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

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

I hope January has been good to you so far. Have you played in snow, gone skiing, ridden dog sleds or stayed in igloos? Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you started planning your adventures for the year? Have you had any winter getaways? Have you sung along with any new songs? Have you dreamed any dreams? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes?  Have you undertaken any new exercise routines?

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

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

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

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

For the Camino, reading:

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

Watching:

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

Doing:

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

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

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

An ice-over Difficult Run Stream

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

Lake Audubon
birds at Lake Audubon
Lake Newport

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

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

Family, photo outings, and restaurants:

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

Humpty Dumpty at Lewis Ginter
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

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

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

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

palms in the Palm House

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

orchids

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

Asian Valley

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

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

Urban hikes & museum-going:

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

 

The Renwick

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

The Blair House

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

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

I loved this fabulous Monopoly game made with fired clay.

Monopoly
Shadow of Amboseli

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

The Renwick has a fabulous variety of art and installations.

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

Washington streets

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

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

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

fountain in the National Gallery of Art

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

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

Suntrust Bank

I share the sentiments of this protester!

protesters at the White House
Rochambeau

Movies & plays

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

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

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

Everything is Illuminated

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

Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup

Other stuff:

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

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

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

The Renwick

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

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

Shadow of Amboseli (2016) by Wendy Maruyama.

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

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

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

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

Raft (1997) by William Morris.

Downtown D.C.

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

At the National Gallery of Art

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

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

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

***********

Happy February, everyone! 🙂

 

 

 

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the november cocktail hour – sans cocktails

Thursday, November 30:  It’s time for our monthly cocktail hour again, but this time I’m afraid I can’t offer you any cocktails.  It will have to be a non-alcoholic gathering, as our family has now come face-to-face, in the most unpleasant way, with the full-blown realization that we have an alcoholic in our midst.  I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now, please come in and keep me company.  I could certainly use a listener, and I’d love the distraction of hearing what’s happening in other people’s lives.

I can offer you soda, hot tea or coffee, or even hot apple cider, since it’s getting cold now. We also have tap water, of course, with a twist of lemon or lime, or I can offer you La Croix grapefruit flavored sparkling water.  You all know I love my glass of wine, but I have to save that treat for when I’m outside the house.

“There’s not alcoholic in the world who wants to be told what to do. Alcoholics are sometimes described as egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. Or, to be cruder, a piece of shit that the universe revolves around.”
Anthony Kiedis, Scar Tissue

I hope November has been good to you. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies or performances, binge-watched any television series? Have you encountered any challenges or jumped any big hurdles? Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you embarked on any new endeavors?

Our month started out well enough.  My son’s girlfriend Maddy was still here and he was occupied with her, though he still hadn’t returned to work. I think they had worked out Maddy would pay for everything while here, as he had spent all his money in Australia.  He wasn’t working so had no income coming in.

I was trying to play catch-up with some free webinars offered by a friend of mine, Pooja, under her business name of Daring Daydreamers. I hadn’t been able to attend the live versions, so I was trying to catch up on the first two replays: “Vision Boarding for Success” and “Intentional Mind Mapping,” in preparation for the third one, “Communicating Your Vision with Ease” on Friday, November 3.   After attending this webinar live, I signed up for the two-hour “Business Planning Workshop” which was on the 16th.  Pooja had given all attendees a Business Planning Worksheet to complete prior to the webinar, which was fairly easy to do as I had started creating a business plan before I left for Japan.

I also set a goal for myself to write two draft chapters of my memoir each week, and except for Thanksgiving week, I did just that, although I must admit they are very rough drafts.

I saw a lot of movies this month, probably to make up for not seeing a single movie in the theater in October, and to escape the house.  I go often to Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax on Senior Wednesday for $5.50. I went to see the adorable movie Lucky, about a 90-year-old atheist who, after a sudden collapse in his home, has to accept that his good health may be declining and that his life may be coming to an end.  He’s a gruff but endearing character who gets up every morning and does a few yoga poses in his underwear, puts on one of the five identical plaid shirts he has in his closet, and goes out for a walk, smoking cigarettes along the way and encountering his fellow citizens in his small derelict town. He questions his neighbors’ beliefs and fine-tunes his own along the way.

Mike and I enjoyed a fun vegan taco dinner with our friends Karen and Michael on Saturday, the 4th.  This was the first time we’ve visited them in their new house and we had a great time. On Sunday afternoon, we went together to see The Florida Project, a depressing and hopeless story about poverty and generational problems in the shadow of the make-believe land of Disney World in Florida. It definitely gave us something to talk about, especially how the mother’s behavior in letting her daughter run rampant translated into a bratty spoiled child who didn’t have any likable qualities about her.

