the january cocktail hour – boy, do i ever need a drink!

Welcome to our January happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I don’t know about you, but January has been a rough month, so I really need a drink (or two or three!).  Today I’m serving up a new concoction I discovered at Lolita in Philadelphia: a jalapeno-cucumber margarita.  I’m not a big fan of sweet drinks, so this is perfect and refreshing.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.  I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.  Cheers!

I’m happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How are you surviving since the election?  Have you taken a stand in politics or are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to shake out? How are your resolutions coming along?  What kind of music are you listening to?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

Some of you may remember my ambitious plans for 2017: here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

Well.  Let’s just say, at least for now, my plans have been slightly waylaid.

downtown Harper's Ferry
downtown Harper’s Ferry

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” ~ Allen Saunders

The day after I signed up for three writing classes at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and one class through Fairfax County Adult Ed on starting a new business, I got a call from Virginia International University, a small private university not far from my house, to have a phone interview.  This was a shock as I had applied and been rejected for a job with them last August.  The phone interview was followed by a request to do a 20-minute teaching demo, which I also did.  They hired me as an adjunct to teach two intensive ESL classes, Mon-Thur (9:00-2:40).  I didn’t have much time to prepare as the classes started on Monday, January 16, on Martin Luther King Day, so I was pretty stressed out.

the town of Harper's Ferry
the town of Harper’s Ferry

When I teach, though I only have 20 contact hours/week, I end up working almost double that amount.  So, now and for the duration of the 7-week session, my time is not my own. Not only do I have to prepare for and mark papers for two classes, but I also am taking one writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks, and I have two more one-day classes I’ve signed up for, one this Thursday and one on a Saturday in March.  The writing teacher gives us writing assignments; we’re supposed to submit a piece for work-shopping every Saturday.  On Thursday night, I finished the two-night entrepreneurship course. In the last class, a speaker discussed franchising for most of the class, which I have no interest in!  It was mostly a waste of time and money.

Luckily the semesters are very short at 7 weeks, and I only have five more to go.  Also, as I’m an adjunct, VIU can either offer me a position next session or not, and I can choose to teach classes or not.  After seeing how much of my time is consumed, I’ve decided to either teach only one class, or none at all, in the next session.  It’s hardly worth it when I divide what I make per contact hour over the hours I actually work, plus take taxes off the top.  I’d rather focus on my personal goals.

That being said, the students are enjoyable.  I do love being in the classroom and interacting with my students, but I don’t enjoy the time I have to spend outside class hours to prepare.  As I am often a perfectionist, I can let the preparations get out of hand, and I never seem to know when to stop.

The Terrace Garage - Harper's Ferry
The Terrace Garage – Harper’s Ferry

On top of this, I applied back in December for The English Language Fellow Program, which sends experienced U.S. TESOL professionals on paid teaching assignments at universities and other academic institutions around the world.  It was quite an extensive application process; I had to write numerous essays about various aspects of teaching.  They don’t even look at an application until all references are turned in, and I knew my Chinese reference would hold me up.  Finally, in early January, after much prodding from a friend on the ground in China, my former supervisors submitted their references and I was contacted to have a Skype interview, which I did. The next day, I was informed that I’m now in the applicant pool and will be considered for programs worldwide.  Though there is no guarantee that I’ll get a fellowship, at least I’m happy I made it into the pool.  This would be for the 2017-2018 academic year.

So, this is why you haven’t seen much of me in the blogosphere. My classes end March 2, so I should have more time after that.

Wax Museum and Scoops
Wax Museum and Scoops

As for other random stuff in January, I’ve been to see three movies: Hidden Figures, Julieta, and La La Land.  I enjoyed them all, but I especially loved Hidden Figures because I grew up in southern Virginia near Langley during the early years of the NASA space program, and the fathers of many of my friends worked at NASA.  I also enjoyed the light-hearted romance and music in La La Land, as it gave me a welcome escape from the dark times our country is facing since January 20.

view above St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
view above St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

By the way, I made up a January playlist on Spotify that you might enjoy.  I call it: of true detectives and highway vagabonds:

  • “Far From Any Road” – From the HBO Series True Detective / Soundtrack
  • “Highway Vagabond” – Miranda Lambert – the weight of these wings
  • “The Angry River” – True Detective (From the HBO Series)
  • “Inside Out” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “Do You” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  • “Hold On” – Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
  • “Gocce di memoria” – Giorgia – Spirito Libero
  • “Somebody’s Love” – Passenger – Somebody’s Love
  • “What I Am” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars
  • “Love of the Loveless” – Eels – Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1
  • “Tighten Up” – The Black Keys – Brothers
  • “City of Stars – Ryan Gosling – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – Emma Stone – From “La La Land” Soundtrack

I haven’t had time for much else of interest, but I did go on Friday, January 13 to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for a bit of an outing.  It was before my first week of teaching and I was determined to do an outing each week on Friday (since I’m off); I’ve been trying hard not to let the job run me!  However, the following Friday was the inauguration and I didn’t want to go out in the traffic (and I certainly had no desire to attend the inauguration) and last Friday (the 27th), I had a mandatory teacher meeting (which I don’t get paid for, by the way).  So, it seems the job is running me after all.  The pictures scattered through this post are from Harper’s Ferry; I’ll write a blog post about it later.

The Small Arsenal - remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper's Ferry
The Small Arsenal – remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper’s Ferry
tree along the Potomac River
tree along the Potomac River

I finished reading several books this month.  My favorite was Nabokov’s Lolita, which is shocking by way of subject matter, but wonderful in terms of prose.  I listened to the audio book, and I felt thrilled with so many of Nabokov’s passages, just for his amazing use of language, that I had to go out and buy the book so I could reread many of the passages I listened to.  I plan to write about this in a separate post.  I also enjoyed City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris.  It takes place in Saudi Arabia and is a murder story, not my usual cup of tea, but I love it because it portrays the nuances of Saudi culture.  I also listened to the audiobook Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves, which I enjoyed because she traveled to places like Egypt and Yemen, echoing some of my own travels.  And everyone knows from my recent posts about visiting museums, that I also enjoyed the small book: How to Visit a Museum, by David Finn.

As for the aftermath of our election, I don’t want to ruin our cocktail hour, so I’ll write a separate post about it.  All I can say is I’m extremely proud of all the women who marched in the Women’s March on January 21, and I’m proud of the protestors at airports and at the White House who are protesting the Muslim Ban.  You can count me as part of the Resistance!!  We will NOT stand down.

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

I hope you’ll share what’s been going on with you.  As always, I wish wonderful things for all of you. 🙂

the december cocktail hour – the fall into winter edition

Monday, December 19:  Welcome to our December happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink.  We’ll be indoors today because we’re in the midst of a cold spell now, 29 Fahrenheit (-2C).  Would you care for an Appletini, a dirty martini, a glass of Scotch or amaretto?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities (or at least Mike is — he’s become quite adept at whipping up delicious dirty martinis).  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  I’d love to hear about your holiday season.  Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you had any special family gatherings?  How was your Thanksgiving?  Are you ready for Christmas?  Are you preparing resolutions for the New Year?

I’m hoping against all odds that 2017 will be a better year than 2016, which I found to be pretty miserable overall.  That being said, there were some bright spots sprinkled here and there.

Fall colors in our front yard
Fall colors in our front yard

Maybe you noticed, or maybe you didn’t, but I missed my November cocktail hour.  I was much too depressed after our election on November 8.  I could barely bring myself to get out of bed, much less write anything.  More about that later.

Before the election, and even after (it seems from now on I’ll see the world as BEFORE and AFTER that doomed day), Mike and I went out for numerous happy hours.  I like to break up the monotony of the work week with a happy hour on Wednesdays or Thursdays.  I’m not always successful at convincing him to do this, but when we do, we’re always glad to have made the effort.

We went out for a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant, Zeffirelli in Herndon, for our 28th anniversary.  As you know from other posts I’ve done, we also went to West Virginia for a combination birthday/anniversary trip.

I’ve been to a lot of movies over the last couple of months, including: Sully, Denial, Girl on the Train, the Brazilian movie Aquarius, MoonlightArrival and Manchester by the Sea.  I enjoyed most of them, but I lately I get impatient — movies seem too slow-moving these days.  The exception in this bunch is Girl on the Train, which is a tense thriller/mystery.  I enjoyed Manchester by the Sea, but it didn’t need to be 2 1/2 hours long!  Mike didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did.  Sully was fabulous as well, with just the right pacing.  I also enjoyed Arrival, though space movies about aliens aren’t usually my thing.

I’ve been reading like crazy.  I had a goal to read 35 books in 2016, and so far I’m up to 34.  I should meet my goal by year-end.  Since our last cocktail hour, I finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (about the Armenian genocide), A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Ambassador’s Wife by Jennifer Steil, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (I’ve been reading this for about 2 years!), The Artist’s Way at Work (another two-year project)Girls in the Grass (a book of short stories I started several years ago) by Melanie Rae Thon, and finally Love in a Torn Land: Joanna of Kurdistan by Jean Sasson. Of these, I have to say my favorite was The Ambassador’s Wife. I also enjoyed A Man Called Ove and The Girl on the Train.

We went to see Lillian Hellman’s play, The Little Foxes, at the Kreeger at Arena Stage Theater in downtown D.C., eating dinner beforehand at our favorite Indian restaurant, Masala Art.  This was a sort of birthday celebration, as it was the Sunday (October 23) before my Tuesday birthday.  The play was a good one; I’d read the play long ago, when I’d been on a Lillian Hellman kick.  In it,  Southern aristocrat Regina Hubbard Giddens struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th-century society where a father considered only sons as legal heirs.

Adam and Sarah called me to wish me a happy birthday on the 25th, but I mysteriously didn’t hear from Alex.  It turned out he was failing a class at VCU and didn’t want to admit to it, so he simply avoided me.  I was hurt, as you can imagine, and when I went to celebrate my birthday with Sarah in Richmond on October 28, I didn’t see Alex at all.  Sarah and I had a nice visit though, having lunch at The Daily (lettuce wraps and seared red tuna salad), dinner at Bamboo Cafe, and then a visit to the farmer’s market near her house on Saturday morning.

Mike and I went to West Virginia on the weekend of November 4-6.  On the Monday following our weekend, I worked for the Clinton campaign doing “Get out the vote” calls.  On Tuesday evening, while votes were being counted, we went to Coyote Grill, a Mexican restaurant (in protest of the “Build that Wall” slogan during the campaign).   We also went to see A Man Called Ove.  Mainly we were trying to distract ourselves while we waited for the votes to come in.  Once we returned home, we watched in shock and bewilderment as our nation elected the most pompous, narcissistic, and hateful man imaginable. I was so shocked and upset the next day, I could barely function.  It seems we now have a kakistocracy: government by the worst elements of society, government by the least qualified or unprincipled citizens. I can hardly look at my fellow Americans, at least the 62 million of them that voted for that man.  Since the election, our CIA and FBI agree that Russia influenced our election in favor of Trump.  Great!

