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. 🙂

christmas eve & christmas 2016

Saturday, December 24:  Mike, Alex and I drive on this overcast Saturday to the Washington National Cathedral for our annual Christmas Eve visit. We’re a small group this Christmas, as Adam is body-surfing at a beach in Maui and Sarah is hanging with her dad, his two pugs, her dog Bagel, her stepmother and half-brothers in Virginia Beach.

In the Cathedral’s nave, we admire an owl hidden in a Christmas tree amidst poinsettia and cranberry garlands, and columns decked out in red-bowed wreaths.  We crane our necks to admire the Space Window, celebrating the Apollo mission to the moon, and the three Rose windows and all the stained glass scenes that bring the stories of Christianity to life.

an owl in the Christmas tree
an owl in the Christmas tree
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

I light a candle and pray for peace and love, for healing in our country after our divisive election and under our upcoming regime change, for the Syrian refugees and other people suffering because of war and famine and corruption, and for my children, who I hope will someday thrive. I also pray that I can find my quest, my own personal legend, in my life.  I squeeze a lot of hope into that one candle.

The Canterbury Pulpit depicts people and scenes relating to the Bible’s translation into English.  Stories for the pulpit came from Canterbury Cathedral in England.

Canterbury Pulpit
Canterbury Pulpit

We find the Pentagon Cross, made by Alvin Neider from fragments of the facade of the Pentagon after the attacks of 11 September 2001, in recognition that we are “united in memory, freedom, and faith, and in the hope of and love for God, our nation, and all peoples of the earth.”

The Pentagon cross
The Pentagon cross

We find HOLY CITY, a pilgrimage of sight, by Irish citizen Brian Whelan, a nine-paneled painting showing “a vision of unity amongst the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”  Says the artist: “The daily news is full of stories of faith against faith; a never-ending holy war and perversion of God’s love.  Wars, conflicts and acts of terrorism are often described with religious labels.  This is not a perspective shared by most people.  Across the faiths, we have far more in common that divides us.”

Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan
Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan

The artist says this doesn’t depict any one Holy City that exists in today’s world: “This is my aspirational vision of what a Holy City looks like.  Each of the canvases contain churches, mosques and synagogues, representing the Abrahamic faiths, painted in bright, playful and colorful forms.  An abstracted, disarming vision of cultural unity; living together in peace, acceptance and in harmony; a haven for the soul. … In this Holy City, hospitality would be offered to all pilgrims.”

For close-ups of the nine panels of Holy City, click on any picture in the tiled mosaic below.

In the Crypt level, we visit the Bethlehem Chapel, showing the genealogy and birth of Jesus, and the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, telling the story of Jesus’ entombment following his crucifixion.

iron door
iron door

The main reason we come to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve is to see the crèches from all over the world.  We see nativity scenes made from natural materials found in Mexico, India, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, New Mexico, Arizona, Turkey, Uganda and others.

In the Jamaican nativity, the bodies are made of rolled woven mats with painted gourds for heads.  They are dressed in woven fiber and fabric garments.  The figures’ eyes are painted with touches of gold, which make them glow.  As for the Wise Men: one Magi is from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe, each wearing elaborate fiber headdresses that represent their home continents.

The bodies of the figures in the Singapore nativity are made from the trunk of the cinnamon tree.  While the bark is ground into cinnamon, the trunk is ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a soft dough.  The figures are then formed on a wire armature.  The entire process takes anywhere from 2 1/2 – 15 hours, depending upon the intricacy of the figure.

Singapore - joss stick powder
Singapore – joss stick powder

Finally, a crèche made of wood depicts the traditions and cultures of Alaska.  The figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child sit within a lodgehouse, which is set on poles to store winter provisions.  Mary is dressed in native garb, while Joseph is dressed as a Russian settler.  On the roof is a star, and a snowy owl rests nearby, representing an angel.  The animals include a caribou, a walrus, a puffin, a moose, a polar bear, and the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan.  Native plants are represented by the spruce tree, the fuchsia fireweed, which grows profusely along Alaskan roadways, and the Alaskan state flower, the forget-me-not.  A totem pole completes the scene.

