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

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

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

Autumn colors in Oakton

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

I hope October has been good to you so far.  Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you encountered any new songs?  Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes?  Have you embarked on any new endeavors?

Autumn colors in Oakton

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

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

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

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

Autumn colors in Oakton

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

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

Playbill for Native Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelsey and Elliot

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

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

On my birthday at Nostos Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me with Mike at Hawksbill Gap
Hawksbill Gap

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

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

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

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

triplet dinosaurs

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


a september mini-cocktail hour

Friday, September 22:  Cheers!  It’s time for our early September mini-cocktail hour, but I’m afraid you’ll have to enjoy it without me.  You can lift your glass of sparkling champagne as we fly off into the skies for our holiday in Eastern Europe: Budapest, Sopron, Vienna, Český Krumlov, and finally, Prague. 🙂

I hope September has been good to you so far.  Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, watched any hilarious comedy shows? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes?  Have you embarked on any new endeavors?

I’ve been spending most of my time editing pictures and writing my Japan posts (catbird in japan), and I’m still nowhere close to being done.  I also recently started following a woman named Jill at Jill’s Scene who is doing the Camino de Santiago.  She and her husband started the 800km walk in early September; I have dreams of doing it myself in September of 2018.  I’ve created a spreadsheet and am taking notes about her journey, the weather and challenges she encounters, anything notable about her experience.  I want to be purposeful about it, as I’ve dreamed of doing it for a long time and I need to make that dream a reality.

Valor, Courage, Sacrifice
I’ve been bingeing on spreadsheets.  I used to keep my travel wish list in a yellow spiral notebook which I’ve somehow misplaced.  I always wrote it in pencil and had to keep erasing things and changing them. It was a mess.  In September, I finally created a big spreadsheet called My Travel Wish List. The column headers are: Time of Year (the four seasons), Months, Year, My age, Mike’s age, Region, Countries, Places, What to do there, Who with, Estimated Cost. The spreadsheet covers the places I’ve already been and the places I want to go each season until I’m 90 years old!  The places I’ve already been are highlighted in blue, while the spreadsheet from age 80-90 is highlighted in purple. Frankly, I’d like to believe I’ll still be traveling from age 80-90, but realistically, I know anything can happen.  Besides, two gurus in India once told me I’d only live to 88, so if they’re right, I won’t even be on this earth then!

At the same time, I’ve been reading guidebooks on Hungary, Austria (Vienna), and Czech Republic.  At first I was just reading the guidebooks and highlighting what I’d like to see. All the places were becoming a jumbled mess in my mind, so I decided to organize my thoughts.  Voila! I created another spreadsheet with our itinerary.  How I love spreadsheets! 🙂

Air Force Memorial
Besides my obsession with spreadsheets, I’ve been reading a most uninspiring book, How to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway.  It’s not very compelling, so I only read a few pages each night; however, it’s not so boring that I’d give up on it altogether.  I went to see the cute movie, Home Again, starring Reese Witherspoon, but I haven’t had time for many other movies this month. Mike and I did watch The Third Man on Netflix.  It’s a 1949 film noir in which pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime. Though it’s all in English, we had to put the subtitles on to understand it!  I admit I fell asleep 3/4 of the way through, but we did continue it the next evening.  It’s supposedly quite the rage in Vienna, where there is even a Third Man Museum.

aviation pioneers
We tried out an Ethiopian restaurant not far from us in Herndon, Enatye Ethiopian Restaurant, which doesn’t have much in the way of atmosphere, but it has excellent food. 🙂  
Mike at Enatye
Ethiopian meal 🥘
Me with my Ethiopian meal

looking up
On Labor Day, Mike and I took a long walk through a neighborhood called Cleveland Park in Washington.  It was a beautiful day, and we ended up having lunch outside at Cafe Deluxe.  I haven’t yet written about it, but I intend to soon after we return home.

Mike on the ground trying to capture the whole memorial
And, as you can see from the pictures in this post, we also visited the Air Force Memorial on September 10, the same day we visited the Pentagon Memorial.  I figure the soaring wing-like shape of this memorial is a perfect symbolic send off for our trip to Europe.

Aviation pioneers
The United States Air Force Memorial honors the service of the men and women of the United States Air Force and its heritage organizations. Three stainless steel spires soar into the sky from the promontory overlooking the Pentagon, reaching heights of 402 feet above sea-level. Granite walls contain inscriptions describing valor and values of aviation pioneers supporting the Air Force and its predecessor military organizations.

Air Force Memorial
The inscriptions for Sacrifice remind us of what brave men sacrificed during World War II to fight the same white supremacist ideas that have reared their ugly heads in today’s world.

One inscription here reads: “We better be prepared to dominate the skies above the surface of the earth or be prepared to be buried beneath it.” ~ General Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz.