November 7 was Election Day and in Virginia, it was an important election as we were voting for a new Governor (Ralph Northam won!), Lieutenant Governor (Justin Fairfax), Attorney General (Mark Herring) and a new delegate for the 67th District (Karrie Delaney). It turned out to be a Democratic sweep, thank goodness, a clear message to Trump that Virginians want nothing to do with his brand of hatred.

After I voted I went to my tailor and asked her to take a picture of my “I Voted” sticker; it was recommended we put pictures on social media to remind others to vote.  It just so happened the picture showed her “Alterations” sign on the window, and I noted on my picture that I voted for “Alterations” in our current government.

Election Day – hoping for ALTERATIONS in our current government!

I found a picture on Pinterest, which I don’t often look at, of a meal that inspired me to make this meal of quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado, arugula & yellow tomatoes.  It was delicious!

my concoction: quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado & yellow tomatoes

On Wednesday, November 8, I went to see Victoria & Abdul, about the aging Queen Victoria and her unusual friendship with a young Indian clerk.  I always love Judy Dench, and she was her superb self in this movie. We’ve also recently watched the first season of the TV series, Victoria, about Queen Victoria’s early life.  Now we just need the middle part filled in.

On Thursday, November 9, I went to visit my father and his wife in Yorktown, but I stayed less than two hours.  I have a fraught relationship with my father and I haven’t seen him since I threw a birthday party for him in September of 2016.  At that party, his wife Shirley told me Dad wanted to cancel three weeks before the party, despite the fact that I did everything in my power to get everyone together for that party, even my sister in California who hates to fly and rarely travels.  Luckily, Shirley talked Dad out of cancelling or I would have been furious.  He told me at that party that he would never make the trip to northern Virginia again (about a 3 hour trip by car under the best of traffic), yet he continues to travel about 30 minutes south of here to visit his wife’s family. He’s also a Trump supporter and a racist, so I really can’t take much of him. I know he’s getting older and more frail, so I try to do my daughterly duty periodically.

After a tense conversation, I left his house and went to Richmond where I met Sarah and Alex at Joe’s Inn, where Sarah has worked as a bartender and waitress for nearly 10 years.  They were finishing up their drinks and Alex had to run off to meet someone, so we shortly left. Sarah and I went by ourselves to share a lovely dinner at Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen.

On Saturday morning I went for a walk in Sarah’s neighborhood of Woodland Park while she took her dog for a slow walk.  The trees were beautiful in her neighborhood.  Then we had a delicious lunch at Chopt Salad at Willow Lawn.

trees in Woodland Park, Richmond
leaves in Woodland Park

I loved all the fallen leaves in Woodland Park.  I don’t know why it makes me so happy to shuffle through colorful fallen leaves in autumn.

colorful leaves on the road in Woodland Park

We celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna on Monday, November 13.  Earlier that day, my son’s girlfriend Maddy left to return to Australia.

This night, though fun while we were out, marked the end of innocence for our family. Little did we know this would be the beginning of a spiraling decline in our son’s life.

me at Maple Avenue Restaurant

At this point, still foolishly believing life was good, we enjoyed our dinner. I had an appetizer of crispy broccoli with panko breading, gold raisins, caraway, and yogurt herb sauce.  It was a little too heavily breaded and deep-fried for my taste; I was expecting a light dusting of bread crumbs. Mike’s appetizer of house spreads was much better: burrata, liver mousse, bacon jam, herb ricotta, currant jam, and crostinis.  For dinner, I somewhat enjoyed my Arctic Char Fillet with fresh herb spaetzle pasta, oregano, and smoky tomato sauce.  Again, Mike’s meal was better: pork confit steak with fingerlings, brown butter, sweet potato, eggplant caponata, and chimi churri.  I’m not generally a pork eater, but this dish was lean and flavorful and surprisingly good.

Finally, to top off our meal, we had fried apple pie with lavender honey, dulce de leche, and old-fashioned ice cream.  This time mine was better than Mike’s Lithuanian Honey Layer Cake with cinnamon, allspice and caramelized honey, and whipped sour cream.