The Resurrection Chapel is decorated with colorful mosaics, portraying the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.


Outside, we take some parting shots of the Cathedral and then drink coffee and tea in the gift-shop-turned-cafe, amidst steam, hissing and the chatter of other pilgrims.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
St. Albans
St. Albans
me at the Cathedral
me at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral

The Bishop’s Garden is modeled on a medieval walled garden and features herb and rose beds.

Cathedral garden
Cathedral garden

On the way home from our visit, we stop at the Lebanese Taverna market, where we eat a smorgasbord of kibbeh, sambousick, fatayer cheese, arnabeet, loubieh, and fattoush. I pick up a few stocking stuffers at the market here.

Back home, after wrapping our remaining presents and preparing the chicken apple sausages for tomorrow’s Christmas brunch, we meet my sister-in-law Barbara and a friend of hers at Luciano Italian Restaurant and pizzeria for Christmas Eve dinner.

Though we’ve never done this in Christmases past, we attend my sister-in-law’s 8:00 church service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, where she sings in the choir.  We hear a wonderful and moving rendition of “Ave Maria” that brings tears to my eyes.

We spend some time at Barbara’s house for gift exchange and good cheer, and then return home, where we bid goodnight to our Christmas tree. 🙂

our Christmas tree
our Christmas tree

In the morning, in our typical Christmas fashion, we open our gifts one by one, and we have the same Christmas brunch I got from a 1992 issue of Martha Stewart Living and have been making for nearly 25 years (except the years I was abroad, when my family made the same brunch): Breakfast Frittata, Chicken Apple Sausages, Cheese Grit casserole, pancakes with cranberry maple compote, mimosas, and Barbara’s addition of a fruit salad with an orange sauce.

A good but quiet Christmas all around.

I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year in 2017! 🙂

chinese lantern festival: a holiday menagerie

Thursday, December 22:  It’s time to get into the holiday spirit, so I go with a friend to visit the Chinese Lantern Festival at Roer’s Zoofari in Vienna, VA.  Not only does the display get me into the holiday spirit, but it also makes me nostalgic for Asia, where I saw a phenomenal lantern festival in Seoul, South Korea at the Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival.

Here, we find 40 sets of over 800 hand-crafted lanterns made by a master of the craft in Zigong, China, the center of China’s lantern tradition.

gate to the festival
gate to the festival

The 2016 lanterns highlight ‘The Wild,’ including lanterns in the form of animals from around the world, including Africa, Antarctica, Asia, America and more.

Here is an whimsical display of jellyfish, reflecting beautifully in the pond.

jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond

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

We come across a group of lizards which seem out of place in cold Virginia.

I wish you all joy, delight, adventure, and LOVE during the holiday season and in 2017.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or just happy winter solstice!  Whatever or however you celebrate, I hope you’re surrounded by family, friends, and positive vibes.  Love and hugs to all of you!! 🙂

cocktail hour between the holidays: the early december edition

Sunday, December 6:  So much for good intentions!  I planned to start posting my cocktail hour more regularly after I wrote the last one on December 1, but here I am only getting to it a month later.  Welcome to our between-the-holidays cocktail hour.  Forget the patio; we are now moving indoors where it’s nice and warm.  Mike tells me he’d rather not entertain until we’ve finished our house renovation, but as we are just getting ready to sign a contract with a contractor this week, that wouldn’t be till the spring.  I can’t wait that long to have a gathering with my blogging friends!

Please, come in and make yourself comfortable.  I’ve made some hot apple cider, and I also can make you can egg nog drink, alcoholic or not, as you wish.  Lots of great wines too and some craft beers.

I’ve been trying to keep up with you on your blogs, but in case I missed anything, I’d love to hear how you’re preparing for the holiday festivities.  Have you put up your Christmas tree yet?  Decorated your house for the holidays?  For my American friends: did you have a nice Thanksgiving? Have you been outside exploring nature?  Have you seen any holiday light shows or been to any holiday markets?  Have you had your first snow of the season?  Have you seen any good movies or read any good books?  Have you been to any plays or concerts?  Have you completed any house projects?