From the hill, we can see the Washington Monument and the Pentagon.

Washington Monument
As for our struggles during August, we’ve all recovered.  Adam got over his flu and has flown off to Melbourne, Australia to visit his girlfriend for a month. Alex has started classes in a new major, Business Administration, in the hopes of learning how to start his own business one day. He’s also moved into a new apartment. 
Alex in his new apartment
Alex’s dog Freya

Sarah’s knee is slowly healing and she’s back at work, after being incapacitated for nearly a month. She’s waiting to hear about a job she applied for with a Richmond magazine.  I’m hoping and praying she gets that job. The redness and pain from my spider bite first spread all around my wrist and up through my hand before I started taking an antibiotic.  My joints and neck were aching, but a couple of massages helped that. Mike has been healthy throughout the month.

Aviation pioneers and the Air Force Memorial
I also went to Richmond to see Alex and Sarah and did what many moms would do: treated Sarah to dinner, took both of them to lunch, and took them both shopping for necessities at Target and Trader Joe’s. 🙂

Aviation pioneers
Air Force Memorial
Air Force Memorial
As you read this, I’ll be in flight over who knows where, in route to Frankfurt.  We’ll arrive in Budapest at 9:50 a.m. on Saturday, ready to hit the ground running.  If I do manage to post anything about our trip, you’ll find it here: in search of a thousand cafés.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your September, and I’ll see you back here in early October. 🙂

the august cocktail hour: return from japan to a parallel universe

Thursday, August 31:  Cheers and welcome to our August happy hour! Come right in to our screened-in porch, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I can offer you wine or beer.  I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

Luckily the weather since I returned from Japan on August 8 hasn’t been bad.  The first week it was quite hot and humid, not much different from what I experienced in Japan.  But on Wednesday, the 23rd, the weather improved and dropped to temperatures of my liking, around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23C). This is perfect weather; my mood lifts considerably when I can feel a hint of fall in the air. 🙂

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How have you been since I’ve been gone?  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?  Have you gone on a holiday or had a stay-cation?

Many of you haven’t followed my trip to Japan, so maybe you don’t know that I spent the last 4 months (1 semester) teaching at Aoyama Gakuin University – Sagamihara campus with Westgate Corporation.  I taught 2nd year university students majoring in Global Studies and Collaboration who were preparing for a study abroad in Thailand or Malaysia.  I worked 9-hour days five days a week, and every weekend I went out exploring.  I believe I had about two days of rest the whole time I was there!  If you like, you can check out my time in Japan here: catbird in japan.  I still haven’t finished writing about my time there, but more posts will follow, slowly, slowly….

Upon my return, I also found my son Adam has boomeranged back home from Hawaii and has settled into our basement.  One of our agreements since he returned home is that he will hold a job, which he has done so far.  He’s been working hard, so hard in fact that he ended up with some kind of flu over the last week.  He seems to be doing well overall, and I’m happy to have him stay temporarily as long as he’s working.  He has been saving money to take a trip to Australia to see his Australian girlfriend Maddy, who he met in Hawaii. He’ll be gone for nearly a month beginning September 20. On my second night back from Japan, he and I enjoyed a nice dinner together at the Whole Foods Seafood Bar.

the seafood bar at Whole Foods

Things have felt strange since I returned. I feel that I’ve returned to a parallel universe, and one not much to my liking.  The very weekend after my return, I watched on TV a despicable white supremacy march in Charlottesville, about two hours from where I live in northern Virginia; in shock, I then had to listen to our “president” fanning the flames of hatred and arguing that there is moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and the “alt-left,” a made-up term lumping counter-protestors and Antifa, or anti-fascists, into one big boat. Granted, there should be no violence in protests, but the white supremacists marching openly with weapons in one of the most peaceful college towns in our state was a frightening display and one that almost begs violence from counter-protestors.  I am disheartened by what our country is coming to, and it is hard to be back after being in a culture where people greet each other with respect and bow to each other in nearly every interaction!

I didn’t watch any movies the whole time I was in Japan (I didn’t even know where any movie theaters were, except in downtown Tokyo).  In an effort to catch up, I have gone to several movies since I returned: The Big Sick and The Glass Castle, both of which I enjoyed. While I was in Japan, I watched three full seasons of The Good Wife, which I was totally hooked on.

The first weekend I was home, I took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock.  In Japan, nighttime was daytime here, and daytime was nighttime here, so no wonder my body is confused.  I haven’t gotten much of anything done. As a matter of fact, I feel somewhat paralyzed with indecision.  I never had a spare minute in Japan, and now I seem to have too much time on my hands.  I don’t know how to focus my attention with so much time.  I think it will take me a while to become acclimated to this parallel universe.

