the january cocktail hour: preparing for adventure in the year ahead

Wednesday, January 31:  It’s that time again – our January cocktail hour! 🙂 Please, come in out of the cold and make yourselves comfortable. I’m so glad the holidays are behind us and we can get back to the routines of everyday life. I would offer you a cocktail, my current favorite being a cucumber jalapeno margarita, but the ice maker in our two-year-old refrigerator has inexplicably stopped making ice. So, it’s either wine or beer.  For those of you who don’t drink, I have sodas and seltzer water of various flavors.  Or milk.  There’s always milk. 🙂

I hope January has been good to you so far. Have you played in snow, gone skiing, ridden dog sleds or stayed in igloos? Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you started planning your adventures for the year? Have you had any winter getaways? Have you sung along with any new songs? Have you dreamed any dreams? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes?  Have you undertaken any new exercise routines?

Our first two weeks of January in northern Virginia were wicked, with temps below freezing.  A few light snowfalls made for icy messes outdoors.  Although I’d made all kinds of exercise-related resolutions, I just couldn’t bring myself to crawl out from under my furry white blanket and leave my house.  Mike has taken to calling me his Japanese snow monkey because he’s only seen peeks of my pink face enveloped in a swirl of white hair and fuzzy blanket.  No matter.  This cozy position under my blanket has been conducive to reading, as I finished 7 of my 45-book goal for the year.  Of these, I especially enjoyed The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Whistling Past the Graveyard, and Follies.

The most rewarding and challenging thing I’ve been doing is preparing for my 2018 adventures.  I have the following plans up my sleeve:

  1. A road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: March 2-4 (a three-day weekend).
  2. A road trip to the Four Corners area, the only point in the USA where four states come together: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.  I plan to take a solo road trip to Colorado, visit my son in Denver and do some hikes there with him, then go on my way to visit Monument Valley, Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Hoventweep National Monument, Four Corners Monument Navajo Tribal Park, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park.  If Alex could come with me for part of it, I’d be thrilled, but as he has to work, he may not be able to. Logistics will be tough, because I don’t want to drive him back to Denver once I leave there. I would also love it if my daughter Sarah or my sister Stephanie could join me for any part of the trip, but they have so many obligations, I’m not sure it’s possible.   Mike does plan to join me for some parts of the trip, ending back in Denver, but we haven’t yet worked out those logistics either.  I imagine the whole trip will take at least three weeks; I plan to do it in April.
  3. A 4-5/day road trip to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY, possibly crossing the border into Ontario in late June. I might be able to meet my friend Mona Lisa for some part of this trip.
  4. The pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. I want to do the route that most pilgrims do: the Camino Francés (The French Way), from St. John-Pied-du-Port to Santiago de Compostela (769 km) or nearly 500 miles.  I imagine it will take me at least 6 weeks, possibly longer, as I don’t plan to do it as a race! After I finish the walk, Mike plans to meet me in Santiago and we’ll visit Porto, Lisbon and Sintra in Portugal for our 30th anniversary.  I even have an idea about renting bicycles in Santiago de Compostela and riding with Mike to Cape Finesterre, known in Roman times as the end of the world, but I haven’t researched yet whether that’s possible.  I hope to do this in September-October.

I love preparing for trips as much as taking them. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:

For the Camino, reading:

  1. A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago by John Brierly.
  2. Camino de Santiago by Sergi Ramis
  3. In Movement There is Peace by Elaine Orabona Foster

Watching:

I have already watched the movie, The Way, and we recently watched Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, both of which I found inspirational.

Doing:

I attended a talk about the Camino by a fellow named Don Shaw at REI last night (luckily the talk made me miss the State of the Union Address, but I planned to boycott it anyway). He’s done the Camino five times using different routes. It turns out that he is also hosting a potluck at his house this Saturday to which I’ve already RSVP’d.  He started the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino, which I joined in December.  We have our first Camino group hike (8.6 miles) on Sunday, February 25.

