the october cocktail hour: of pumpkins, birthdays, autumn leaves and halloween

Tuesday, October 31:  It’s time for our October cocktail hour, and I’m ecstatic that the weather is finally getting cooler, the air is becoming more crisp, and the leaves are shouting their last vibrant hurrah before winter sets in.  Farm market displays are bursting with fresh apples, pumpkins, gourds and pumpkin & apple butter. Everywhere in suburban yards, straw scarecrows stand on sticks, ghosts float overhead on tree branches, gravestones and skulls lurk in the shadows.  It’s my favorite time of year, and on top of the normal October pleasures, I celebrated another birthday on October 25.  I’m now the venerable age of 62, but still feeling much younger than that truth-telling number.

Topping off everything else, yesterday morning, there were the Mueller indictments.  I don’t plan to say much about it here, but suffice it to say, this was a fantastic belated birthday present.  I hope it will be the gift that keeps on giving!

Autumn colors in Oakton

Please come in and take one of my Pottery Barn furry blankets.  Wrap yourself up; we’ll sit out on the screened-in porch. It’s cool but not yet too cold.  While on our trip, Mike and I became a bit addicted to local Czech beers, especially Pilsner Urquell and Budějovický (Budweiser) Budvar. Mike managed to find the Pilsner Urquell here in the U.S., so I have those to offer.  We also have red and white wines, seltzer water and orange juice (always a refreshing combination for those of you who don’t drink), Vanilla Coke Zero, sparkling water and of course my old standby, Bud Light Lime. 🙂

I hope October has been good to you so far.  Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you encountered any new songs?  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?

Autumn colors in Oakton

Our first week in October was the second week of our two-week holiday to Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic. From October 1st on, we were in Czech Republic, namely Český Krumlov and Prague, and we returned home on October 7.  I’ve been writing, slowly but surely, about our trip on my Europe blog: in search of a thousand cafes.

At the same time, I’m alternating writing about my last 10 days in Japan (catbird in japan).  It’s all slow going, but eventually the story will be told. 🙂  Throughout the month, I continued to follow Jill’s Scene, who just completed the Camino de Santiago in late October.  She and her husband started the 800km walk in early September; I still have dreams of doing it myself in September-October of 2018.  I continued to add to my notes about her journey, the weather and challenges she encountered.  I haven’t wavered in my dream to do this next year.

As for books, I’m way behind on my goal to read 40 books in 2017.  I basically didn’t read much of anything the four months I was in Japan.  I was simply too busy.  But as of this month, I’ve managed to read 20 books, finishing Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, which I enjoyed, and How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which was okay.

On the plane to Budapest and the flight back from Prague, I binge-watched the Emmy-award winning HBO mini-series Big Little Lies, which I loved. Listening to the opening credits soundtrack repeatedly, I became enamored of the song Cold Little Heart by Michael Kiwanuka. Now I’ve added it to my October playlist on Spotify.  On my daily 3-mile walks, I listen to my various soundtracks, including that song, ad infinitum, as well as the podcast Modern Love from the New York Times column of the same name, hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti (WBUR).

Autumn colors in Oakton

Strangely, I haven’t seen one movie in the cinema this month, but Mike and I did see Native Gardens at Arena Stage in Washington on October 14.  Appropriately themed as a reflection of our current antagonistic political environment in Washington, the play is about two neighbors, an older stodgy white couple, the Butleys and a young couple of Latino background, the Del Valles (the husband is Chilean and the pregnant wife a native New Mexican).  There’s a generation gap, a cultural gap, and a gap in the actual property line; when the Del Valles want to quickly replace the decrepit fence between the properties so they can have an outdoor BBQ for the husband’s law firm, a surveyor finds their property line goes another couple of feet into the Butleys’ yard, encroaching on Frank Butley’s beloved garden. A huge altercation ensues addressing issues of race, environment, and politics.  Entertaining as pure surface comedy, it didn’t address in a serious way the actual political divisions we face in our country today.

Here’s a great review of the play: Washington City Paper: Arena Stage Skewers Neighborhood Drama in Native Gardens.