On our anniversary day, Sunday, November 13, Mike suggested we go downtown to visit the National Museum of the American Indian.  I know he was trying to cheer me up; he always manages to have a bright outlook even when things look bleak. We went to the museum, which would have been fascinating on any other day, but I had a hard time staying focused.  By that time, it was five days after the election, but I still felt darkness enveloping me.  I still do now, and with the ongoing news about our President-elect’s continuing hate-filled rallies, his political appointments, his ridiculous tweets, and his conflicts of interests, it’s hard to find much hope for our country and today’s world.

The American Indian Museum
National Museum of the American Indian
outside the American Indian Museum
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
outside the National Museum of the American Indian
pond outside the National Museum of the American Indian
pond outside the National Museum of the American Indian

After leaving the museum, we walked to Union Station, passing the Capitol building.  There, I could see the grandstands being erected for the inauguration on January 20.  That depressed me so much that all I wanted to do was sit somewhere and have a drink.  I felt the hopelessness that Thoreau described:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

Union Station
Union Station

Sadly, we were a long way from any good place to eat, so we had no choice but to walk quite a distance.  Usually I don’t mind a walk, but on that day, every step seemed a burden.  We plodded and plodded, block after block.  Finally, we settled ourselves in Oyamel, where we had some Spanish tapas and a glass of wine.  At this point, I didn’t care if I slept the rest of the day.  Honestly, I didn’t care if I slept through the next four years.  Let’s hope it’s only four, or that we’re not all living under a nightmare where our civil liberties are dismantled, or worse yet, we’re all dead from WWIII.

BB&T bank in D.C.
BB&T bank in D.C.

The only relief from our despair over the election is offered by our fabulous comedians, especially The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, the Alec Baldwin impersonations of Trump on Saturday Night Live, and John Oliver.  Thank goodness for those who can make us laugh in the aftermath of this disaster.

I’ve been trying to pull myself out of my funk.  As I swore I would, I started applying to work abroad on November 9.  Sadly, I haven’t had any luck finding a job.  I even had a Skype interview with the American University of Kurdistan.  The two interviewers seemed suspiciously jaded about the students; they described them as lazy, entitled, and unmotivated.  They said the administration wasn’t all that helpful in helping teachers get their accommodation organized or getting their visas.  I tossed and turned all night thinking I’d turn them down if they offered me a job.  I got a rejection letter the next morning.  Oh well, I guess that wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve been figuring out how I will live here in the U.S. if I can’t get a job abroad.  I have determined that I will never watch that man on television (unless in parodies or impersonations!).  I will turn the channel whenever he comes on.  I’ll continue to read trustworthy and FACTUAL journalism, such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other high quality publications in order to stay informed.  I will support progressive groups and I will speak up when I see people being mistreated.

We went to see the appropriately titled one-woman play “The Year of Magical Thinking,” with Kathleen Turner playing the role of Joan Didion, on November 19.  It gave me a lot of food for thought about my personal “year of magical thinking,” as I tried during 2016 to convince myself that Americans were kinder, more open-minded and progressive than what I was seeing right before my eyes — on Facebook, on news coverage of Trump rallies, etc. Over the months leading up to the election, I deleted a bunch of people from my Facebook “friends” list (mostly acquaintances but some good friends), mostly people who went to my high school in southern Virginia and who are ultra-conservative. At this point in time, I feel like I will never return to my hometown again.  Thank goodness that northern Virginia (basically the suburbs of Washington, D.C.), where I live, pushed the entire Virginia vote to Clinton, although it was by an uncomfortably close margin.  I ultimately decided on November 20 to get off Facebook altogether, at least until January 1.  I was getting way too upset reading all the fake news and the hate-filled rhetoric swirling around the election.  I honestly haven’t missed being on it, although I do miss all my friends from abroad, and the progressives who are my friends.  Staying away from social media other than Instagram, my travel inspiration, has helped my mental health considerably.

On Thanksgiving, it was hard to feel a sense of gratitude, but having family around did cheer me up somewhat.  Alex and Sarah came, as well as Mike’s sister, so we had a small group.  It ended up being a nice day.  The next day, Sarah and I went to see Nocturnal Animals, and then went for sushi, sake and Sapporo at Yoko Japanese restaurant.  Mike and Alex went for a hike in the mountains, but I wanted to have some mother/daughter time with Sarah.

I finished up my Memoir Writing class on November 14 and I was inspired to write 7 chapters.  I also got a lot of positive feedback, which was encouraging.  I’m considering taking another class in the spring.  Having deadlines encourages me to get words on paper.

In my ongoing attempts to keep fit, I’ve been doing an old exercise video from the 1980s, The Firm, which is aerobics with weights.  I do that on rainy or other bad weather days.  It’s funny to watch the people in the video with their 1980s haircuts.  I’ve done that video so much over the years that I have it all practically memorized and can repeat verbatim the instructor’s directions.

I gave up the Pilates class that I started in early fall.  No matter how many times I try yoga or Pilates, or any other slow-moving or stationary exercise, I get bored out of my mind and am looking at the clock the whole time.  Mike says I am hopelessly impatient, and he’s right.  I am.  I doubt I’m going to change at this point in my life. 🙂

I’ve also been continuing my 3-mile walks, varying my routes here and there. I’ve enhanced my daily walks considerably by listening to audiobooks.  Since our last cocktail hour, I’ve listened to: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and finally All the Breaking Waves by Kerry Lonsdale.  Though they’ve all been good, I especially loved Circling the Sun and The Glass Castle.  You can read any of my reviews on Goodreads by following the link on my sidebar.

Here are a few views from one of my walks around Lake Newport in Reston.

grasses around Lake Newport
grasses around Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Lake Newport

We’ve been watching a lot of TV series and movies on DVD or Netflix, in addition to our movie theater outings.  I’d already seen Downton Abbey, but Mike hadn’t, so we’re watching that together.  I love it as much the second time as I did the first! We’re also watching the first season of True Detective, which I saw in China but Mike hadn’t seen. Others we’re watching include Madam Secretary, Longmire, Stranger Things, The Night Manager, and Dicte (Danish). We finished and LOVED Rita (Danish) and Borgen (Danish); we’ve also watched Lovesick, Love, Rules of Engagement, Top of the Lake, Island at War, and Indian Summers. Ones I didn’t care much for include: Olive Kitteridge and Mildred Pierce (I hated the awful daughter!)

As for movies we’ve watched at home, the good ones include: Remembrance, The African Doctor, The Words, Night Train to Lisbon, and Besieged.  The ones I didn’t care much for: Money Monster and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

On Dec 7-8, I went to Richmond, this time to visit Alex and to see his new apartment.  He moved in last August, but I hadn’t had a chance to see his new abode since he moved in. After enjoying a glass of wine in his cold apartment (he hadn’t had the gas turned on yet), Alex and I went to Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s first urban cidery in Scott’s Addition.  Sarah joined us.  Then we all met Alex’s girlfriend Ariana at Tarrant’s Cafe for dinner.  There, we had quite a boisterous conversation about a recent incident in Richmond that involved the restaurant Balliceaux.  Apparently one of the employees wore blackface to a Halloween party hosted at the restaurant with the intention of “trying to be offensive” and people flooded the restaurant’s social media pages with angry messages. Alex had wanted to try the restaurant this evening, but Sarah refused, saying people were boycotting it.  We got into a big discussion about whether the business should be boycotted over an employee’s behavior.  Sarah and I felt, especially in our current political climate, that boycotting is the appropriate response.  We must reject such behavior and boycotting a business that turns a blind eye is the perfect response.  Alex disagreed that the business should have to suffer.  Since the incident, which caused a lot of outrage in Richmond, the restaurant apologized, and the employee apologized and resigned.  (You can read more about the incident here: WRIC News: Blackface costume sparks controversy and Richmond music promoter resigns after backlash for blackface Halloween costume, calls incident ‘my worst nightmare’).

All in all, we had quite a lively evening!

Alex doesn’t have a place for me to sleep, so I booked an Airbnb house in Church Hill.  It was a bit of a weird experience because I thought the owner would be there and I kept looking to meet him.  He did come in late in the evening; somehow I heard but didn’t see him.  My “bedroom” had only a screen separating the bed from the hallway – there was no door to close – so it was a little disconcerting.  Though the house and the neighborhood were really nice, I’m not so sure I would stay there again.  In the morning, I took a walk around the neighborhood and took this picture looking down at an old Lucky Strike factory before my phone battery died.

Looking to the James River from Church Hill
Looking to the James River from Church Hill

Last Wednesday, December 14, Mike and I met at Tyson’s Corner for another happy hour at Earls Kitchen and Bar.  We’d never been there before. You all know how much I love trying out new places. 🙂 We enjoyed some craft beers and I had mushroom soup (with sherry) and Baja Fish Tacos: two corn tortillas with crispy battered cod, jalapeno pineapple salsa, cabbage slaw and avocado crema.  Mike had Pork Carnitas Tacos: two tacos filled with marinated slow cooked pork with pico de gallo, in corn tortillas.  Yum!!

The open area they’ve added to the mall since I went abroad has an ice rink and a festive Christmas tree.

I know I shouldn’t wait two months between cocktail hours because I have so much catching up to do that I talk too much.  Please, do share what you’ve been up to!  I’ll shut up now. I sure hope you have happier news and a better outlook than I have. 🙂

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas and happy new Year!!

Happy holidays and cheers to you all!
Happy holidays and cheers to you all!

I’m really hoping for a better year in 2017.  I hope the best for all of you too! 🙂

the october cocktail hour: festivals, reunions, and farm tours, along with the more mundane things in life :-)

Saturday, October 15: Welcome to our October happy hour! Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. It’s the perfect day to sit out on our screened-in porch.  Would you care for a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer), an Appletini, a dirty martini, or a Cosmos?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

Please, do share what’s been going on with you.  I’d love to hear about the end of your summer and your early fall.  Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  How’s your garden?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

Admittedly, I’ve been imbibing on whatever alcoholic drink I can find to drown out the sorrows and frustrations of this election season.  I’ve been spending way too much time reading everything that comes along in the news and on Facebook about the election, including keeping tabs on the various polls.  I have been trying to post only intelligent political articles on my Facebook page, without sinking to the level of the trolls and haters.  All my Facebook friends are perfectly clear on who my candidate of choice is and ISN’T.  As I don’t care to infect my blog with U.S. politics, I will not discuss my preferences here, other than to say I’ve been evaluating my friendships in light of all that I’m seeing and hearing.  In addition, though I’ve never been much of a political person, for the first time in my life I’ve actually donated money and volunteered to work the phone bank during a political campaign.  Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely despise making cold calls of any kind, so this is a big step for me, and one of which I’m quite proud. I cannot stand by idly and not participate when so much is at stake.

I’m not going to discuss the campaign any more except for some comments I’ll make toward the end of this post regarding friendships.  Enough said.

I totally missed posting a September cocktail hour because in the middle of September I organized a big party/family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday.  The only person who didn’t show up was my youngest son, Adam, who is trying to settle in and carve a life out for himself in Maui.