We just picked up our Christmas tree this afternoon, and it’s now sitting in a bucket of water until we can decorate it sometime this week.  Mike put the wreaths on the windows and a spotlight near the front door which illuminates the wreaths. Other than that, I haven’t done anything holiday-related other than to buy myself some Christmas presents, notably a new Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and a telephoto lens.  I won’t be opening it until Christmas, but it’s already been delivered. 🙂

Mike and I went on a beautiful hike on Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River on Sunday, November 8, which I wrote about here: a november rock scramble on billy goat trail.  The following weekend, we went to Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Sharpsburg, Maryland, where we stayed in a B&B, walked all around Antietam Battlefield, and had a wonderful time celebrating our anniversary.  More about that later. 🙂

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving on November 26 at my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland. My sister Stephanie from California and my brother Rob from New Jersey couldn’t make it, but my dad and stepmother were there, as well as my sister Joan, her husband Steve and my nephew Seth.  Sadly my niece Kelsey, who is now married to Dave, had to go to Dave’s house for the holiday, so she wasn’t there.  However, in a rare alignment of the stars, all three of my children were in attendance.  It was a wonderful day.

The table's all set
The table’s all set

We drove 2 1/2 hours to Salisbury and when we arrived, my sister was busy cooking.  The table was already set.  We visited and hung out while the turkey cooked, drinking wine and eating cheese & crackers and smoked oysters.

Joan and Steve, perfect hosts as always, made sure everyone was happy and had what they needed.

Joan and Steve
Joan and Steve

Some of the kids and Mike threw a football around in the front yard.  Mike somehow ruptured the tendon on one of his fingers, causing it to dangle at the joint. Later he found out from the doctor it’s called mallet finger. As an ex-football player, he was quite embarrassed about it!

frisbee game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike
football game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike

Mike took a picture of my sister and me out by the pool.

Joan and me
Joan and me

When dinner was finally served, we all loaded up our plates and joined each other around the table for a wonderful meal.

Everyone except me
Everyone except me
Everyone except Steve
Everyone except Steve

After dinner and dessert, we drove back home to northern Virginia.  The next morning Sarah wanted to invite her Aunt Barbara, Mike’s sister, over for brunch.  We had a somewhat healthy version of huevos rancheros and bacon and waffles.

healthy huevos rancheros
healthy huevos rancheros

I finished reading Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan on November 24, which I really enjoyed.  Then I dove right in to The Outside of August, by Joanna Hershon.  I find this story intriguing because it’s told from the point of view of a daughter whose mother, Charlotte, is always escaping to foreign lands.  They can’t really figure out what she does when she goes away, nor why she feels compelled to always leave. The family feels the mother’s absence intensely when she’s absent, and they seem to always be waiting for her return. Of course, I can identify with this story as I can see a lot of myself in that mother.  It’s interesting that it’s told from the children’s point of view, and focuses on how her absence really affects the children.  Of course, in my all-too-real life, I can see the effect my absence has had on my children, although they insist that they are proud of me for following my dreams and for my bravery and adventurous nature.  They say one thing, but their actions often speak differently.  I’m nearly finished the book and am anxious to discover why the mother always felt the urge to escape to exotic lands. Maybe it will tell me something about myself that I don’t know.

I went to see the movie Steve Jobs.  It was an excellent movie and it just so happened Adam was home on the afternoon I was going to see it and asked to come along because of his fascination with Jobs.  Adam is brilliant, and like Steve Jobs, he doesn’t see the need to go to college.  He wants to change the world like Jobs did, but in a way that involves permaculture, organic farming, etc.  At this moment, I can see Adam struggling to find a direction and I wish with all my heart that he’d reconsider going to college.  One thing I’m figuring out is that I cannot force my children to do what they don’t want to do.  It’s a losing battle, and I’m learning to give it up.  I have to step back and give them the reins and see what they can figure out on their own.  But I must admit it’s frustrating to see such a struggle going on with him when he could have it so easy.