I continued to take my 3-mile walks all over the place, but on this Thursday after our anniversary, on a walk around Lake Audubon, the trees were glowing.

around Lake Audubon in Reston

On Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving, I met my friend Leah in D.C. at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace for brunch and bottomless mimosas.  She lives in San Francisco but comes home to D.C. to visit her father each year around Thanksgiving. Leah got the most delicious Chopped Salad with Buttermilk-Jalapeno Dressing, Market Vegetables, and Popcorn Crawfish, while I enjoyed a small portion of 3 Cornmeal Crusted Chesapeake Oysters served over Andouille Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash.  It was a tiny meal but delicious.  No matter, I was mostly focused on the bottomless mimosas for $20. This Bottomless Mimosa Brunch is hosted every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm with Reggae tunes playing in the background.  We had a great time all around, catching up on our lives while also bemoaning the state of our government in the last year, with the despicable and greedy Republicans in charge.

We passed by Birch and Barley, which looked to be closed but I found out later is not.  I recognized it as the place where my CELTA class colleagues and students went to celebrate after our last day of class in October of 2015.

Mike and I went to Arena Stage to see the musical The Pajama Game on Saturday, November 18 after eating at Masala Art, our favorite Indian restaurant in D.C. Here’s the review in the Washington Post: Splashy ‘Pajama Game’ at Arena Stage Aims to Seduce with 1950s Style. It was fun, and some of the music was great, especially “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which I played on Spotify on the way home.

The Pajama Game was first produced in 1954, with catchy tunes and sexy dance numbers.  The musical’s themes revolve around protest and inequality in the workplace.

The Pajama Game at Arena Stage
Mike at Arena Stage

I finished reading three books this month: first, I finished Water from heaven: An American woman’s life as an Arab wife, by Anne Schreiber Thomas.  I met Anne and her husband when I lived in Oman and she and her husband lived in Abu Dhabi. The story tells of an American woman, Cindy Lou Davis, who met and married Mohammed Ali, a Muslim from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.  Anne knows Cindy Lou and she did a great job of capturing Arab culture in UAE, not too dissimilar from Oman’s.  I also finished Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull, which I really enjoyed.  Lastly, I read the bizarre book, The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris, by Leila Marouane.  I started reading this book because I planned to join a book group that is reading books from all the countries of the world in alphabetical order. The story actually takes place in Paris but it was chosen as an Algerian book, since the protagonist Mohamed Ben Mokhtar, who has Frenchified his name to Basile Tocquard, and his family are Algerian.  If you’re interested in reading my reviews of these books, you can probably find them by clicking on the title links above. 

On Sunday, November 19, Mike and I took a walk along the Fairfax Cross County Trail.  It was a beautiful crisp fall day, but I was feeling a little anxious about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Worried about our son’s drinking, I had counted the number of wine bottles, and was certain that two had gone missing.  I knew when Sarah and Alex came for the holiday, the wine would be flowing and I didn’t know how Adam would cope.

a glowing tree

On Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, I woke up to hear a tense discussion in the basement between my husband and son, and I found a note under my empty wine rack.  I had hidden all the wine bottles on Monday, but on Monday afternoon I had bought two more for the holidays and thought, He wouldn’t dare take these when they’re the last two. The note said, “Sorry for taking wine. I love you.  Thank you.”  Apparently he had drunk the two bottles over the night and was drunk first thing in the morning. A huge argument ensued with screaming and yelling.  Things got so nasty that I threatened to call the police.

Slowly, we all calmed down and had a long talk, made up, cried and hugged.  Later in the morning, I invited Adam to walk with me, again on the same Cross County Trail.  We had such a wonderful day, talking about everything, about how difficult it was for him when in every social situation people are pressuring him to drink, and how he felt powerless.  He talked about wanting moderation, being able to have just one or two drinks, but how he couldn’t seem to stop once he started.  We talked about how it was important for him to go to AA so he wouldn’t have to go it alone, so he could have a community of people who also struggle with addiction. We could send him to rehab, I could drive him to AA, he could join some Meetup groups of people with similar interests so he didn’t feel so isolated. We talked about how he’d cope over Thanksgiving when people were drinking.  We loaded him up with Kombucha, so he could drink that while others were drinking wine.  He seemed receptive.  After our walk, we went to Mom’s Organic Market so he could pick out some healthy food (he’s very picky about the kind of food he’ll eat) and we shared some healthy bowls at the Naked Lunch Cafe.

See how much help I tried to offer?!  See how foolish, and how crazy, I was?