Soon after we returned from Iceland at the end of August, we went with my sister-in-law, my son Alex and his girlfriend Ariana to Cirque de Soleil at Tyson’s Corner.  It was a spectacular show titled Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, with fantastic costumes, acrobatics and amazing feats.  What a way to immerse ourselves back home after our fabulous trip abroad.

You can read about our Iceland trip on my blog about my European travels: in search of a thousand cafés.

Cirque de Soleil - Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque de Soleil – Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities

It was hard to return from Iceland’s cool and sometimes frigid weather to the heat and humidity in Virginia. I always prefer cold weather to hot, so I was glad for the escape.  But.  Maybe it was the sudden change from sweltering to cold and then back to hot that caused Mike and I to both get sick on the trip, that and the tendency to go, go, go while on vacation.  When we returned home, Mike got better while I got worse.  I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and I suffered through three weeks of pure misery.  When I felt slightly better, I walked my daily three miles in the heat, sweated profusely, then got chilled; after these attempts at my normal routine, I was wiped out for days.  I repeated this several times, thinking I was better, but then was knocked back down.  Finally, I surrendered to the illness, rested a lot, drank fluids and pampered myself.  Finally, by mid-September, I was fine again.  What misery that was!

On September 4, Mike and I want to the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.  Mike was particularly interested in watching the Border Collie sheep herding, but it turned out there was only one Border Collie and he was herding goats.  Apparently this Border Collie costs $7,000!  He was very keen to round-up the goats when his owner gave the signal.  We watched a parade, ate haggis (which I’d never had) and Scotch eggs, and checked out the shiny British cars.

We stopped at the Living History exhibit, where a man taught us a bit about Scottish history.

Living history
Living history
Scottish paraade
Scottish paraade
Scottish parade
Scottish parade

The week before the Scottish Festival, we had a faux painter paint our dining room (from a deep red to a Sherwin Williams Whitetail and Intricate Ivory using a troweling process); the week after, she did our foyer (using a stippling process with a Sherwin Williams Cooled Blue, Rivulet , and Thermal Spring glaze mixture).  I am pleased with the results in both areas. 🙂

It’s been a long year of renovations, painting, landscaping, and KonMari-ing, and our house feels like new now.  We’re exhausted by the whole process and are now ready to relax for a good long while.  We still have to renovate our upstairs bathrooms, but I won’t be ready to dive into that project for a long time.

Here’s our stippled foyer.  The three paintings to the right were ones I picked up at the Longji Rice Terraces in China and had framed.

Foyer with Chinese paintings
Foyer with Chinese paintings

I planned a big family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday on the weekend of September 17.  My sister from California and my brother from New Jersey came, as well as my sister and her whole family from Maryland.  Sarah came for part of the time and Alex and his girlfriend were also here.  Adam was the only one missing, sadly.  We shared a lot of food and drinks and infectious laughs, especially playing Apples-to-Apples and a rip-roaring game of Charades.  My siblings and I have always been game players, so it was great fun for all of us to be together and let loose with some crazy competitions.

Sadly, I am unable to post pictures of our whole family together as my sister from California does not want her picture posted, and she of course was in many of them. 😦

On September 24, I went to Richmond to attend a day-long farm tour with my daughter.  Sarah wrote a great blog about it: Where Farmers Grow.  I hope you’ll check it out.  She’s a fantastic writer. 🙂

We started our tour at Victory Farms.

Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms

I didn’t know okra plants had such pretty flowers.

After touring three other gardens, we ended up back at Victory Farms, where we enjoyed a feast of small plates prepared by Richmond chefs.

Back at Victory Gardens
Back at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens

Sarah’s friend Colin, marketing director of Ellwood Thompson’s, a locally-owned and independently operated natural food market, got us the tickets for this event.

Sarah and Colin
Sarah and Colin
Sarah and me
Sarah and me

Shalom Farms, our next stop on the tour, partners with community organizations and existing nutrition programs to meet the needs of families and children. Among others, their partners include after-school programs, food banks, and community kitchens. In 2015 over 200,000 servings of Shalom Farms produce was distributed through local partnerships to meet the growing needs of nutrition programs in the greater Richmond area.

We both found the work at this farm inspirational.

Shalom Farms
Shalom Farms

Shalom, a 6-acre sustainable farm at Westview on the James in Goochland, Virginia, is an agricultural learning lab for visitors and volunteers of all backgrounds. In 2014, over 4,400 volunteers and visitors gained hands-on education and experience, helping the grow over 250,000 servings of fresh produce, according to their website.

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery , our third stop, supplies its brewery operations with on-site hop, barley, rosemary, hay and pumpkin farming.  We were able to enjoy a beer here and listen to some good classic rock-n-roll.

Tricycle Gardens is an urban garden whose mission is to grow healthy food, healthy communities and a healthy local food system. Their aim is to restore urban ecologies and create beautiful public spaces throughout Richmond, Virginia.

Tricycle Gardens
Tricycle Gardens

I made the mistake of standing in line at the porta-potty near the compost bins, where I was devoured by blood-sucking mosquitoes.  I must have been bitten at least 20 times, and it made the rest of my time at this garden miserable!

On September 30, Mike and I went into D.C., which we don’t do often, to China Chilcano for dinner, followed by a play at the Woolly Mammoth.

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

me at China Chilcano
me at China Chilcano

At China Chilcano, known for its union of Peruvian Criollo, Chinese Chifa and Japanese Nikkei, we sampled some Dorado Dim Sum (pork, shrimp, jicama, shiitake mushroom, peanut topped with golden egg), Bok Choy as Sillao (Baby bok choy, shiitake mushroom, oyster sauce), and Chupe de Cameron (Pacific wild shrimp soup with fresh cheese, choclo, rice, potato, poached egg).  For dessert we enjoyed Suspiro Limeña (Sweetened condensed milk custard topped with soft and crunchy meringue, passion fruit).

At the Woolly Mammoth, we saw another avant-garde play: Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops.  Woolly Mammoth is always on the cutting edge with their performances, and this one is no different.  In Jen Silverman’s absurdist romantic comedy, five different women named Betty collide at the intersection of anger, sex, and the “thea-tah,” according to the playbill.  I enjoy it, but am always a little taken aback by the radical ideas in these plays.

Wooly Mammoth
Wooly Mammoth

Before the play, we sat and enjoyed a glass of wine, which was included in the price of our theater ticket.  Mike was awfully blue and I awfully pink. 🙂

We haven’t done much else these two months other than taking our trip to Iceland and recovering from said trip.  I have watched a number of good movies, notably Hell or High Water, in which a divorced father (Chris Pine) and his ex-con older brother (Toby Howard) resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. I enjoyed this movie and felt some satisfaction at the brothers’ attempts to get back at the bank that tried to cheat their family out of its inheritance.

I also enjoyed the atmospheric The Light Between Oceans, in which a lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.  I went to see this with my sister from California as she stayed an extra two days after the rest of the family left the reunion.  After the movie, we enjoyed sushi and Sapporo and hot sake with Mike at Arigato.

One day last week, I went to see The Queen of Katwe, in which a Ugandan girl’s poverty-stricken life becomes more promising after she is introduced to the game of chess, for which she has great aptitude. I love this movie, as I always love movies that take place in foreign and exotic locales and feature an underdog rising up to meet success.

As for books, I have read some captivating books.  Here’s what I’ve read since we last met for a cocktail hour: Glaciers; And the Mountains Echoed; The Disappeared; 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I listened to my first ever audiobook, Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (read by Hope Davis).  I’ve never listened to an audiobook because I can be a terrible listener, with my mind always wandering off.  But, despite a few wandering thoughts where I lost the thread of the story, I was engrossed in this book and LOVED IT!! I’m now sold on audiobooks.  I’m looking forward to listening to a lot more during my daily 3 mile walks.

I’ve now added another exercise to my walks, a Tuesday-Thursday Pilates class.  I’ve never done Pilates, but I’ve done Yoga.  Both of them I find excruciatingly boring.  But I’ve decided I like Pilates better and I think I’m getting stronger as a result of it.

In addition to Pilates, I’m taking a Memoir class at the Reston Community Center on Monday mornings.  The class is for 55+ people — that includes me!  I’m finally beginning to write a memoir; I’ve dreamed of doing this for a long time; because of the weekly deadlines, I now have four chapters under my belt. I’m getting positive feedback on it too, which encourages me to go on.  Because of this class, I’m reading Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach.  I’ve always been told that if you want to write in a certain genre, you should read a lot in that genre, so in that vein, I read and enjoyed immensely Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son.

Of all the books I’ve read, I think I enjoyed The Disappeared the most.  Here’s the review I wrote about it on Goodreads: This book tells the poignant and tragic story of a young Cambodian man who was forced to leave his country during the Khmer Rouge reign and genocide, and who, while in exile in Montreal, meets and falls in love with a 16-year-old Canadian girl. Their love is beautifully and poetically rendered, and is physical and spiritual at the same time. The story is written in 2nd person, an unusual point of view. When the borders of Cambodia open again, Serey, the Cambodian student and musician, feels compelled to return to his country to search for his family. It is over a decade before his lover, Anne Greves, is able to travel to Cambodia in search of him, and when she finds him, they live together with the dark cloud of the country’s genocide hanging over them and reverberating through their lives. Serey is secretive about his days and when Anne comes to find out he is working for the opposition, she rebels against his secrecy and fears for his life. Beautifully rendered, this book reminds us of sweeping tragedies in countries where peasants or the disenfranchised take up arms and kill off intellectuals and musicians and teachers. Like China’s Cultural Revolution, and like the Nazi extermination of the Jews, it is a dark and grim reminder of the horrible things human beings do to each other when embraced with hatred and fear.

I guess this book struck home with me because of the political atmosphere in our country during this 2016 election.

In regards to that, I’ve been looking closely at and evaluating my friendships.  I read a great article posted by my favorite philosopher, Alain de Botton, on Facebook, from The Book of Life: What is the Purpose of Friendship?

The article starts with: “Friendship should be one of the high points of existence, and yet it’s also the most routinely disappointing reality.”  And then it goes on to say that relationships have a purpose which are boiled down to the following: networking, reassurance, fun, clarifying our minds, and holding on to the past.  I know I can look at most of my friendships and say they have one of these purposes.  They say friends come into our lives for a reason, or a season.

I truly wonder if we can hold on to friends forever.  Maybe I lived in a fantasy world, but I used to believe I could.  Sometimes I still like to believe it is possible.  But how can I really be friends with people who don’t share my basic values of inclusiveness and love for all of mankind; how can I be friends with people who harshly judge and even condemn those who are a different race, religion, or sex than us? How can I be friends with those who condone ugliness and hatred?

I’m beginning to think that I agree with the final paragraph in this article: “We should dare to be a little ruthless. Culling acquaintances isn’t a sign that we have lost belief in friendship. It’s evidence that we are getting clearer and more demanding about what a friendship could be.”  That’s where I am now.

It’s been the nastiest time I’ve ever lived through in the history of my country.