Luckily, REI allows you to try out hiking boots and then return them if they cause discomfort.  I bought a pair of size 8 Oboz Sawtooth low BDry boots and I wore them for a five-mile walk.  My toes were hitting the end and my feet were killing me, so I’ve decided to return them.  Last night, I bought a pair of Keen Targhee low boots in size 8 1/2 and walked in them today.  They felt better, but I did feel my size 7 1/2 feet were sliding around in them a bit. I’ve been told that whatever boots I get, I need to put 100km on them BEFORE I do the Camino.  So I need to commit to a pair and get busy walking!

I have stared increasing my walking distance as it has thawed outside.  It’s not very inviting outside, as you can see from a walk on the Cross County Trail in early January.  Drab, snowy, mottled and dirty, with mostly dingy skies: days like these simply don’t entice.

An ice-over Difficult Run Stream

Walking in sub-freezing temperatures isn’t much fun, although a bit of blue sky does ease the pain.

Lake Audubon
birds at Lake Audubon
Lake Newport

I started an aerobics class to whip other parts of my body into shape: upper body, core, lower body.  I’ve also asked my son to draw up a fitness plan of calisthenics and weight lifting to build strength to carry a 16-20lb backpack.

I’ve also finished planning our Pittsburgh trip and am reading now about The Four Corners area.  I’ll write more about my planning on those later.

Family, photo outings, and restaurants:

Sarah went to her dad’s for Christmas, so even after we took our Christmas tree down, her pile of presents still sat in a pile in the corner of our living room.  Laden with gifts, I visited her in Richmond on the 19th.  She has been busy doing freelance work for Richmond Magazine, and she had an article due, so she couldn’t spend much time with me.  Before I showed up at her house, I wandered through Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden so I could get my winter dose of color.

Humpty Dumpty at Lewis Ginter
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

I especially enjoyed the cacti and succulent collection is on display in the West Wing of the Conservatory.

cacti and succulent collection
cacti and succulent collection
cacti and succulent collection
cacti
cacti
cacti and succulent collection

In the central Palm House, I enjoyed the palm and cycad collection.

palms in the Palm House

And in the semi-tropical East Wing, I wandered through tropical plants, including the orchid collection.

orchids

Outside, I walked through Asian Valley, which displays plants native to Asia and offers a place for quiet contemplation.

Asian Valley

When I arrived at Sarah’s, we enjoyed a glass of wine while she opened her presents (lots of cookbooks and a toaster oven), and then we went out to dinner at Sabai, which serves authentic Thai street food. Sitting at the bar, we shared an appetizer of Larb Gai: minced chicken seasoned with red onions, lemongrass, Thai chilies, basil, and mint in a spicy lime dressing.  Sarah ordered Koa Soi Gai:  Northern Thai style curry with bone-in chicken and egg noodles served with pickled mustard greens, red onions and spicy chili lime oil.  And I ordered Pad Se Ew: Flat rice noodles stir-fried with egg, black bean sauce, shrimp and broccoli.  The atmosphere was lively and the food was delicious.

As for the rest of the family, Alex moved successfully to Denver and is trying to adjust to his new life there.  Adam is working long hours at his job and, surprisingly, he loves it.  It’s good to see him so busy and so enthused about work.  As for me, I’ve been still attending Al-Anon and keeping the focus on myself, as no one else is my business (I keep having to remind myself of that).  Overall, I’m thankful that everything is good for the moment.  Taking life one day at a time.

Urban hikes & museum-going:

Mike and I did an urban hike in downtown D.C., stopping first at the Renwick Gallery.  Our goal was to see the exhibit of miniature crime scenes called “Murder is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.” The exhibit was packed and the crime scenes so small that it was impossible to see anything.  So instead, we just walked around the gallery, enjoying the other exhibits.

 

The Renwick

While waiting in a fast-moving line, we walked past The Blair House, the home of Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), founder and editor of The Globe (1830-1845), a newspaper which championed democratic causes and vigorous journalism notably during the administration of President Andrew Jackson in whose “kitchen cabinet” Blair loyally served.

The Blair House

At the end of this post are descriptions of the places, statues and art we encountered today.  If you’re interested in them, you can read about them based on the picture captions.

