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