So, on that note, I leave you to go forward into this great month of November, when the election will be upon us, and to make decisions with good conscience. What we decide in November will be of grave consequence to the future of our country.

Cheers!!

the august cocktail hour: sultry days & sunflowers {escape to iceland tomorrow!}

Friday, August 12:  Welcome to my almost-finished house for our final happy hour of summer! This is our last time to mingle before I head off to Iceland tomorrow.  Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink.  I’m sorry to say I haven’t graduated from my Moscow Mules (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer); I’ve been quite content to drink these since our last cocktail hour.  I imbibed on some strawberry daiquiris when I visited my sister in Maryland this month.  If you’d like one of those, I’d be happy to whip one up, or I can offer wine, beer, or even some soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

It’s been the most hot and humid summer imaginable, so I think we’ll just sit on our new counter stools at the bar. They finally arrived after our last happy hour. 🙂  It’s nice and cool inside, so it will be much more pleasant.  I’m sad to admit that we’ve hardly been able to use the screened-in porch because it’s been over 90 degrees and very humid every day.

Our counter stools are in!
Our counter stools are in!

Tell me about your summer. Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  How’s your garden?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

summer flowers
summer flowers

I’ve been to a couple of movies, some wonderful, and others not so Absolutely Fabulous. My favorite was the intense and moving Dheepan, about an ex-Tamil fighter who cobbles together a makeshift family to escape his war-torn Sri Lanka.  He becomes a refugee in France. His “wife” and “daughter” are strangers to him and to each other, but they must pretend to be a family in order to get papers to leave.  He ends up in France working as caretaker for a rough property where a lot of criminal activity is taking place.  He doesn’t want any part of it, so he keeps his head down and tries to avoid being noticed.  The movie shows what it’s like for a refugee family to arrive in a new country without knowledge of language or customs, and to be cast into difficult, and even terrifying, situations.  I think it should be required watching, especially for certain people who want to close borders and build walls, those who would prefer to ignore the suffering of others.  This kind of sentiment is running rampant in the U.S. these days, and I find it appalling, heartless, and sickening.

I went to see Absolutely Fabulous and though it was funny in parts, I found myself getting annoyed by its overall silliness.  Actually, the only reason I went to see it was because I had met Joanna Lumley in Oman in 2012, and I wanted to see her again. 🙂 (absolutely fabulous: a surprise encounter with patsy stone)

At home, on Netflix, we finally watched the cute movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, partly filmed in Iceland.  I always enjoy watching movies and reading books that take place in our holiday destination.  The movie was quite charming, and really got me psyched for our trip.

We also saw the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu.  He uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.  Though I don’t often enjoy movies about sports, I found this exceptionally well done as it depicted the relentless attacks on him by the NFL, a powerful organization.  I’m always for the underdog!

On the last weekend in July, Mike went with his high school friends to Ohio, so I took the opportunity to visit Sarah and Alex in Richmond.  Sarah moved into a new apartment at the beginning of June and I hadn’t been able to see it yet, so after we met for lunch at Mom’s Siam, we went straight to her house to check it out.  She hasn’t gotten it fully furnished or together yet, but she’s slowly getting settled.

Mom's Siam
Mom’s Siam

Alex and Ariana met Sarah and I for dinner at The Black Sheep, mainly because I had a craving for their marvelous chicken and dumplings.  We had a great time.  Alex looked quite handsome with a new haircut given to him by Ariana. 🙂

Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond
Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond

By the way, we found out our prodigal son Adam is now in Maui.  We knew his retreat in British Columbia ended on July 11, and we assumed he was still in Vancouver until we got a call from him on Tuesday, July 19, telling us he had bought a one-way ticket to Maui on July 12.  He’d been there a week already and was working on a banana plantation for a room and fruit.  When he called, he had just started working at a hostel four hours a day in exchange for a room. He eats food from the free shelf, where visitors leave behind food. He’s always believed in living in a world without money, and I guess he’s doing just that, sort of!  I don’t understand it and never will, but he’s got to live life according to his principles and I have to say I admire him in some ways.  On the other hand, I know he has credit card debt, so he’s not fiscally responsible nor is he actually living without money!

Thank goodness, he’s been good about calling us once a week to let us know what’s going on.  He seems very happy and says he wishes he had gone to Hawaii back in October when he first thought of going.  I wish he had; he would have saved us and himself a lot of money and heartbreak.  Who knows what will become of him, but I’m happy that for the time being he seems at peace and is actually working, even if not for money.  This past Tuesday night, he called to tell us he is starting to work for a ceramic artist helping to sell his very expensive ceramics; he gets an hourly wage and some commission on any sales.  Slowly, slowly.  I’m trying hard to have no expectations and to continue to send love his way.

On Friday morning, Sarah and I went for a hike on the Buttermilk Trail along the James River.  The trail was quite muddy as it had rained overnight.  We then went shopping at Target, where I bought her some new bedding, a hair dryer, and bath towels, all of which she needed and was thrilled to have. We also had lunch together.

Later that afternoon, I drove an hour south and visited with my dad and stepmother in Yorktown.  We had dinner together and chatted until I went up to bed to read my book, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I hardly slept all night because I was near the end and couldn’t put it down.   My lack of sleep made it hard to get off to an early start, as I planned, to drive to Salisbury, Maryland to visit my sister Joan on Saturday morning.

Here’s my review of State of Wonder on Goodreads: I loved this book about Dr. Marina Singh’s journey into the Amazon jungle to find her former professor, Dr. Annick Swenson, as well as to find answers to the questions surrounding the death of her colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman. They all work for Vogel, a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, and Marina has worked with Anders for 7 years in a small lab. Forty-two-year-old Marina is involved in a kind of secret relationship with 60-year-old Mr. Fox, the CEO of Vogel, who is not a doctor but an administrator. She calls him Mr. Fox, which speaks to the type of arm’s-length relationship they have. Mr. Fox sends Marina to look for Dr. Swenson because her research to develop a drug in the Amazon is taking too long and Vogel is getting impatient with her lack of communication about her progress. Dr. Swenson is doing research on how the Lakashi women can bear children even into their 70s. Marina’s other mission is to find out what happened to Anders and to possibly recover his body to send back to Minnesota.

Of course, I love any kind of story that takes place in exotic locales, with characters I can understand. This is an adventure and awakening story, a kind of journey into the “heart of darkness;” I found it immensely compelling and I love Ann Patchett’s writing.

I’m now reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, which I’m enjoying, as well as a book my sister recommended by Dan Harris of Good Morning America: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I’m also making my way slowly through The Mathews Men by Bill Geroux; though it’s well-written and interesting, my books of choice are not normally non-fiction.

In Salisbury, we sat out at Joanie’s pool bar, where my brother-in-law Steve served us up some mixed drinks.  My nephew Seth and his girlfriend, Julia, hung out with us too.  It was fun to visit with my sister and to hang out by her pool on Sunday too. 🙂

me, my sister Joan and my nephew's girlfriend
me, my sister Joan and Julia

On August 4, after a number of failed attempts to meet in May and June, I finally met with a lady who runs a wine touring company.  She asked if I’d like to try out being a tour guide for her company.  I agreed to give it a try on Saturday, August 6.  I went with tour-guide Jim, who showed me the ropes; we took a group of ten 30-something ladies on a bachelorette tour of 3 wineries.  Our first stop was Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, where the owner warmly welcomes guests into the main tasting room in the living room of her c.1820 house.

Zephaniah Vineyard's tasting room
Zephaniah Vineyard’s tasting room

Next we stopped at Stone Tower Winery, set on 306 acres atop Hogback Mountain.  This is a large more commercial enterprise, and though beautiful, was not as appealing to me as the other two more intimate wineries.

Stone Tower Winery
Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery

The tasting room was quite chilly, so we ate lunch in a cavernous and only a little-less-chilly room with live music.  We couldn’t easily sit outside as it was hot, humid and spitting rain sporadically.  The young ladies seemed to be having a wonderful time.  This venue is much less homey than the other two, although the setting is lovely.

Our last stop was The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards, a family owned and operated winery housed in a refurbished dairy farm. The restored hundred and six-year-old stone and wood bank barn has been transformed into a tasting room, surrounded by eleven acres of rolling hills and woods.

The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station

The tour was fun and the owner has booked me for two tours in September.  It’s very occasional work, she has told me, which is fine by me.:-)

This week, we’re having our entire basement painted.  It hasn’t been painted since we bought the house in 1994 and it was sorely in need of refurbishing. Our boys grew up hanging out with their friends down there, and you can only imagine what disrepair it was in. There were several holes punched in the wall from some wild activities.  As soon as we return from Iceland, the whole basement will also be re-carpeted, and with a new sectional we just had delivered, it will become Mike’s “man-cave.” I’ve gently nudged him out of the living room, where I have my desk and computer.  Now we’ll both have space to work and not be crowded together into one corner of the living room. 🙂

The house projects never seem to end!  It seems they have been going on all year, but I guess it’s to be expected after so many years of neglect.

Several weeks ago, I received my refurbished Canon Rebel back from Canon USA Inc. and I hadn’t had time to try it out.  I’ve needed to decide which camera to take to Iceland, my Canon or my trusty old Olympus.  Wednesday, I finally took the Canon out to Burnside Farms, where the sunflowers are now in bloom.  I didn’t take my Olympus, because I’ve already taken sunflower pictures with it in the past at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area: an afternoon with light-crazed sunflowers.  Below are all the pictures I took with the Canon.  I’d love to know your opinion.  It seems to me that the pictures are sharper than they were before, but too many of them were overexposed and I had to adjust them in post-processing.  Any hints from the photographers out there?  I’d love to hear advice.

Below this batch of Canon pictures are pictures taken with my iPhone 6s.  Which do you think are better?  I think I’ve pretty much decided to leave my Canon at home and take my much-used and dependable Olympus to Iceland.

sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON

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

Here are the photos taken with the iPhone.

Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)

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

It’s pretty sad when iPhone pictures are better than a camera for which I paid $400, as well as another $300 for a telephoto lens. 😦

Thanks so much for dropping by for cocktail hour.  It was sure great to see you all again.  I really haven’t had a very exciting or interesting month, but I hope to have more adventurous things to report when I return from Iceland.  I hope you’ll share what you’ve been up to.  I may not be able to answer you until after August 25.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!  I’m so ready for fall and cooler weather. 🙂

the july cocktail hour: the renovation wrap-up edition

Sunday, July 17:  Here it is, time for our “dog days of July” cocktail hour. Welcome! I’m so happy to see you again.  Please come in and I’ll mix you up a drink.  We can sit on the screened-in porch, but in today’s 91 degree (F) heat, even with the ceiling fan stirring the air, we might prefer to move inside.  Our kitchen and family room renovation is done, but I must apologize that our counter stools for the kitchen island haven’t arrived.  We’ll just have to sit on couches or chairs or, better yet, just mingle.