On Wednesday morning, August 16, I found out my daughter Sarah had taken a fall the evening before while running on a muddy path in the woods.  She cut her knee wide open. She didn’t have her phone with her and had to walk with an open gaping wound until she found someone.  Using a stranger’s phone, she called for an ambulance and was admitted to the emergency room where she had to have 25 stitches across her knee. She’s been immobilized ever since, as the cut was so deep it still hasn’t healed.  As a waitress/bartender, she’s losing valuable work time; I plan to visit her soon, but she’s been putting me off until she feels a little better. I’ve been constantly worried about her, as a mother’s work as chief worrier is never over.

Adam has been taking a course about podcasts and posted his first podcast on the same day I heard about Sarah, so there was a bit of good news as he’s wanted to do this for some time.

On August 19, after I started to feel more like a human being, Mike and I went out to see the movie Wind River, which I enjoyed, and had dinner at Coyote Grill, where I had my favorite chili rellenos.

me at Coyote Grill
chili rellenos at Coyote Grill

On Monday, August 21, I went at 2:00 to Kalypso’s at Lake Anne to watch the partial solar eclipse at 2:40 pm.  It was a festive atmosphere, with people enjoying the beautiful day outdoors, drinking wine, wearing the funny eclipse glasses.  I had seen a total eclipse in 1970 in southern Virginia, so I didn’t feel the need to travel a long distance to see the total eclipse, but Adam drove 10 hours to Tennessee, where he loved seeing a total eclipse for the first time in his life.

Mike and I are planning a holiday from September 22-October 7 to Budapest, Sopron, Vienna, Český Krumlov, and Prague.  We spent many days this month plotting out our trip and making all our reservations.  I can’t wait to go!  In preparation, I’ve been reading guidebooks on Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic.

To get in the mindset for Prague I just finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.  I loved it! Here’s my short review from Goodreads: I really enjoyed this book that takes place in Prague before and during the Russian occupation. Besides being a love story, it also ties in the political realities of living under an oppressive occupying regime. Tomas, a successful surgeon at the beginning of the occupation, meets and falls in love with Tereza, who is like a child brought to him by a series of odd circumstances. Despite his love for Tereza, Tomas cannot stop his incorrigible womanizing; neither does he want to stop. In a parallel story, Tomas’s mistress Sabina and her other lover, Franz, a professor with noble ideals, try to work out their own love affair, a mere shadow and weak immitation of her affair with Tomas.

I love how the author wanes philosophical at times without abandoning the story of these characters and their backgrounds, histories that they can never excise and that influence them every day of their lives.

Upon my return from Japan, I found out when I weighed myself for the first time in four months, that I lost 8 pounds while in Japan.  I guess it was a combination of the healthy diet there and all the walking I did. 🙂

My walks while home have been sporadic, and I’m rarely hitting 10,000 steps a day.  In Japan, I met my goal of 10,000 steps every day just by walking 30 minutes each way to work and being on my feet teaching.  On weekends, I often walked 10-20,000 steps.  Needless to say, the pounds have started creeping back on since I’m not exercising as much here.  It’s frustrating because I get bored walking around in circles in the same old places without any destination.  My heart just isn’t into walking, but I will have to get back to my regular exercise routine soon.  Below is a picture of part of a walk around Lake Anne in Reston on August 28.

walk around Lake Anne

Last Monday, after Adam had been working non-stop for days, he came down with a stomach flu and has been sleeping in the basement trying to recover.  He’s been working so hard trying to save money for his trip to Australia, that he’s overdone it and is now paying the price.

Alex came up from Richmond to visit and spent two days here. It was so nice to see him after my time in Japan.  He, his dog Freya, and I took a walk on the Fairfax Cross County Trail on Wednesday, August 30.  As we were walking, I felt a sting on my right wrist and looked down to see something small and black on my wrist. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t tell what it was, but I don’t think it looked like a bee.  I thought it might be a spider.  Anyway, the second I felt the sting, I knocked the creature away with my left hand, and immediately felt a sting on my left middle finger.  Whatever it was, it got me in two places, on both hands, and they hurt like hell!   I watched as the sting areas reddened and spread into a hard and hot raised area up over my hand and around my wrist.  The next day, I went to see the doctor, who advised me to take Benadryl and gave me an antibiotic.

a walk with Alex on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
Fairfax Cross County Trail
Alex, master of calisthenics
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail
mushrooms on the Fairfax Cross County Trail

It’s been a rough time coming back into this parallel universe, but overall I’m glad to be home with my family, even though we seem to all be falling apart due to nasty falls, stomach bugs, and spider bites.

Please let me know how you’re doing, and what exciting, or even quiet, things you’ve been up to.  I need to get back into a routine where I start following people again on their blogs more regularly; I hope to keep in touch more now that I have plenty of time on my hands. 🙂

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.


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. 🙂