Trees on the CCT

On our way home, Adam told me how he’d like to make some suggestions to his boss to improve his business so his boss wouldn’t be so angry all the time.  It sounds like the business is growing and needs more employees, so I immediately thought of ZipRecruiter, an advertisement I hear every day on Modern Love: The Podcast. (Again, I’m so full of helpful ideas!)  I told Adam that I listen every day to Modern Love and they play the same two ads: ZipRecruiter and Iconundies.com, about pee-proof underwear for women.  We laughed about those and then he was interested in hearing the podcast to hear the advertisements.  It just so happened the next podcast up on my list was this one: “Take My Son To Jail: Modern Love 72.”  The essay, read aloud on the podcast, was about a son who was diagnosed with various things over the years, from autism to schizophrenia, but nothing ever seemed right.  It turned out the son had told his mother at 18 that he wanted to be treated like an adult.  Then he went through a stretch of time where he lied about everything and then stole his mother’s car.  When the police in their small town called the mother, she told them to take him to jail, because he’d said he wanted to be treated like an adult and she was sick of all the lies and his behavior.  She did it lovingly.  Sadly, many years later, the son was found dead in his apartment at age 28 with no known cause of death.

We weren’t finished listening to the podcast when we pulled into our driveway, but Adam wanted to finish listening to it after we got in the house.  As I had just threatened to call the police this morning, maybe he could identify with it. I hoped that maybe he understood where I was coming from.

We hadn’t shared a day that wonderful in a long time. All seemed good.  And hopeful.

“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away. Not only did the sadness go away, but I was fantastic. I was beautiful, funny, I had a great figure, and I could do math. But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”
Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be

a few colorful berries

But. Hope is fool’s folly when dealing with an addict. This is the dilemma. As his parents, we love him and want the best for him.  We want him to be happy and productive and responsible.  We want him to be a man. We are willing to do anything to help him.  And this is where the problem lies. WE CANNOT HELP HIM UNLESS HE WANTS TO HELP HIMSELF.  And though he SAYS he wants to help himself, he doesn’t actually take action to do it. This is where we want so desperately to believe, but we’re fools for doing so.  In our belief that we can fix him, we’re as insane as he is.

Before he left for Australia in mid-September, he was doing so well.  He was working, saving money, paying his debt, working solidly on a podcast which I thought was very well done. He was proud of himself for being clean for 70 days.  But once he got to Australia, he was pressured constantly to drink, and apparently he did drink, so much that he didn’t like how he was feeling and acting, so he quit cold turkey.  He said that weekend after he stopped was hell because everyone else was partying like their lives depended on it and he felt outside of things.

While in Australia, he lost his momentum on his podcast and spent all his money.  And then he brought Maddy home with him, and he promptly got sick and didn’t go back to work.  He and Maddy broke up and she left earlier than she originally planned.  Maybe their relationship was doomed because of the hopelessness of being on opposite sides of the world.  Maddy doesn’t want to leave Australia and he doesn’t want to leave the U.S.  He has no career and no direction and knows he needs to get his life together, but he just can’t seem to muster what it takes.

This is the nature of the addict.

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

treetops and blue sky

Thanksgiving actually went pretty well.  Sarah and Alex arrived, they drank wine and Adam drank Kombucha.  We enjoyed chatting and we all watched several episodes of Fresh Off the Boat together, all bundled together under blankets on the couch in the basement. The next day, we worked together to prepare dinner, enjoyed our huge meal, and then played a rousing game of Malarky together.  It was great fun; I haven’t laughed so hard in ages.  But where all of us could laugh, make fun of ourselves, and relax, Adam seemed on edge, testy.  He always wants to win and takes it personally when he thinks he’s going to lose. He can be condescending and difficult to be around.

The day after Thanksgiving was worse, with Adam staying mostly to himself and Alex working out. Sarah was her easy-going self.  I suggested we all go see Lady Bird together and everybody was up for it. I enjoyed it.  Sarah said it reflected perfectly the struggles of her generation.  I’m sure all my kids could relate to the mother-child struggles, with the mother pushing her child to be the best she could be.

But later, Adam sat in front of the TV, lost in his own thoughts, not talking to Alex or Sarah or any of us.  He was supposed to go to work Friday night, but called in sick.  He should have gone Saturday, but he didn’t then either.  Sarah and Alex left around 11:00 on Saturday, and Adam went back into his shell, seeming more depressed than ever.