You’ll be happy to know that my repertoire of drinks is improving daily.  Mike told our contractors, who have given us a two-year warranty on our home improvements, that he would like a warranty on his wife.  He fears he will have an alcoholic on his hands in two years’ time as I’m always trying new drink concoctions to enjoy on our screened-in porch.  My inspiration comes from my friend Beatrice, who swears by mixed drinks on ice during the hot summer months.  You know I’ve always been a wine and beer drinker, but I’m learning to enjoy a good cocktail.  Besides my recent foray into dirty martinis, Beatrice has introduced me to the Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer), which is usually served in a copper mug.  I don’t have any copper mugs, but I did get some colorful cocktail glasses.  I’ve also tried Beatrice’s favorite, the Cosmopolitan, or Cosmo, although she never told me about the Triple Sec. My daughter Sarah, who has worked for a long time as a bartender/waitress, would be proud!

I’m dying to know what you’ve been up to in the last month. Have you been enjoying your summer? Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home? Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges? Have you reconnected with old friends or made any new ones? Have you indulged yourself with daydreams? Have you changed jobs?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners?  Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  How’s your garden?

It seems I haven’t done much but to make endless decisions on our renovation.  We had a couple of mishaps and two of my children have gone on some adventures, although I haven’t been anywhere myself. Our trip to Iceland is coming up on August 13; we’ve booked our flight, rental car and accommodation, and I’m slowly working my way through the guidebook.

My daughter Sarah went on a trip to Puerto Rico for a week with some girlfriends at the end of June.  I’ve talked with her by phone, but I haven’t made it down to Richmond to catch up with her about her trip or to see her new house. Hopefully, I’ll be visiting her within the next two weeks.

As of June 21, this is what our renovation looked like.

The bulk of our renovation was finished up on Friday, June 24, so we were able to move back into our kitchen.  Some of the electrical work needed to be finished up after the electrician returned from vacation on July 4, but at least we were now able to cook!

I completed the Landmark Advanced Course on three long days 10:00 a.m. to midnight on June 24, 25, 26, and then a Tuesday night.  It was tough going, but many parts of it were very eye-opening and inspirational.  One of the things we had to do was to write in stream-of-consciousness style for about 10 minutes straight about some problem we have in our life.  Then we sat knee-to-knee with another participant and read aloud what we had written, over and over, until we were told to stop.  The story I wrote was about my inability to find a decent job, and my story is quite extensive.  As a matter of fact, most of you have probably read about it many times on my blog!  After reading it multiple times, it became embarrassing, and ludicrous!  What a story I’ve been telling myself for all these years. I hope I can create a new story and put an end to that old story, although I imagine I will still pull that old story out when it suits me.

During the Saturday session of the Landmark Forum, I got a text from Mike asking me to call him when I could.  I ducked out and called to find out he’d been in a bad bicycle crash right in our neighborhood and had just spent three hours in the emergency room.  He admits he was being quite cocky in taking a sharp turn, and when he had to alter the turn because a car pulled up, he went sliding out on a patch of gravel.  He shredded his whole left side, leg and arm, with a huge gouge scooped out of his left forearm.  He also suffered a mild concussion.  I’ve had to help him change his bandages twice a day for the last two and a half weeks.  Finally the wounds have started to heal, but it’s been tough on him because he hasn’t been able to swim or bike, his two favorite activities.

After the Landmark Advanced Course, I was feeling inspired and decided to host my whole family here at my house for my dad’s 86th birthday on the weekend of September 17.  I’ve told my sister in California, who hates to fly, that come hell or high water, I would get her here, even if it means I have to fly out there and then drive across the country with her.  Most everyone in my family has committed to this event, except for Adam.  This event will now preclude me getting any kind of teaching job abroad as most semesters begin in early September.

Our contractors had painted a pale yellow base coat on the kitchen and family room walls; this base coat was in preparation for a decorative art painter, Sarah Zehala, we hired to stipple a rich yellow color on the walls. She was here two days, on June 29-30.  I was highly pleased with the results!  We’ve had a lot of compliments from friends, family and the contractors, who came back on July 5 to finish all the electrical work.  I’m hiring Sarah to come back to do our dining room (which I’m changing from a formal dining room to a farmhouse dining area – since our kitchen has no table) and our foyer.

As of June 29, her paint job was about halfway done:

Kitchen almost faux painted
Kitchen almost faux painted

As of June 30, the painting was finished and we moved some of our furniture back in:

Family with some furniture in after painting
Family with some furniture in after painting
Famil room looking into the kitchen
Family room looking into the kitchen
Family room faux-painted
Family room faux-painted

Mike was supposed to go to Detroit for a wedding on Friday, July 1, but his flight was cancelled.  I was glad he didn’t go because he was able to accompany me to my friend Beatrice’s cocktail party that night.  It was fun to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in years, and although I swore I wasn’t going to talk about Adam, of course I did, because, as is the case at every gathering in northern Virginia, people always ask about the children.

On Saturday night, I was making some nachos in our new oven.  This was the first time we used the oven.  I had the broiler on and though most ovens have a high and low broil, we couldn’t figure out how to put it on low.  I had the rack at the topmost setting.  I put the wedge-cut corn tortillas in a pan on the top rack for two minutes and then took them out and turned them over.  When I put them back in for two more minutes, I suddenly noticed that they were on fire!  We should have just turned off the oven and kept the door closed, but Mike picked up the pan with a pot holder and carried it out to the screened porch and through the screen door, with the flames leaping viciously.  He then tossed it face down on the ground beneath the deck and ran around trying to put out the fire on the grass!

Oh my gosh!  How horrible it would have been to have just done this whole renovation and then caught our house on fire!

On Sunday night, we figured we were safer NOT cooking at home, so we went out for Mexican food at Chevys Fresh Mex and to see the movie about Thomas Wolfe, Genius.  Lately, I get so impatient with movies.  I enjoyed the movie but it just went on too long.  I remember a time when I’d be so engrossed in a movie,  I wished it would never end.  I haven’t felt that way about any movie I’ve seen recently.

We never do much on July 4 as it’s my least favorite holiday.  I don’t enjoy fireworks and I hate the heat, so we usually keep it low-key and cook something on the grill.  Mike’s sister Barbara came over and we cooked hamburgers and potato salad and sat on the screened porch as it rained all around us.  I loved the cool air and the sound of the rain, so unusual for an Independence Day holiday.

I had lunch one day with an old friend of mine, Sarah, at Sakoon Thai.  It was great to catch up with her after not seeing her for a couple of years.  I went another day to see The Music of Strangers with Yo-Yo Ma and other musicians with whom he collaborated on the Silk Road Project.  It’s funny, but as I listened to Yo-Yo Ma talk in the movie, I realized he was using some of the Landmark Forum language and I remembered that Landmark has Yo-Yo Ma in some of its advertising films. I wonder if he was inspired to do the Silk Road Project after attending the Landmark Forum?

As of July 6, most of our lights and electrical were finished.

As of July 6
As of July 6
As of July 6
As of July 6
Pendant lights as of July 6
Pendant lights as of July 6

For several months, we had a big date looming ahead of us, July 7.  Adam’s lease on his apartment in Richmond expired on this date.  We co-signed the 6-month lease with the understanding that he would get a job and start contributing to his own support.  He never stepped up to the plate to get a job; in fact, he has insisted continuously that he’s never going to work full-time. He doesn’t want to work for anyone else and he can’t seem to get it together to start his own business, despite our attempts to help him. We were forced to give notice that we would not renew the lease. We’ve also told him he cannot live with us.  He always talks about being homeless as if it’s some kind of romantic thing and has often talked about wanting to give up all his possessions and live “off the grid.” We figured this would be as good a time as any to let him feel the consequences of his irresponsible decisions and his fantasy-land beliefs.

To top off this bad situation, the mini-van he’s been driving broke down a couple of weeks before his apartment lease was up.  Since he thinks it’s so romantic to be homeless, we figured he could just live in the van, much like in the movie, The Lady in the Van.  We decided to go ahead and replace the engine in the van, because we can still get some use out of it and can sell it eventually for a slight profit. However, Adam informed us he didn’t want the van.  A few days before his lease expired, he informed us he was buying a one-way ticket to Vancouver to attend a retreat, International Tribe Design.  Between the airplane ticket and the retreat cost of $1,900, he must be getting himself deeper into debt. He’s been living off of credit cards that the banks foolishly gave him; we have no idea how much debt he’s gotten himself into. The van still wasn’t fixed, so he counted on his brother to help him move out of his apartment.  Then he loaded some boxes into Alex’s car and said he would drive up to our house, drop the boxes and then go to the airport.  We got a message that he hadn’t had time to stop by our house, so he just left Alex’s car at the airport.  Luckily he texted us which garage and spot the car was in, and Alex had to come up later with his girlfriend and the key to retrieve the car from the airport.

On July 9, I put up the curtains in the family room.

me putting up the curtains in the family room
me putting up the curtains in the family room

Alex and Ariana came up on July 10, picked up his car from the airport, dropped Adam’s boxes in our garage, and shared a Thai dinner with us at Kob Kun Fine Thai Cuisine in Oakton. It’s always so nice to spend time with our oldest son, who has a girlfriend, is going to university, working a job, and saving money.

Adam’s International Tribe Design retreat sounded fascinating but it ended on July 11 and we haven’t heard a word from him since. Of course, we’re worried about him, but he doesn’t seem to want our help now and needs to figure things out on his own.

Mike and I went out for Japanese sushi at Yoko Sushi in Oakton on Saturday after Adam took off, and we enjoyed hot Sake and cold beer with our meal.  It was fun to go out without having a movie obligation after, as we could just enjoy our drinks and conversation without being rushed.  We’re trying hard not to let thoughts of Adam paralyze us; we’re working on letting go.  He’s going to need to go through whatever he needs to in order to either get his life together or fall hard.

I have applied for numerous teaching jobs in Morocco, but I haven’t heard anything back.  I also have applied for several jobs here in the U.S.; I applied for one in April as a front desk receptionist at an Urgent Care; it’s operated through the big hospital system in northern Virginia, INOVA. I applied for this position, only requiring a high school education, because a friend of mine told me about it and encouraged me to apply.  This friend had told me that the hours were flexible and you could work part-time. However, I had been told by the hiring manager that INOVA had frozen hiring for the position.

On the weekend after Adam left, I was considering what I could do in the fall since no jobs were panning out and since I’ve now planned that big family reunion for my dad’s birthday.  I talked to Mike about doing the The Camino de Santiago: The French Way.  I was feeling very gung-ho about it, and Mike was supportive of the idea. I wrote to a Scottish company to see what the cost might be.  The itinerary they gave me was for 53 days at about 5,040 pounds, or $6,650!  Ouch.  I think I either need to consider a shorter version, or plan it myself for a later time.

Alex gave me a plan to start upping my walk distances by a mile each week, so I walked 4 miles/day last week.  Next week, I’m supposed to go 5 miles/day.  Feeling very excited about committing to the Camino, on Monday morning, July 11, I got an email from the woman at INOVA saying they’d like to interview me for the job at the Tyson’s Corner Urgent Care.  The interview was set up for Friday, the 15th.  Of course, if I got the job, I wouldn’t walk the Camino.