Playbill for Native Gardens

Our youngest son Adam left for Melbourne, Australia right before we went on our holiday.  He went for nearly a month to visit his girlfriend, Maddy, who he met in Hawaii. He informed us the day before he returned that he was bringing Maddy home with him.  He had hinted at this before he left, but I didn’t know if it would actually happen.  I went to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) to pick them up on Wednesday evening, October 18, and since I arrived early to avoid the Beltway traffic, I spent an hour or so having a light dinner at Season 52 at Columbia Mall.  Here’s a musical sculpture at the mall.

at Columbia Mall while waiting for Adam and Maddy to arrive at BWI

Adam, keen to show Maddy all around in one fell swoop, wore himself out quickly and ended up in excruciating pain from rupturing his eardrum, leaving poor Maddy to fend for herself.  I told him that no matter how bad he felt, she was his guest and he was obligated to take care of her.

Despite the fact that, before he left for Australia, he was being disciplined, working hard, saving money and doing some interesting podcasts while taking a course on making podcasts, after he returned, he was suddenly ill, making no effort to return to work, and had his girlfriend here (who is very nice and seems to have a good head on her shoulders, by the way!).  In my eyes, he was shirking all his duties and the promises he made to us to have a full-time job if we allowed him to live at home.  Every day that he’s not moving forward in his life, career-wise, makes me feel like he’s completely irresponsible and we are total failures as parents, not demanding enough from him or having high enough expectations.  Not only that, but feeding into the tension I feel is my fear he will be as indecisive as I have always been about my career.  All of this has made for a tense atmosphere in the house since October 21, although I had to force myself let go of my anger and frustration and just accept that he is sick and his girlfriend will leave soon and he can get back to figuring out his life.

It’s so challenging to be a parent, especially when I had such horrible role models and when I seem to have no natural instincts for parenting.

Alex came down from Richmond and since Adam was sick and Maddy wanted to stay with him, Mike, Alex and I enjoyed a pleasant evening at Artie’s in Fairfax on the evening before my birthday.  On my birthday, a Wednesday, Adam and Maddy invited me to go with them to sit at a park and then pick up pumpkins, but I can’t say I enjoyed it as the day was on their terms and I felt annoyed that I didn’t do what I wanted, which was to go see a movie.

The day after my birthday, I escaped the house and went to Baltimore to see my sister Joan, who was babysitting her 9-month-old grandson Elliott at my niece Kelsey’s house.  It was fun to finally meet my little great-nephew, to have lunch out with Joan and Elliott, and to see Kelsey when she got home from work.

Kelsey and Elliot

After my visit, I stopped in Bethesda, Maryland to have White Sangria and tapas at my favorite restaurant there, Jaleo.  After dinner, I went to the Writer’s Center to hear an interview of author Alice McDermott by Bob Levey of The Washington Post.  I always get inspired listening to writers talk. 🙂

On Friday night, Mike and I went out on our own to celebrate my birthday at Nostos Restaurant, which, according to the website presents a “fresh, modern take on Greek culinary culture.”  “Nostos” is at the root of the word nostalgia and means a return to one’s origins, a longing for a special time in the past; the restaurant attempts to stimulate senses with a variety of traditional and new Greek dishes.

On my birthday at Nostos Restaurant

We ordered an array of mezedes, including: Avgolemono Soup (traditional chicken soup with egg lemon finish), Greek Beans (northern beans with scallions, parsley, olive oil and lemon), Garides Saganaki (sautéed shrimp with feta cheese, tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins), Haloumi Skaras (grilled Cypriot sheep and goat cheese served with greek style taboule).

Mike ordered an entrée of Mousaka (layers of thinly sliced baby eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and seasoned ground beef topped with a rich béchamel).

We shared all the dishes, accompanied by wine and dessert (Portokalopita: orange cake with vanilla ice cream).  They brought out the cake with one candle, which I had to blow out. I was glad there weren’t 62 candles!

me blowing out my one candle (I”m so young!)

On Saturday, Mike and I went on a hike at Hawksbill Gap in Shenandoah National Park.  Here are a few pictures of our hike, but I’ll write more about it in a separate post.

At the summit, we had great views of the valley.  It has been unseasonably warm this October, so it didn’t seem the leaves were yet at their peak.

Me with Mike at Hawksbill Gap
Hawksbill Gap

We went out to Lebanese Taverna for yet another family birthday dinner on Monday night, this time with Mike’s sister Barbara, Adam and Maddy.

And finally, to end the month, Adam and Maddy carved their Halloween pumpkins.