“I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy, I didn’t have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. I didn’t make for an interesting person. I didn’t want to be interesting, it was too hard. What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn’t fit the other. I didn’t care.”
Charles Bukowski, Women

On Sunday, Adam got up early and went to work.  He was at work from 7 in the morning till 7:30 at night.Mike and I went for a fun hike at Maryland Heights.  In the evening, we got a text that he was going to his friend’s house.  I know he needs to have friends, but I know these friends like to drink.  I was on edge all night.  He never came home until 9:30 Monday morning.  I didn’t know if he’d been drinking but I couldn’t help but suspect it.  He steered clear of me and later in the day, I found him sleeping the day away in the basement.  I asked if he’d been drinking last night and if he was going to an AA meeting we’d told him about on Monday evening.  He answered no to both and said not to bother him, he was napping.

fallen heroes

Later in the evening, I was determined that we talk to him together.  We went downstairs and told him we wanted to talk to him about going to AA.  Highly on edge, he said he wasn’t going and he didn’t want to talk about it. We insisted that we need to talk about it because our agreement was that he would start going to AA if he lived in our house.  Tempers escalated and things got ugly, ending with him pounding a hole in his door, another hole in the wall, breaking his computer, and picking up an ottoman and trying to throw it at a TV.  He said horrible things to us and was out of control. He told us he was more powerful than us and he became threatening.  I threatened to call the police.

When things escalated even more, the decibel level nearly explosive, I did just what I threatened.  I called the police, telling them we had a domestic situation.  Adam left the house and sat outside waiting for the police.  He wanted to tell his side of the story first, I guess.  It was a horrible night.  I told the police I wanted him out of the house. They told us we couldn’t just throw him out at that moment.  They told me there was nothing they could do unless he actually hurt us.  Wow, that might be too late, mightn’t it?  The officer was a good man, kind and sympathetic. He said, with all his experience over 20 years with this kind of situation, there is nothing we can do to help our son unless he wants to help himself.  He told us our options; we could go to the Sheriff’s Office and file eviction papers, post them on our house, and have him evicted in 30 days. We could file charges for property damages. He suggested we should wait till our tempers had calmed to continue our discussion.  Then he left the house.  I stood up, said I was done talking for the night, and went upstairs to bed, saying I had nothing more to say.  But.  I couldn’t sleep because I could hear Mike and Adam talking for two more hours, voices raised.

Later, Mike told me that in two hours of talking, our son said that when he came home from Hawaii, he spent two full weeks trying to detox by sleeping and spending a lot of time alone. He said Mike didn’t know how much he suffered because he was at work all the time (I was in Japan).  He said he really does want to change.

I won’t believe it until I see it.  I’m ready to file eviction papers at a moment’s notice, but I said I’d see how it goes over the next week.  I hate the thought of evicting him in the middle of winter, but I don’t know what else to do.  We have absolutely no control over him and I actually feel threatened in my house. 

“You’re walking down Fool’s Street, Laura used to say when he was drinking, and she had been right. He had known even then that she was right, but knowing had made no difference; he had simply laughed at her fears and gone on walking down it, till finally he had stumbled and fell. Then, for a long time, he stayed away, and if he had stayed away long enough he would have been all right; but one night he began walking down it again – and met the girl. It was inevitable that on Fool’s Street there should be women as well as wine.

He had walked down it many times in many different towns, and now he was walking down it once again in yet another town. Fool’s Street never changed, no matter where you went, and this one was no different from the others. The same skeletonic signs bled beer names in vacant windows; the same winos sat in doorways nursing muscatel; the same drunk tank awaited you when at last your reeling footsteps failed. And if the sky was darker than usual, it was only because of the rain which had begun falling early that morning and been falling steadily ever since.”
Robert F. Young, The Worlds of Robert F. Young

Difficult Valley Stream

On Tuesday night, we watched the DVR of Madam Secretary we had recorded on Sunday. In the show, President Dalton was upset because his son, a drug addict, had checked himself into rehab.  After an international incident in which the U.S., at the President’s insistence, tried to negotiate with Mexico to turn over an imprisoned drug lord to the U.S. to be prosecuted, Secretary McCord tells the President she’s sorry about his son.  He says the worst thing is that no matter how many times his son goes to rehab, and how often he gets clean, he’s always going to have that demon on his shoulder, threatening to send him spiraling again.

Why has it taken us so long to face the fact our son is depressed and an alcoholic?  Sure, we’ve had our suspicions.  But I have tried to normalize it. I know depression runs in our family and all of us have grappled with it.  I remind myself how many young people drink, how much I used to drink when I was in my 20s.  But, then I never drank alone.  I was always able to get up and go to work.  Could I quit after two drinks?  I often didn’t, but could I have?