On July 13, we had a small bistro table and some chairs delivered for our porch.

bistro table and chairs
bistro table and chairs

On July 14, we had a coffee table delivered for our living room.  It took me two days to assemble it!

coffee table assembled - check!
coffee table assembled – check!

I went to the INOVA interview on Friday and it turns out there was quite a misunderstanding about the hours.  The job is not flexible at all, and is full-time.  It is five nights a week from 3 pm – 8:30 pm (and often later) and then every other weekend, all day.  So basically I would have to work 12 days in a row, have two days off, work 12 days, ad infinitum.  That wasn’t what I was looking for at all!  Now, I might go back to thinking about the Camino. 🙂

Yesterday, the decorative painter Sarah came by to look at our paint projects for the dining room and foyer.  Then Mike and I went to Vienna Floors to look at carpet as we need to paint and re-carpet the basement, which has taken quite a beating over the years.  Mike is in the process of creating his own man-cave down there, with his desk and a TV so he can do his paperwork and watch sports at the same time.

Last night, we went for Mexican at  Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen at the Mosaic District, a very upscale area in Fairfax.  We watched the movie Captain Fantastic.  I couldn’t help but think of Adam and his dream to live off the grid; the fictional father in the movie lives in the wilderness in the Pacific Northwest and forces a strict regimen – a rigorous physical and intellectual education – on his six children.  Like the father, Adam is extremely well-read, deep thinking, philosophical, and physically fit.  Sadly, he also has some of the emotional instability that the mother in the fictional family had; she committed suicide.  I am waiting to see what happens down the road to my gifted and idealistic son.

While we were at the Mosaic District, the area was swarming with young people on their phones.  All seemed to be absorbed in the new Pokémon GO app!  It was insane!  I thought if some aliens arrived on our planet, they would wonder what on earth was going on here.

As of today, this is what our house looks like.

family room
family room
family room
family room
family room looking into kitchen
family room looking into kitchen
laundry room
laundry room
kitchen near door to screened porch looking into family room
kitchen near door to screened porch looking into family room
island in kitchen
island in kitchen
looking from the family room to kitchen
looking from the family room to kitchen
kitchen island
kitchen island
screened porch
screened porch
small deck for grilling
small deck for grilling

I’m so happy our renovation is finished, although we’re still doing some cosmetic things in the months ahead (basement, dining room and foyer – carpet and paint).

Once again, enough about me and enough about my struggles with my children and our renovation. I apologize for my chattiness.  Please, do tell me about you!  I’d love to hear what you’re up to.  Please share anything and everything. What do you have in the pipeline for the summer?  Please, do tell all!  🙂

the june cocktail hour: the screened-in porch edition :-)

Sunday, June 19:  Happy Father’s Day and welcome to the first cocktail hour on our finished screened-in porch.  I’m so glad to see you again!  It’s a warm but beautiful day today, so please come in and have a seat on our new porch furniture.  You can help me break it in.   What can I get you to drink?  I have some chilled white wines, a Spanish Rioja, some Shock Top Belgian White, and the makings for dirty martinis.  I also have a bottle of Chambourcin from Hiddencroft Vineyards, one of our many Virginia wineries.  I’ll tell you more about our visit to this winery later.

I do have to warn you that Mike is a little confused tonight.  He made our dirty martinis with olive OIL instead of olive JUICE.  You know how olive oil floats to the top of the glass, in a thin band of gold?  That’s what you’ll see if you order a dirty martini. 🙂  I wish I had some martini glasses, as they’d look a lot more elegant than these squat drink glasses.

me in our new screened-in porch - Welcome! :-)
me in our new screened-in porch – Welcome! 🙂

Have you been enjoying the early summer? Have you gone on any fun excursions?  Have you started planning your summer travels to exotic lands or will you be having a staycation?    Have you gone to any outdoor concerts or wine tours? Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges? Have you reconnected with old friends? Have you accomplished any goals?  Have you been on any retreats? Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners?  Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you planted flowers and vegetables?  Have you been exercising and eating healthy? Have you been on any shopping sprees?

I may have told you I got a Canon EOS Rebel SL-1 for Christmas.  It took me a while to even open up the packaging and take the camera out, but finally, on May 19, I took it out to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens to test it out.  I’d already taken a few pictures here and there, and I felt that the pictures were not as sharply focused as the pictures from my Olympus PEN.  I wasn’t sure if my eyesight was getting worse or the camera just wasn’t focusing properly, so I was dragging my feet about doing something to correct the problem.  I finally talked with the help desk at Canon, and the person there told me to test it out using two different lenses.  I have a telephoto lens and a regular lens, and I tested them both.  The pictures below are my first extended test with the camera.  I still have to say I’m not very happy with the sharpness of the photos, especially compared to my Olympus.  I think I’m going to send it back to Canon to see what can be done.  It wasn’t a cheap camera, and now it makes me depressed every time I use it because I know the pictures will be inferior.

purple
purple

The reason I even got a new camera was because my Olympus lens kept self-adjusting and readjusting, and I thought it was hopelessly broken.  But I also went online with Olympus and sent my lens to them, and now it works better.  The whole camera is quite worn out from my years of travel and photography since 2010, when I bought it in Korea.  But it still takes the best pictures.  I wish now I’d bought a new Olympus rather than the Canon.

little dainties
little dainties

I find it so annoying these days that all our local camera shops have gone out of business.  Much the same as local bookstores.  This is the result of all of us buying everything from Amazon.com or online through different websites. Even when we started looking for furniture for our house, it was hard to find showrooms where you could actually go sit on the furniture, or see it in person. I don’t want to order furniture online without trying it out or without seeing the quality of the product in person.

flora
flora

It used to be you could take your camera to the local camera shop and explain to the person what was wrong with it, and even demonstrate the problem.  Now we have to wrap the camera in bubble wrap and send it via UPS to the camera company.  Everything has become less personal.  I really hate the way commerce is becoming these days.

man vs. nature
man vs. nature

We had rain nearly every day from the end of April until late May.  It was cold and grey, a long depressing spell.  Finally, the rainy season stopped and we went right into the heat and humidity of summer.  Since then, the weather has moderated, and we’ve had some gorgeous days, in the mid- to low-70s (F), with nice breezes and low humidity.  I’ve tried to get out as often as possible.

log cabin at Meadowlark
log cabin at Meadowlark

On top of the relentless period of rain, we have been feeling quite depressed about our youngest son, Adam (23).  We thought we were helping him to get on his feet by getting an apartment for him in Richmond.  He was supposed to get a job and start taking over the rent payments, with us contributing less and less over time.  Since we co-signed his lease, and he made no effort to get or keep a job, we were stuck making the payments.  He has decided he doesn’t want to work in life, he wants to “trust in the universe” to provide for him.  His vision of living in a society without a need for money works only if you live in a commune, but even then, he would have to do some kind of work to contribute to the commune.  I believe he would consider most work as “not the kind of work he wants to do.”  Apparently he wants to do no work at all!

white flowers
white flowers

He insisted he wanted to take an entrepreneurship course online, which we decided to help him with, in the interest of furthering his education and helping him to start his own business.  After attending only one session, he dropped the course; thus we lost around $3,000.  When he came up to northern Virginia to inform us of this, I was furious.  I said, “We’re done!”  I am so tired of him taking advantage of us, and now Mike and I have informed him we are no longer contributing to him financially.  So far he doesn’t seem to mind this, as banks are sending him credit card offers right and left.  He doesn’t even live in our house any more, but I get credit card offers from major banks addressed to him at least three times a week.  I promptly tear them up and toss them in the trash, but of course I’m sure he’s getting the same offers at his apartment in Richmond.  Whereas he once told us he had maxed out all of his credit cards, he now suddenly has available credit again. We have warned him continually about getting himself in over his head with debt, but he never listens to anything we have to say.  Of course, I’m having a little trouble feeling sorry for these credit card companies who have about as much chance getting paid back as getting nectar from a stone.  How on earth do they justify sending so many credit card offers to someone with no verifiable source of income?

Adam has possession but not ownership of a 2004 Toyota Sienna van.  We have already told him when his lease expires, he cannot live with us.  If we let him live with us, then he gets exactly what he wants, a free ride!  So, we figured he could live with the homeless people in Richmond (he says he’s befriended many of them!) and sleep in the van.  Well, voila, just last week, the van broke down and now needs a whole new engine, at the cost of about $3,500.  We thought we might be able to sell the van and help him pay down some of his debts, but now we can’t even do that.

sculpture at Meadowlark
sculpture at Meadowlark

Apparently, when Adam’s lease expires on July 8, he’s considering flying to Vancouver (I assume paying for this flight and expenses with his credit card), where he will meet up with “like-minded people” at some retreat and try to “make a go of it.”  We reiterated that we are not contributing to him financially, and he seems to not care at all.  We have now finally realized that all our good intentions regarding our son, who we love dearly, have only hurt him and made him feel entitled and unappreciative.  He has made one bad decision after another, in an unending chain.  We have now decided that we need to let go.  He’s an adult now and though we’ve tried to give him advice and provide him with every opportunity, he is not of a mind to appreciate any of it.

Since making this decision, I feel a burden has lifted.  Though it horrifies me to think of him starving or being homeless, there is really nothing we can do, and we just have to let him suffer the consequences of his bad choices. If he does go to Vancouver, at least he won’t be right under our noses, and maybe we can put him on the sidelines of our minds.  We’re both trying to create the possibility that this is a phase, that he will grow out of it, that he will eventually get his life together.  We at least hope for this outcome.  Ultimately, we have no control.  And I’m tired of having his situation ruin my emotions.

But wait.  The Adam situation changes by the moment.  Just tonight, he called to wish his dad a happy Father’s Day and said he’s now considering renting a cheap room from a friend he knows in Richmond because he enjoys some of the camaraderie with his brother in Richmond and lately has been participating in a hand-balancing class there.  What?? He says he doesn’t want any money from us and is thinking of working a couple of days a week at the place where Alex works.  Oh my gosh!  He is all over the place.  Mike says he’s decided: Expect anything and everything, and expect the unexpected!

Why on earth are we worrying about him and torturing ourselves when he seems not to have a care in the world about himself??

In letting go of Adam, we’re trying to focus on ourselves and our lives.  We’ve spent the last couple of weeks planning our trip to Iceland (August 13-25), booking our flights, a rental car, and all of our accommodation around the Ring Road.  We’ve gone to a number of outdoor concerts. We’ve gotten together with friends.

outreach
outreach

On one sunny Wednesday at the end of May, we went to Kalypso’s Sports Tavern, a nice outdoor restaurant on Lake Anne.  It was packed with people who had been cooped up inside for well over a month, but we enjoyed our dinner and wine, despite having the worst waitress on the planet.

On the last Friday in May, Mike and I went to the Herndon Town Center for Friday Night Live! The band, The Reagan Years, recreated the sounds of the 1980s. We enjoyed the music with beers and Lime-a-ritas.  It was Memorial Day weekend and one of the first sunny weekends in ages, so it was totally packed with people!

