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, 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. 🙂

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. 🙂

seeing my dad in yorktown after a year away

Friday, August 2:  After leaving Sarah in Richmond, I drive down to Yorktown, as always via the Colonial Parkway along the York River.  I arrive at my dad’s house, after not having seen him for the last year while I was living and working in the Sultanate of Oman.  We have a lovely visit, except I’m sad to see him having a hard time getting around now because his knees are breaking down.  He’s 83 years old, so he’s doing well for his age, but I can see just a little slowdown in his movement.

the house where I grew up, in Marlbank Farms, Yorktown, Virginia
the house where I grew up, in Marlbank Farms, Yorktown, Virginia

He seems very happy though and is as talkative as ever; he and his wife Shirley even tell me all the details of my niece Kelsey’s wedding, which I sadly missed on July 13 because I was traveling through Spain and Portugal.  They make me a healthy dinner of pork tenderloin, stuffing with gravy (it’s like Thanksgiving in summer!) and collard greens (such a southern dish) and then Dad shows me his list of hundreds of DVDs he’s recorded, mostly British shows.  I really am glad to see my dad so happy, and I think Shirley is really good for him. They still flirt with each other as if they’re teenagers. 🙂

Dad and his wife Shirley in the front yard
Dad and his wife Shirley in the front yard

I’m trying to slowly but surely reconnect with my family and other people I had in my life before going to live abroad in February 2010, when I went to Korea for a year (catbird in korea) and again in September 2011, when I went to the Sultanate of Oman for nearly two years (a nomad in the land of nizwa).

Dad and me :-)
Dad and me 🙂

I spend the night in my little brothers’ old bedroom in the old house (my old room seems to have become a study/exercise room, although I don’t think anyone ever uses it) and take off on Saturday morning to visit Williamsburg and my old school: The College of William & Mary.

For posts I’ve written about Yorktown and Marlbank Farms, see below:
yorktown, virginia: my hometown
an evening in yorktown with dear friends
marlbank farms

I hope to reconnect slowly but surely with everyone I’ve missed in the last two years.  Hopefully, you’ll hear from me soon!

a little gallery of butterflies

Wednesday, August 22:  Today, fluttering around the butterfly bushes in my father’s backyard, I finally was able to take pictures of some Swallowtail butterflies.  I have never before been able to get good photos of these colorful creatures, so I was thrilled!!  Here they are:

Swallowtail butterfly
i love the blue coloring on this one! 🙂

Below is the gallery.  To see a slide show, click on any image.  Some are pictures of just the flowers, others are the butterflies.

marlbank farms

Wednesday, August 22:   The history of Marlbank Farms, the neighborhood where I grew up in Yorktown, dates back to the early 1700s.  It apparently began as the 500-acre “Wormley Creek Plantation.”  On October 19, 1781, while General Cornwallis was surrendering to George Washington in America’s Revolutionary War, Washington’s soldiers were likely foraging through Marlbank Farms for game and other food.  The decisive battle that won American independence was fought on the battlefield less than a mile from the plantation.

the overgrown approach to Marlbank Farm, originally the O’Hara’s house

Nearly a century later, in the spring of 1862, the plantation served as the base for Union forces laying siege to Yorktown.  The battle this time was against Confederate forces who were blocking Peninsula approaches to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

After the Civil War, ownership of the plantation changed.  In 1879, it was sold to William Hughes;  in 1945,  550 acres were sold to L. R. O’Hara.  Mr. O’Hara restored the manor house, named Marlbank Farm, and developed the Marlbank Farms subdivision in the late 1940s.  The O’Haras and descendents lived in the house until 1988.

the O’Hara’s house today… It was so much grander when I was a child. 😦

When the manor house was sold and refurbished in 1988, more houses were built close by.

A more modern house now stands next to the O’Hara’s house. Back in the day, only a huge farm surrounded the O’Hara’s house….. It was quite a grand entrance to Marlbank.
Another modern house built now on the O’Hara’s farmland…

Marlbank refers to the layer of marl (a conglomerate of mud, shells and clay) that lies below the soil surface along the York River. Early settlers used marl as construction material.

our family’s Colonial on Wormley Creek Drive

My family moved to Marlbank Farms in ~ 1966.  At that time, I was in 5th grade and I entered Yorktown Elementary School as the awkward new kid on the block.  My friend Louise loves to tell the story about how I arrived in the middle of the school year wearing a plaid crinoline dress, lacy ankle socks and patent leather shoes.  Yorktown was a different world from where I lived my first 11 years in Newport News.   I remember thinking I had moved out to the country from the big city, although that was far from the truth.

typical Virginia house flag…. on our house

Our family bought a two-story Colonial where my father still lives to this day.  Seven of us lived under that roof during those years: my mother and father, me as the eldest, Stephanie, Joan, Brian and Robbie.  I made the closest friends of my life in that neighborhood: first Martha, Melissa and Nancy; later Rosie and Louise.

the back of our house. It’s had several additions since I moved out.