Mike and I went to see Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and, another night, we went to see singer Madeleine Peyroux at The Barns at Wold Trap.  I really loved the movie, Spotlight, in which journalists in Boston took on the Catholic Church over the abuse of young children by priests. I was less impressed with Brooklyn, about an Irish immigrant girl.  It seemed tedious and predictable.

I had a goal to send off my novel to 10 agents by the end of November, but I only sent it out to five.  I don’t know why I’m so resistant to putting it out there.  Of course I’m afraid of rejection, but shouldn’t I be more afraid of it sitting on my computer, unseen by anyone, as it has for the last twelve years?  I hope to send it out to at least five more agents by year-end.

I’ve been doing way too much shopping, such a foolish thing to waste my time on.  But I find myself in the house all day and feeling trapped.  I just have to get out and see other human beings.  I’m considering signing up for a real estate course just for something to do where I can get out with other adults. I’ve always enjoyed looking at houses and my banking background will come in handy.  I don’t really want to teach ESL in America as the pay is horrible for the amount of work required.  And now, I don’t want to go abroad because I need to stay home for various reasons, mainly my children, Mike and the upcoming home renovation.

In 2000, I did The Artist’s Way 12-week course.  Doing that inspired me to write short stories and eventually my novel.  Now I’ve decided to undertake The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon.  I just started it on December 2 and it will take 12 weeks.  Who knows what this might open up for me.

I find myself quite depressed about all the violence that is happening in the world, especially related to ISIS: the Paris shootings, the Beirut attacks, the downing of the Russian plane, the recent killing of a governor in a state in Yemen.  The killings in San Bernardino this week by a husband and wife who pledged their support to the caliphate.  Will the violence ever end?  I have that same uneasy feeling I had after September 11, the time period during which my novel takes place.  I wrote the novel at a time when I felt shaken by world events, and those events keep repeating themselves in different forms today.  I don’t begin to know the solution to dealing with the ISIS caliphate and their violence-with-a-vengeance campaign.  I don’t even know if people such as these, people who are so hell-bent on forcing their world view on all of us, can be bargained with in a non-violent way.  Would they be wiling to bend, even a little?

Here in America, we have our own brand of terrorism as well, with disenfranchised and alienated people taking their anger to the extreme by grabbing an easy-to-access weapon and randomly shooting innocent people.  I can see the alienation that is taking over our country and we should work on correcting that deep issue rather than thinking more gun laws will solve what I see as symptoms to the problem.  I am for some gun control, especially for assault-type weapons, but I also would like to know that when I feel threatened in any way, I can go out and get a gun myself to defend my family.

No matter what, I refuse to be afraid.  I will not let these people have power over me, and I hope most Americans will refuse to stand down. I am not going to let someone else dictate to me what my life will be.

Back to more pleasant things.  We haven’t yet had any snow in northern Virginia, but we have had many rainy and dreary days.  I love to go outside to walk every day, if possible, and the weather has put a damper on that.  The weight I lost over the last couple of months is slowly creeping back, so I need to pull back on my eating.  But on these cold and dreary days, comfort foods are calling my name.  We’ve been making a lot of soups, the perfect remedy to cold winter days.

Here’s one view along my favorite 3-mile walk around Lake Audubon.  We’ve had a lot of gray skies like these lately.

Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Lake Audubon
Lake Audubon

SCAN0001We went this past Friday night to Mike’s company’s holiday Christmas party.  I haven’t gotten dressed up like that in years, and I have to say, I really don’t like getting dressed up! I’m always so uncomfortable wearing pantyhose and walking in heels.  I don’t know why on earth someone can’t invent some comfortable pantyhose!

It was a fun gathering with lots of fantastic food, especially crab cakes and a pasta bar and a great salad bar.  It was nice to meet many of Mike’s coworkers. The best thing about the party was this crazy photo booth thing where you got inside and did silly poses and the photo booth printed out a column of pictures.  It was so goofy and loads of fun!