Maddy and Adam and their pumpkins
Adam’s pumpkin in front and Maddy’s in back

We had a couple of visitors on Halloween night, including one particularly funny group of dinosaurs.

triplet dinosaurs

Happy Halloween and happy autumn.  Please do tell me about your month!  I hope it’s been a good one. 🙂

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an anniversary trip to west virginia: the skyline drive of shenandoah national park

Friday, November 4:  We’re on our way this morning to Fayetteville, West Virginia to get away for a three-day weekend before the U.S. election on Tuesday.  It’s a trip to celebrate my birthday (Oct. 25), belatedly, and our 28th anniversary (Nov. 13), early. We decide on our way down south, we’ll drive a portion of Skyline Drive from Front Royal to Thornton Gap.

The view from Skyline Drive
The view from Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is the scenic roadway that winds 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia just west of Washington, D.C.  There are only four entrances to the park; we take the northernmost one, getting off at the next one south.  We have a long way to go to get to our destination in West Virginia, but we want to see some of the fall colors.  Thus we take the slower route for about 28 miles.

Skyline Drive views
Skyline Drive views

We’re so glad we do because it’s a gorgeous day and we’re rewarded with some marvelous vistas.

the valley from Skyline Drive
the valley from Skyline Drive
dappled valley
dappled valley

Forty percent of the park (almost 80,000 acres) is designated as a wilderness area; it represents one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States and has about 500 miles of hiking trails, according to Shenandoah National Park – Skyline Drive: What to See.

autumn colors
autumn colors

It’s surprising to see so much color on the trees in early November; usually the trees are further past their prime at this time of year.

broad sweeping colors
broad sweeping colors
the valley
the valley
me along Skyline Drive
me along Skyline Drive
orange galore!
orange galore!
a tree amidst flames
a tree amidst flames
stark tree
stark tree
profile
profile
etchings
etchings
hillsides in flames
hillsides in flames
white bark trees
white bark trees
overlooking the valley
overlooking the valley

We enjoy our drive immensely, stopping at the numerous pull-outs for sweeping views.

a dramatic scene
a dramatic scene
rich orange hills
rich orange hills
a beacon of orange
a beacon of orange
valley views
valley views
views along Skyline Drive
views along Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive
a stand of trees
a stand of trees

Finally, we exit the beautiful park and head south on Interstate 81, in route to cross the state line into West Virginia.

a november hike to mary’s rock

Sunday, November 10:  The hike from Jewell Hollow Overlook on the Skyline Drive to Mary’s Rock is about 3.5 miles each way, for a round trip of about 7 miles.  At this altitude, the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, but it’s a stunning landscape just the same.  I adore the gnarly trunks & branches covered in lichen, the lime-green bits of moss on the ground, the orange and yellow trees in the valley below, and the cold wind whipping across the ridge.

starting out at Jewell Hollow Overlook
starting out at Jewell Hollow Overlook
naked trees at Jewell Hollow Overlook
naked trees at Jewell Hollow Overlook
a little color left on the trees in the valley
a little color left on the trees in the valley
mountains, mountains... as far as the eye can see
mountains, mountains… as far as the eye can see
naked trees
naked trees

As we hike the trail, meandering from the east side of the ridge, where it is relatively warm, to the west side, where the wind is howling and bitterly cold, we take off layers, put them back on, and take them off again.  The trail is rocky and leaf-strewn underfoot, causing ankle-turning and slipping and sliding.  It’s hard to be surefooted on this trail.

moss & acorn
moss & acorn
moss & acorn
moss & acorn
moss
moss

We meet groups of Korean hikers decked out in the latest hiking gear, the Wanderbirds from D.C, and two young hikers who have been on the Appalachian trail since mid-June, Two-Liter and Fabio; they won’t be finished their hike of the entire trail until mid-January.  Brrrr.  Two-Liter complains that it’s the rocks underfoot on the trail that are killing them.  They went through all the northern states, beginning in Maine, and they tell us people they encountered along the way promised them that in the Shenandoah, the rocks wouldn’t cause them a problem.  She rolls her eyes: “Wrong!”

Appalachian Trail walkers Fabio & Two-Liter
Appalachian Trail walkers Fabio & Two-Liter

At the Mary’s Rock summit, we encounter quite a crowd of people, and their dogs, enjoying the view in the biting wind.

at the summit: Mary's Rock
at the summit: Mary’s Rock
view from Mary's Rock
view from Mary’s Rock
the valley from Mary's Rock
the valley from Mary’s Rock
view from Mary's Rock
view from Mary’s Rock

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

I have dreams of hiking the Camino in northern Spain, but as my legs, knees, toes and back are aching from today’s 7 mile hike, I think I will have to get in a lot better shape in order to do 20+ miles a day, carrying a backpack, on the Camino.  Maybe I’ll put that dream on the back burner for a while.  Either that or get busy hiking longer distances to build stamina and strength.