I’m filled with nostalgia for my Marlbank years. In junior high school, Martha and I spent endless hours playing horses in her backyard, setting up an impressive array of jumps and having jumping competitions on the course.   Indoors, we sent colorful marbles racing down a multi-tiered plastic marble racetrack; each of our marbles was lovingly named after horses from Triple Crown races; many names we concocted ourselves.  We kept notebooks with descriptions of the marbles and their respective horse names.

Martha’s house. They just sold the house in recent years.

In my high school years, I practically lived in my friend Rosie’s house.  We played Yahtzee, watched TV, made tuna fish and olive cheese toast, and lounged around daydreaming about boys.

Rosie’s house, a place where I practically lived!!

We spent our days riding bikes around the neighborhood, swimming on the Marlbank Mudtoads swim team,  flirting with the lifeguards, and playing Marco Polo in the deep end of the Marlbank pool.

the Marlbank swimming pool
Home of the Marlbank Mudtoads

We went to dances at the Marlbank Recreation Association (MRA) building where we danced to songs like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly.   At slightly over 17 minutes, that song occupies the entire second side of the group’s 1968 In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album.  I remember wishing certain boys would ask me to dance to that song.  When they didn’t, and I was stuck dancing to it with someone I didn’t like, the song seemed interminable.

the MRA Building ~ home of countless dances 🙂

Sometimes, when I felt sad and wanted to escape the hubbub in our boisterous house, I rode my bike to the pool and swung on the swings, even in the dead of winter.  The swings there today are a newer version of what was there in the 1970s.

swings of escape, and sometimes sadness…. 😦

Some of my friends had waterfront property, or access to docks, on Wormley Creek.  We went crabbing off those docks, tying chicken legs or wings to string and catching crabs with nets.   On hot & humid summer days, we walked through the woods on a trail at the end of Wormley Creek Drive to the creek itself.  There, the creek widened and fed into the York River.  We held our towels over our heads and swam across the creek to a sandy beach on the other side.  Sometimes Martha brought her little outboard motorboat and pulled us behind the boat on a rope dangling from the back.

heading down Wormley Creek Drive to where we used to eventually reach the creek

Nowadays, waterfront homes have been built at the end of Wormley Creek Drive, blocking all access to the creek. 😦  In my view, there should still be a trail down to the creek between the properties.

no more view of the creek because of the waterfront houses
you can catch a glimpse of the creek behind this house
We can’t see the creek, but at least we can see some huge beautiful flowers…
Another waterfront property. This one is about where the path to the creek was….

We did so many fun things over our childhood years; these are memories I will always cherish.

a little welcoming bench near someone’s driveway
ivy and a yellow maple leaf
vine-covered wall
everything grows here at this low elevation

One of the boys, Michael Sim, had a pony he kept at his grandfather’s stable near the end of Wormley Creek Drive.  The pony’s name was Maybe; maybe he’d buck you, maybe he wouldn’t.  This fickle and feisty little pony did whatever he felt like doing.  We used to ride him and jump him over low jumps in the big yard.  The quest was to stay on Maybe through the jumps.  Sometimes, while he was in the air, I lost my balance.  As soon as he hit the ground, he took advantage of my imbalance and started bucking.  Several times I remember hanging on to the saddle for dear life from the underside of his belly!  Another time we took Maybe to the Yorktown Battlefield.  I rode him as he galloped across a wide expanse of grass.  Suddenly, he stopped and put his head down, sending me flying off to land belly-down in the grass.  That pony was crazy, and we were equally crazy to ride him!

someone’s inviting house
my address:  Wormley Creek Drive

Today, 45 years after we moved to Marlbank, I visit my father and his wife Shirley, who, throughout my childhood, was our next-door neighbor.  I take a long walk through the neighborhood, which has changed yet somehow stayed the same.   Mostly it looks overgrown and shabby.  Most of the old-timers are still living here.  Maybe they are too old and just don’t have the energy to keep up their yards like they used to.  Many of the houses from the late 1940s and 1950s are looking a little worse for wear.   No matter.  Marlbank will always be home to me.

Shirley & Dad

Related article: York County, Virginia Community Network: Marlbank Cove Historical Perspectives