How many times have we deluded ourselves? I’ve lost count. I had a wonderful day with my son on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my sweet and brilliant son who was once so close to me.  Now, less than a week later, we are in dire straits. I never know when another bomb will drop; it’s like I’m living in a war zone.  He is depressed but refuses to seek help because he doesn’t trust doctors and he refuses to go on anti-depressants, yet he continues to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. He is isolated and lonely, but he won’t go to AA. He thinks he’s more powerful than we are and we can’t force him to do anything. And he’s right about that. If he won’t help himself, how on earth can we help him?

Plainly and simply, we can’t.

But we can’t let him drag us down into his abyss.  That I know.  I am considering options.  I am leaving open the eviction option.  I am considering leaving the house and going to stay somewhere else until he’s out of the house.  I am figuring out ways I can take care of myself and stop offering him help and solutions.  He doesn’t want our help anyway, and in fact resents our meddling.  I will work on myself, as I’m the only one who is any of my business.

“There are millions of people out there who live this way, and their hearts are breaking just like mine. It’s okay to say, “My kid is a drug addict or alcoholic, and I still love them and I’m still proud of them.” Hold your head up and have a cappuccino. Take a trip. Hang your Christmas lights and hide colored eggs. Cry, laugh, then take a nap. And when we all get to the end of the road, I’m going to write a story that’s so happy it’s going to make your liver explode. It’s going to be a great day.”
Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be

I grew up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic and who attempted suicide (and failed) too many times to count.  The first time, she walked in front of a neighbor’s VW van when I was 13 years old.  Another time she drove into a tree. She was in and out of mental hospitals, undergoing electroshock therapy, and she was constantly on cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs.  She was also an alcoholic.  I survived those years by detaching and I’ll have to survive this by detaching.  I love my son deeply, but I’m going to stand back for now. I have to, to keep from going crazy. Until he gets his life together, I need to keep distance between us. The whole environment is too toxic and too heartbreaking.

It may seem strange to be writing about anniversary celebrations, going to movies, reading books, meeting friends, and celebrating holidays in the midst of the hell we are going through.  But that is life, isn’t it?  We can choose to sit around wringing our hands in desperation, hoping that something good will come of all this or, alternatively, bracing ourselves for something horrible to happen. Or we can try to eke out moments of happiness in whatever ways we can in the midst of it all.  I’m going to try to do the latter, for my sanity, which I’m determined to preserve.  I did it when growing up with my mentally ill mother, so I’ll do it with my son as well.

We are at a stand-off now.  I haven’t laid eyes on our son since Monday night, and he lives in our basement.  Mike goes down once a day to check to see if he’s still alive.  I cannot forget our terrifying Monday night and I’m sure he is furious at us.  He probably feels hopeless, and that makes my heart break. But we feel hopeless too. Forgiveness will be slow in coming.

On Wednesday, November 29, I went again to Senior Wednesday to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  This may have been one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  The characters were complex and grew and learned from their experiences.  It gave me a little hope for all of us.

Friday, December 1:  I went to an Al-Anon meeting today at an Episcopal Church I used to attend.  This group works on the 12 steps, one step each Friday at noon. Today, it so happened that they were working on Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It helped me to listen to nearly 20 people share their struggles with the alcoholic or drug addicts in their lives. It helped me feel part of a community, that all is not hopeless, and that I need to focus on myself and to ask for help from a Higher Power.  One thing I learned in Al-Anon today is that I have to trust in my Higher Power, whatever that means to me, and then I have to let go and believe that my son has his own Higher Power who will take care of him.  They said to me: “Keep coming back.”  I’ve dropped into Al-Anon meetings in the past, but only periodically, when things were in crisis mode.  This time, I need to commit to going regularly, at least once a week, if not more.

Many people may be put off by my sharing of something so personal.  But I am a strong believer in deep sharing, rather than superficiality.  Looking at social media, one would think everyone’s lives are fine and glorious things. There is deep shame in society about talking about mental illness, depression and addiction.  But I believe if we don’t talk about it, and we continue to sweep it under the table, it will continue to infect our societies, generation after generation, ad infinitum.

One day, you might be able to read all about all of this in my memoir.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll tell me something about your November, your life, your experiences, whether exciting or challenging.  Anyway, I wish you all a fabulous December and a festive holiday season. 🙂

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.

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. 🙂