Saturday turned out to be a stunning day, so Mike suggested we go visit a couple of wineries in the western part of the state.  We first stopped at Hiddencroft Vineyards.  The tasting room is in a circa 1830s farmhouse with two tasting counters; it has a view of the backyard, Dutchman’s Creek and a period kitchen building.  A large deck seats 44 guests under colorful umbrellas, and has an open view of the vineyard.  Behind the deck, a large patio and massive fire pit provide additional seating and warm ambiance in cool weather.

Hiddencroft Vineyards
Hiddencroft Vineyards
Mike at Hiddencroft Vineyards
Mike at Hiddencroft Vineyards
Me at Hiddencroft Vineyards
Me at Hiddencroft Vineyards
pretty and fragrant tree
pretty and fragrant tree
Hiddencroft Vineyards
Hiddencroft Vineyards

Of course, having wine in the middle of the day made me pretty sleepy, but that didn’t stop us from going to another winery, Creek’s Edge Winery.  This is a larger winery than Hiddencroft, situated on 11 acres of rolling hills. The building is an Amish structure, in the tradition of raised barns.

Creek's Edge Winery
Creek’s Edge Winery
inside the silo at Creek's Edge Winery
inside the silo at Creek’s Edge Winery

At this winery we sit at a table with two young people wearing shirts that say: DiVine Wine Tours of Virginia.  We ask them about their company, and they tell us they drive groups of about 10 people to wineries for the day, so the participants can enjoy drinking wine without driving.  The company focuses on the educational aspects of wine.  According to their website, they “offer unique experiences and insight into the business, the grapes, the process, and other interesting facts that the wineries love to share with new as well as experienced wine enthusiasts. Some stops will include behind the scenes tours, some include food pairings, some will have historical stories that will really grab your attention and still some simply have stunning views.”  I ask them a bunch of questions about the job, and they said they are hiring and take down my name.  I was contacted by the hiring person, but we still haven’t actually met.  I thought it might be a fun “occasional” job, but we’ll see if it ever comes to fruition.

On Tuesday, June 7, I met an old friend Layne, in Winchester, Virginia to see the Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.  I’ll write more about our meeting later.  Layne is interested in social entrepreneurship and has lived a number of years in Chang Mai, Thailand, and is now living in western Australia.  As an expat, she understands me and my expat experience.  It’s great to meet up with someone from my “tribe,” someone who shares an affinity for the expat life and travel.

I’ve been trying my best to be healthy, but it’s been awfully hard without having a normal kitchen in my house. The month of rain also put a damper on my 3-mile daily walks.  My current addiction to Creamy Dill Lentil Chips dipped in Whole Foods Jarlsberg Cheese Dip doesn’t help my plight.  It’s no surprise that I have now gained back almost all the weight I lost since I returned home from China last July. 😦  I can’t wait until my kitchen is back together and I can start drinking smoothies again and eating more healthy foods.

Below are some views along one of my walks around Lake Newport in Reston.

Since Mike works Monday through Friday, often until 6:30 at night, I don’t see much of him.  As I don’t have a job, I find myself getting lonely.  I have applied for a number of jobs here in the U.S. all to no avail.  Though I’m fully qualified for the jobs, or even overqualified, I never even get a call to come in for an interview.  Because of this, I’ve started applying to teach abroad again, mostly in Morocco, but though I’m way overqualified, I never get any response.  I can’t help but think it’s because of my age, which they can tell by looking at the year I graduated from college.  In many cases I have to send my birth date! I’ve even talked to some friends in Oman about returning there, but I haven’t applied because I was hoping to go somewhere different.  Of course, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar offer the highest pay.  The jobs in Morocco, Poland and Turkey, where I would actually love to live, have the lowest pay. I was contacted by a Polish school but the pay was only $500 a month + free accommodation.  I didn’t even want to pursue it because if I lived in Europe, I’d certainly want to travel and I’d never be able to afford it on that salary!

Meanwhile, I’ve been sending my novel out to agents and getting no response whatsoever.  I consider myself lucky to get a rejection letter.  I also follow a blog about publishing and self-publishing, and in one of the blogger’s posts, she said, “Any time I see a book that opens with a funeral, a death, a hospital scene, I cringe. This is going to sound cruel, but we really just don’t care. If we have not been introduced to the characters who are clinging to life or recently deceased? We have nothing emotionally vested and so sections like these are just tedious.”

Oh dear!  I found this so discouraging, as my book starts with a funeral, and, since I read this, I’ve been paralyzed wondering if I need to write the book all over again!  I’ve been so disheartened, I haven’t sent it out in weeks.  Luckily, I had someone at the Landmark Forum volunteer to read it, a young Russian woman.  She read it and liked it a lot, and told me she was hooked by the funeral scene, so she encouraged me not to change it. The main thing she didn’t like was the number of sex scenes!  I didn’t think I had that many, but I’ll have to look it over again. 🙂

To break up the work week, Mike and I often go somewhere for dinner; on Wednesday night, June 8, we went back to Lake Anne to eat dinner at another outdoor restaurant, Cafe Montmartre.  We had a lovely evening, sharing a half carafe of red wine and a fairly decent but not stellar meal.  I love eating outside at Lake Anne Plaza because it’s less crowded than the more trendy Reston Town Center.  Despite Lake Anne’s Soviet-era architecture, it is still a lovely spot for an outdoor dining experience. 🙂

On Thursday-Friday, June 9-10, I went by myself to Philadelphia to explore four gardens: Shofuso Japanese Garden, Chanticleer, Longwood Gardens and Winterthur.  I’ll write more about that trip later.  While I was in Philadelphia, our contractor Morgan sent me a picture of our finished laundry room.  Hooray!  At least we don’t have to drive back and forth to my sister-in-law’s house in Vienna 20 minutes each way to do laundry.  The color of the laundry room is Sherwin-Williams “Coral Reef,” and I was at first a little shocked by the color as the faux painter who’s doing our kitchen/family room suggested I use a satin finish, which is much brighter than the flat finish I used to test the color.  Though I was shocked at first, I’ve now come to love it.  It makes me smile every time I go in there. 🙂

Our laundry room: Sherwin-Williams Coral Reef
Our laundry room: Sherwin-Williams Coral Reef

I finished reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker and I really enjoyed it.  This was a fairly quick read about an enduring love story set in Burma. Because I spent two weeks in what is now called Myanmar, I wanted to read a story set there. I enjoyed the story of Julia, who goes in search of her father after he mysteriously vanished one day from her life. After finding a love letter to a woman in Burma, Julia goes in search of him. There she meets U Ba, a man who has a story to tell Julia about her father.

I’m reading an engrossing book now, Hummingbird House by Patricia Henley.  The main character Kate is a midwife who comes face to face with the horrors of war in Nicaragua and Guatemala.  I’m almost finished it and am really enjoying it.

As for movies, I’ve seen a lot of movies since we last met: A Bigger Splash, The Man Who Knew Infinity, Love & Friendship (confusing), The Lobster (bizarre and disturbing), The Idol (about an Arab singer from Gaza on an Arab Idol Show in Cairo), Dark Horse, Me Before You, and finally, Maggie’s Plan.  The best of this bunch were The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Idol, and Me Before You.  The others I thought were mediocre.

The Lobster took place in some not so distant future and people had to be coupled or they would be turned into animals.  What was so disturbing was the truth of it.  People in societies all over the world are expected to be part of a couple or they are outliers and often ostracized.  I found this during my 7-year separation from Mike.  In China, in Oman, all over Asia, in Turkey, and even in the U.S., I’ve found people who actually felt sorry for me because I was alone.  I HATED that attitude!  I enjoyed traveling alone and often living alone, and I resented that people saw me as less than whole because I was single.

On the Saturday evening after I returned home from my solo trip to Philadelphia, Mike and I checked out an Indian restaurant at a nondescript little strip mall along the way to our favorite movie theatre, Cinema Arts Theatre.  We were surprised when we went inside Curry Mantra to find the most colorfully decorated restaurant. The outside was nothing special, believe me!  In the hallway from the bathroom to the restaurant, I found the color of my laundry room!  I was so excited.  After dinner, we went to see the documentary Dark Horse, which was interesting, although I was expecting it to be a regular movie, not a documentary. 🙂

Having dinner at Curry Mantra
Having dinner at Curry Mantra

The following Sunday morning, Mike and I took a 5-mile walk around Burke Lake.  I always complain because though it’s a nice walk, it isn’t very photogenic. 🙂

Burke Lake
Burke Lake
the edge of Burke Lake
the edge of Burke Lake

This past Friday night, June 17, we met our friends Karen and Michael, along with Carlos who works with Mike, at Friday Night Live! to listen to Burnt Sienna.  The five-piece band hails from Philadelphia; they’re young and full of energy.  They have a great stage presence and play music from every era.  Also unusual for a band, they have three excellent singers who take turns performing.  All are equally talented.  We’ve already put on our calendar to see this band in Arlington on August 5.

While at this concert, I went with Karen to the food kiosks where I ran into the Principal Broker at Keller-Williams Realty, the one who taught the real estate class I took in January.  I passed both the class test and the state and national exam on the first attempt, something that is apparently rare. However, I still haven’t decided whether I want to sell real estate or not.  My first inclination is NOT to do it.  When I ran into this broker, he said, “Why haven’t you gotten your license yet? I admit, I’ve been stalking you because I knew you passed the test! I keep looking at the list of new licensees and your name isn’t there.  Why haven’t you gotten it?” I said, “I’m just not sure I want to do it!”  He told me if I decide to do it, to please contact him, no matter how long it takes.   Well, of course, I must make some decision within a year of passing the test — by mid-February of 2017.  I’ve kind of decided that if I can’t get a job here or abroad by the fall, maybe I’ll try it out after all!

Our renovation is proceeding nicely.  The cabinets are in, and as of this week, the counter tops have been installed.  I was in Richmond, helping my older son Alex find a new apartment, as his lease expires on July 31.  While I was there, the contractor sent me pictures of the new counter tops.  Because of the way the light was shining on the white island counter top, I thought, Oh my god, it’s so bright!  It’s actually a white marble-looking quartz counter top.  The perimeter of the kitchen has black counter tops with beige veins in it. Since I returned home from Richmond, the island counter top has been covered in cardboard because the floors are being sanded and finished.  So I actually haven’t yet seen it in person.

The screened-in porch was finished this week, and our furniture was delivered, so we can now sit out there for cocktails!  The electrical work hasn’t been finished out there yet, so we don’t have the fan or lights, but those should come this week or next week.  Our contractor tells us we should be in the kitchen by the end of this coming week.  However, we won’t be able to move our family room furniture back in because the faux painter is coming on June 29-30.