Finally, on Saturday, we went to Richmond where Mike went to the University of Richmond vs. William & Mary football game and I met Sarah and Alex for lunch at Fresca…on Addison.  Later that evening, we picked up Alex and his girlfriend Ariana, and we all went to the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and then had a Cuban dinner at Kuba-Kuba.  I’ll post something about that later.  It was great fun and got us all in the mood for the holidays. 🙂

I know I’ve talked a lot about what’s been going on with me, but I hope you’ll tell me what’s happening with you in the comments.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Hugs to you all and thank you for coming.  Have a holly jolly Christmas and a happy New Year!


christmas eve

Tuesday, December 24:  We have another long-standing tradition of going to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. She lives in Vienna, Virginia and on our way to her house, we drive past the most decorated house in Vienna.

an overly decorated house in a Vienna neighborhood
an overly decorated house in a Vienna neighborhood

My mother-in-law, now 87, is on oxygen and is very frail.  Known as Nana to our children, she used to cook a feast of ham loaf and scalloped potatoes and other goodies from her Ohio past, but she’s too frail to cook these days.  It makes me sad to see her in such poor health, and so weak, and such a shadow of her former self.  She still has a big heart, though, and her poor health won’t put a dent in that.

Nana and Alex
Nana and Alex

My sister-in-law, Barbara, does most of the work this year, getting a ham and corn pudding and green beans from Whole Foods.  She buys an array of cookies and decorates the tree and the mantel (along with help from my sons).  She goes all out on wrapping presents in the most elegant and exotic paper imaginable. This year she’s decorated the tree with bird and animal ornaments.

Bailey searches under the Christmas tree for goodies
Bailey searches under the Christmas tree for goodies

Here are a few shots of our family gathering on Christmas Eve.  Again, it’s been four years since I was home for Christmas, so it’s lovely to be with family again on the holidays.

weekly photo challenge: joy {christmas day}

Wednesday, December 25:  Having been away from home for the last three Christmases, it was pure joy to be home this year to celebrate with my family.  We woke up at a leisurely pace, we had coffee, we sat beside the tree listening to Christmas carols and waited for the boys to wake up.  When they did, we opened gifts.  It was a simple Christmas, much more so than in the past, and I liked it that way.

Christmas morning in our house
Christmas morning in our house

I got new pajamas, a workout shirt, some snow boots and a bunch of books, mainly by my new favorite writer, Ann Patchett.  Mike got biking gear and clothes, Alex got a new computer, and Adam got some books and his upcoming trip to Australia (which is costing us a fortune).

Alex & Adam
Alex & Adam

After taking a long hot bath, I began preparations for the traditional Christmas brunch that I made for 20 years before I went away to Korea and Oman.  We don’t make a Christmas dinner because there is no room to eat anything after this brunch.  I know we should think of changing the menu sometime as it’s not at all heart friendly.  The problem is that we all like it so much.  I made a big Southern Grits casserole.  Lots of butter, a pound of cheese, four eggs: these are all involved.  Next I made a Breakfast Frittata that includes red pepper, a dozen eggs, milk, scallions, tarragon, goat cheese and red potatoes.  As always, on Christmas Eve, I assembled Chicken and Apple Sausage Patties, made from ground chicken, Granny Smith apples, onion and fresh sage.  Mike sauteed them this morning while I made the Cranberry Maple Compote to go on the pancakes he also made.  All of this was accompanied by mimosas and a fruit salad featuring star fruit made by my sister-in-law, Barbara.  My mother-in-law also joined us, as always.

After eating this huge feast, all we really felt like doing was napping.  Everyone spread out all around the house, finding a quiet and comfortable place, and caught a peaceful bit of slumber.

Finally, after everyone woke up, we played a game of Bananagrams (I lost), then Oodles (I lost), and then Scattergories (I also lost!).  I never win these kinds of games, but it’s fun to try!

It wasn’t a terribly exciting Christmas.  There were no big crowds, and there wasn’t a lot of rambunctious behavior, but it was enjoyable just the same.  Truly, it was a joy to be back home for the holidays.

This post is in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge of JOY.