October hikes in Virginia are always lovely, as fall color always peaks during that month, but November hikes are another treat altogether.

Chilled to the bone and sore and tired after our hike, we stop at Black Bear Bistro & Cellar in Warrenton for pizzas, wraps, beers and a warm and welcoming environment.

the bar at Black Bear Bistro in Warrenton
the bar at Black Bear Bistro in Warrenton
Black Bear Bistro
Black Bear Bistro
Black Bear Bistro
Black Bear Bistro
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weekly photo challenge: horizon

Sunday, October 27: The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is Horizon: The space or line where the sky meets the earth. So many places where the sky meets the earth around the world, and millions of interactions between two elements. It can be water, a city skyline, a forest, a wasteland, a desert, a sunset outside your bedroom window. Is there a particular horizon which speaks to you?

Here are the horizons I saw today from the Skyline Drive on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park.  Some horizons are to the west of the ridge, and some are to the east, as the road wanders back and forth from one side of the mountain range to the other.

Blue Ridge Mountains
Blue Ridge Mountains
Along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
Along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park horizon
Shenandoah National Park horizon
horizon viewed from Skyline Drive
horizon viewed from Skyline Drive
horizon of fall colors
horizon of fall colors
Horizon from the Blue Ridge Mountains
Horizon from the Blue Ridge Mountains
Horizon from the Blue Ridge Mountains
Horizon from the Blue Ridge Mountains

a tidbit of skyline drive (from south to north)

Sunday, October 27:  This morning we have an early breakfast buffet at the Hampton Inn in Staunton, where we spent the night; we’re on the road by 8 a.m.  Our goal is to drive around the little town of Staunton and then head north, getting on the Skyline Drive from Route 211 at the Thornton Gap Entrance Station.  Mike reasons that if we get an early start and we head from south to north, we won’t hit the crowds that come in droves at this time of year from northern Virginia.

First we drive around Staunton which is a very cute town indeed, but I don’t take many pictures because we want beat the hordes of visitors to the mountains. After all, it does seem to be close to the peak for leaf color, if not slightly past peak. The weather is fabulous: though it’s cloudy this morning, sunshine and a cool and breezy 63 degrees are promised.  That means everyone in the state of Virginia will be heading to Shenandoah National Park.

I love the old houses and hilly neighborhoods in the town, many of which are all decked out for Halloween.  Staunton is a significantly larger town than Lexington (where we had dinner last night) with its nearly 25,000 people, compared to Lexington’s nearly 7,000.  Staunton is known for being the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, and the home of Mary Baldwin College, historically a women’s college. The city is also home to the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (Wikipedia: Staunton, Virginia).

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Parish in Staunton
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Parish in Staunton

We drive through a number of small towns on our way to the entrance to the park, and then we pay the $15/car entrance fee.  Luckily, from this entrance and at this time of morning, there is barely a line, so we get right on the Skyline Drive and head north.

According to the National Park Service, the Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park and is the only public road through the park. You can enter Shenandoah at four places: Front Royal near Rt. 66 and 340, Thornton Gap at Rt. 211 (where we enter), Swift Run Gap at Rt. 33, and Rockfish Gap at Rt. 64 and Rt. 250 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway). It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day.

Entering Skyline Drive
Entering Skyline Drive

There are 75 overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park purposely leaves the roadsides unmowed so wildflowers put on a show all year long. In early spring you can see trillium peeking through the grass. June’s display of azaleas is spectacular, and cardinal-flower, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod keep the color coming right into fall.

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

We come across a magical yellow and green forest, where people have pulled off along the side of the road and are wandering under the tall canopy of trees as if in a dream.  The forest is mesmerizing because of the very sparse undergrowth, the canopy of gold reaching to the heavens, and the sunlight streaming through the trees.

I’m so happy to be in the mountains for my birthday weekend.  After two years of being in Oman, where fall is basically nonexistent, this breathtaking foliage and amazing views are the best birthday gift of all. 🙂

Finally, as we leave the park at the northern Front Royal entrance, we see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park: the northern Virginia contingent.  Thank goodness we were already staying in the south and heading north so we were able to avoid these long lines!  A perfect ending to a perfect birthday. 🙂

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