Last night, we went to Eastwind Restaurant, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Fairfax.  I love this restaurant and the Vietnamese owner, Dong. He always greets us warmly when we come in and I can’t help but think it’s because I’ve been to his home country and we can talk easily about his home and Asia. Tonight he gave me this hat as a gift; his son recently visited Vietnam and brought it back. Dong has been in the USA since he was 17 (1979) and has only been home once. He is the nicest man imaginable and seeing him again made me miss Asia. (My legs look especially short here because Mike is tall and looking down on us short people!)

me with Dong, the owner of Eastwind
me with Dong, the owner of Eastwind

Dong said he’s been here 37 years so he considers this his home now. His parents are dead and he has a big Vietnamese community here, so he doesn’t really miss his home country. He was one of the boat people who escaped Vietnam during the war, from home to Hong Kong to LA to Washington with the the help of Catholic Charities.

Ok, enough about me.  I know I’ve been very chatty this evening.  Now, please tell me all about you!  I love to hear what you’re up to.  Please share if you’ve read any good books or seen any good movies or concerts or have experienced any exotic travel destinations.  What do you have in the pipeline for the summer?  Please, do tell all!  And please, please, I beg you, share with me if you have any problems with your adult children. I feel like I’m the only one in the world with challenging children!! 🙂

the monthly cocktail hour (whether we need it or not): may edition

Sunday, May 15: Welcome to my disheveled home for my monthly cocktail hour.  I know, I can hear your protests already: But, Cathy, you haven’t been having your cocktail hour on a monthly basis!  Your last one was in December! Admittedly you’re right.  You all have probably figured out by now that my consistency is questionable.  I originally intended to do them weekly, then it dropped to bi-weekly, and now I’m lucky to have one on an every 5-month basis!  So, I’m going to stick my neck out and say it’s my intention to have one every month, around the middle of each month.  I’ll even write it on my calendar to be sure it will be a priority.  I really do miss hearing from all of you in a deeper, more open way; of course a sip or two of alcohol helps us to put down our walls and loosen our tongues!

Please, come in and have a drink.  I’m afraid things are a bit of mess here in my house as our renovation is in full swing and we have no access to the kitchen or the screened-in porch or deck.  I hope you don’t mind doing a lot of mingling as there aren’t many places to sit.  We have lots of wine of both colors, Bud Light Lime (what Mike calls my fake beer), and some New Belgian Fat Tire.  I’ve also got the makings for a dirty martini, which some people have told me I should try: Vodka, olives and some olive juice.  For the people who like to socialize on the straight, I have Coke and Diet Coke Vanilla, and some  peach-pear flavored La Croix sparkling water.

Have you been enjoying the spring? Have you gone on any fun excursions?  Have you started planning your summer travels to exotic lands or will you be having a staycation?    Have you gone to any outdoor concerts, plays, or book signings? Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges? Have you reconnected with old friends? Have you accomplished any goals?  Have you been on any retreats?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners?  Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you planted flowers and vegetables?  Have you been exercising and eating healthy? Have you been on any shopping sprees?

The weather here has been mostly miserable all spring, with rain and clouds nearly every day; when it’s not raining, like today, it’s cold and windy.  I can’t believe the swimming pools will be opening in less than two weeks.  It doesn’t seem at all like summer is right around the corner.  I know the rain is good for us, but I find it quite depressing when it never lets up.

You all know about my fun excursion to Philadelphia and then my later trip to Dallas and Oklahoma City for my friend Rosie’s wedding.  Though I haven’t finished blogging about them yet, I will soon.

We were originally planning to go to Prague and Budapest in late May for our holiday, but since we’re in the midst of our renovation and it won’t be done until mid- to late-June, we had to forego our May plans.  Instead, Mike chose to take our holiday in late August because of his work schedule.  We decided against joining the hordes of tourists on mainland Europe in August and opted to go to Iceland from August 13-25.

Mike and I ventured to into D.C. on the evening of April 20 to attend Bill Geroux’s book talk and signing at Politics and Prose Bookstore, one of the District’s longstanding independently owned bookstores.  He wrote Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats, just released on April 19. I was married to Bill from 1979-1986, and Sarah is our daughter. We actually lived in Mathews County, Virginia, where his book is set, for a year soon after we returned from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 1984. Sarah was a tiny baby at that time.  Bill has been a journalist for much of his career, working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and later for Maersk, the largest container-shipping company in the world.  Ever since we met, he’s longed to write a book, and now he’s done it, to great acclaim.  I’m very excited for him.

Before going to see Bill, Mike and I enjoyed drinks and pizza at Comet Ping Pong.  Though we asked Bill to join us, he was tied up with his publicist.  I enjoyed my wine with a pizza called The Smoky: Smoky Mushrooms, Smoky Mozzarella,
Smoky Bacon, melted onions, garlic.

I’ve still been trying to walk 3 miles every day; sometimes I also go to the gym to lift weights.  Oh, how I hate the gym!  With all the rain, I’ve been to the gym more than I care to. My eating habits have been atrocious, so of course I’m not losing any weight and my belly seems to be getting bigger by the day.  I sure hate some aspects of aging.

a walk around Lake Thoreau
a walk around Lake Thoreau

As for goals, I have too many of them, and most of them never get accomplished.  I’ve been considering starting a travel retreat business for fit solo travelers between the ages of 55-75.  I started reading Start Your Own Business: The Only Startup Book You’ll Ever Need by Entrepreneur and I’ve been slowly but surely working through the worksheets.  Last week I wrote a mission statement!  That was fun. I’m still a long way from solidifying my ideas.  Right now I’m just trying things on for size.

Azaleas
Azaleas

I’ve also been continuing to send out my novel, but I rarely get any response from the agents I’m contacting.  I’m not giving up yet.  I finally wrote a synopsis, still probably too long, but that was a great accomplishment as I’ve been putting it off for about 3 years!

gardens along the walk
gardens along the walk

As for books, I finished reading The Blue Between Sky and Water, the first novel I’ve read that tells the devastating consequences of the formation of the State of Israel on the Palestinians.  I also finished the Pulitzer-prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr that takes place during WWII France and Germany.   I enjoyed both books immensely; I also learned a lot from reading them.  I’m now reading Bill’s book, Mathews Men, as well as the novel, The Heart of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillipp Sendker.  It takes place in Burma, and since I traveled there in 2015, I find it engrossing.

Lake Thoreau condos
Lake Thoreau condos

I’m a real movie buff and I often find myself sitting in Cinema Arts Theatre for Senior Wednesdays ($5 admission for seniors!).  I’ve recently seen A Hologram for the King, set in Saudi Arabia (but of course filmed elsewhere), The Meddler, Mother’s Day, Eye in the Sky, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, My Golden Days, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Mustang and Hello, My Name is Doris.  Lately, I seem to find most movies just mildly entertaining, nothing to get excited about.  I enjoyed Mustang and Eye in the Sky, but also Hologram for the King because, having lived in Oman for two years, it brought back some interesting memories.

a walk along Lake Thoreau
a walk along Lake Thoreau

Because of our renovation, we’ve found ourselves sampling more restaurants than normal, probably accounting for my inability to lose weight.  Of course during my travels to Philadelphia, Dallas, Oklahoma City and several trips to Richmond, I’ve eaten at a lot of great restaurants.

Another day at Lake Audubon
Another day at Lake Audubon

I’ve been attending the “Commitment” Seminar Series of the Landmark Forum and am exploring what I say I’m committed to and, by looking at my actions, what I’m really committed to.  I’m also learning a lot about the character I play in life.  It’s an interesting journey, that’s for sure. 🙂

One nice thing for me is that I’ve reconnected with an old friend in our neighborhood, Beatrice.  I’ve seen her a number of times for lunch and walks; she and her husband had us over for dinner last week.  She always makes me laugh, so I’m thankful to have her in my life again. 🙂

It’s really disorienting but also interesting living through a renovation.   I have contractors in the house sometimes before I’m even out of bed; they arrive at 7 a.m. and sometimes before. They leave promptly by 3:30.  There’s never been a day when no one has shown up. Sometimes it’s just the foreman Morgan and his carpenter, Ron.  Other times the trade guys are here, Al the electrician and his son, the plumbing guy (name unknown).  This week it’s the drywall guys and on Sunday, the roofing guys came, much to our neighbors’ dismay. Next week, I think it will be the flooring guys, and then cabinet installation should begin.  Keeping fingers crossed on that. 🙂

The regulars, especially Morgan, Ron and the electricians, are the nicest guys imaginable; I’ve never seen workers having so much fun at their jobs.  There’s a lot of pounding going on constantly, as well as a boom box blaring, most regularly Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and most recently “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, apropos considering there is a lot of sledgehammering going on. 🙂 Last week, I heard Depeche Mode singing “Enjoy the Silence:”

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world

That pretty much describes my life right now.  I can tell you there’s not much silence around my house lately.  Though I love these guys, I’m so happy each day at 3:30 when they leave and silence settles over the house.

So far, they’ve demolished the kitchen & deck, cut out the wall between the kitchen and family room and built a knee wall, framed the pantry and the laundry room, wired the whole area, installed the plumbing, replaced the water-damaged roof, built the sub-floor in the laundry room, insulated all the walls, and now are doing the drywall. They have almost finished the screened porch but haven’t started the deck.  What a long and involved process!

Click on any picture to see a full-sized slide show.

On Mother’s Day, none of my children were here, but Mike took me out for a special treat at Green Pig Bistro in Arlington.  We figured we’d see them on May 14 for Sarah’s graduation, so there was no need for them to drive to northern Virginia.

me at Green Pig Bistro for Mother's Day
me at Green Pig Bistro for Mother’s Day
Mike at Green Pig Bistro
Mike at Green Pig Bistro

We enjoyed mimosas with the most delicious meals: for me, shrimp, andouille grits and poached egg; for Mike, scallops on cauliflower puree with brussels sprouts.

After our brunch, Mike wanted to go by Arlington National Cemetery to see his mom’s headstone.  Shirley’s headstone is shared with Mike’s dad’s, but Mike hadn’t seen the engraving.  Arlington National Cemetery honors those who have served our nation, usually in the military, by providing a place of serenity for survivors. The 624 acres of rolling green hills are dotted with trees that are hundreds of years old.  Mike’s parents are buried here because Mike’s dad was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and served in WWII.

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery

While at the cemetery, we thought we’d drop by to visit John Ryan Dennison’s grave.  Ryan was my friend Rosie’s son-in-law who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 at the age of 24. We sadly didn’t come prepared with flowers.  A father and mother were sitting on a blanket at a nearby grave celebrating their son’s May 8 birthday; he died also in 2006. She told us proudly that her son, unlike many young men who join the military these days for the college benefits, chose to join the military to fight after 9/11.  He wanted to be in the thick of the action and so the mother is proud of him for his service.  She has a bunch of flowers with her, and she gives us one to put on Ryan’s grave and another for Shirley’s.  What a special encounter.

For those of you who might have missed it, my daughter Sarah graduated from VCU this past Saturday.  I wrote a post about it here.

Thanks so much for joining for my cocktail hour.  I hope you’ll fill me in on what’s going on with you in the comments below.  If you prefer to write your own post with accompanying pictures for the cocktail hour, please feel free to do so and put a link here so we can read your post.  I look forward to hearing more about what’s going on in your lives.

Thanks for coming!  Drive safely and have a great week! 🙂