! Life.

 

an evening at lewis ginter’s dominion gardenfest of lights: “H2Whoa”

Saturday, December 5:  After I fetch Mike from the University of Richmond football game, we sit in Starbucks drinking hot coffee for about an hour before we’re due to pick up Alex and his girlfriend, Ariana.

From Alex’s house in The Fan, we head over to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden for the Dominion GardenFest of Lights.  It’s quite a cold night, so we bundle up to walk through the 30-acre light and botanical display.  The “H2Whoa” theme showcases water in all its forms and highlights the many ways water shapes our world.

I apologize in advance for the poor quality of my photos, for without a tripod, I fear they’re pretty blurry!

blue fountain at Lewis Ginter
blue fountain at Lewis Ginter
Alex, me and Mike
Alex, me and Mike

Many of the flowers and fish throughout the gardens are made from recycled materials, especially plastic bottles — cut, painted and shaped into fantastical creatures and botanical features.

garden of recycled plastic
garden of recycled plastic
Pirate's booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Pirate’s booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Pirate's booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Pirate’s booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland
canopy of lights
canopy of lights

In the children’s area, we find a zoo of colorful animals.

Alex and Ariana are a cute couple, don’t you think?

Ariana and Alex
Ariana and Alex

We make our way slowly over toward the Conservatory.  The warmth inside beckons.

Conservatory
Conservatory
Fountain Garden
Fountain Garden
Fountain Garden
Fountain Garden

Inside the Conservatory, we’re greeted by a giant octopus and schools of fish on the “ocean’s floor.”

An underwater world in the Conservatory
An underwater world in the Conservatory
Gardens in the conservatory
Gardens in the conservatory

We find many garden features in the Conservatory, some real and some created out of plastic bottles.

In the Conservatory, we also admire the elaborate electric train dioramas.

Finally, we head back into the Visitor’s Center, where we wander around the gift shop to warm up.

heading back to the Visitor's Center
heading back to the Visitor’s Center
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octopus ornament
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sea creature ornaments
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cute owl ornament
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terrier ornament
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elk ornament
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butterflies
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lanterns in the gift shop

After our fun exploration of the GardenFest of Lights, we go to The Fan, where we wait in line for a Cuban dinner at Kuba-Kuba Restaurante y Bodega.   We enjoy a lively atmosphere, delicious meals and cold beers, after which we take Alex and Ariana back home and we drive home two hours to northern Virginia. 🙂