The Final Stop by Rick Araluce
Parallax Gap by David Freeland and Brennan Buck

I loved this fabulous Monopoly game made with fired clay.

Monopoly
Shadow of Amboseli

I love this delicate piece that evokes a quiet forest in Japan.

The Renwick has a fabulous variety of art and installations.

After the Renwick, it was quite a hike to the National Gallery of Art.

Washington streets

At the National Gallery of Art, our goal was to see the exhibit “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry.”  How foolish it was to attempt to see such an exhibit on the last day it was open.  Hundreds of people were in a long snaking line curled all around the perimeter of the museum.  Instead of standing in that line, we opted to drop in on a small Edvard Munch exhibit.

Across the hall, we also dropped in on another small exhibit: “Posing for the Camera.”  Many photographers were featured, but I especially loved two by Lee Friedlander of the photographer and his wife.

After this, we left by way of the fountain and began our trek back to the Renwick.

fountain in the National Gallery of Art

On our way back, we stopped for tapas and wine at Jaleo, one of my favorite D.C. restaurants.

As we continued on our way after lunch, we passed by the SunTrust Bank headquarters, where I used to work (the bank was called Crestar at the time) as a credit analyst.

Suntrust Bank

I share the sentiments of this protester!

protesters at the White House
Rochambeau

Movies & plays

As for movies, we haven’t been to many this month, mainly because we didn’t feel like going out in the cold.  We loved The Post, which told the story of how The Washington Post, and the press in general, went up against the U.S. government during the Vietnam war over the Pentagon Papers.  The press, a vital pillar of our democracy, is under attack these days by our divider-in-chief, so I’m happy when the press wins over the government.  Especially in the case of Vietnam, the government lied to the American people for years; it was the press that finally revealed to the public the extent of those lies. The audience, a full house, cheered at the end of the movie.

Another movie we saw on Netflix was a quiet Japanese movie called Sweet Bean, which told of a doryaki pastry maker who hired a 76-year-old woman and the relationship that grew between them.  I love Japanese movies for their delicate portrayal of human emotion.

Finally, at the end of the month, we went to a matinée showing at Theater J of Everything Is Illuminated; the play was based on the book of the same title by Jonathan Safran Foer.  The main character goes to Ukraine in search of a woman who possibly saved his grandfather during the Holocaust. Some parts were hilarious, some sad; we loved it overall.

Everything is Illuminated

Then we went to Logan Tavern for a delicious early dinner.  I took a picture of the Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup, but I was so hungry, I didn’t think to take pictures of my Trumpet Mushroom ‘Risotto:” cauliflower and squash “risotto”, chimichurri, fig balsamic, & crispy Parmesan. It was so delicious, I polished it off in one fell swoop.

Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup

Other stuff:

I’ve been reading a lot, working on my memoir, and still trying to catch up on editing pictures and blogging about all my travels to Japan and Czech Republic.  I haven’t begun to write about my solo trip to Cape May, NJ and Mike’s and my trip to Nashville, TN in December!

I hope you’ll tell me what you’ve been up to in January. I can’t wait to hear of your plans for the year, as well as your everyday lives and what you make of them. 🙂

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Here are some of the details about the art shown above, as taken from signs at the museums, unless stated otherwise:

The Renwick

The Final Stop by Rick Araluce. Visitors find themselves transported to an anonymous subway station, an eerie subterranean world nestled within the gallery, where flickering lights and distant rumblings suggest the passage of trains and cavernous tunnels seemingly stretch for miles.

Parallax Gap by architects David Freeland and Brennan Buck.  To create Parallax Gap, nine ceilings from iconic works of American architecture were drawn, printed at large-scale, and then suspended in layers above the Renwick’s Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon. The architects have challenged the medium’s typical role by transforming their drawings from two-dimensional illustrations to three-dimensional installations.

Shadow of Amboseli (2016) by Wendy Maruyama.

Monopoly (2007)- paint and ink on unfired clay by Kristen Morgin: Morgin’s illusionistic sculptures resemble found objects weathered by time, but they are in fact meticulously crafted assemblages made from unfired clay.  Inspired by abandoned objects from people’s pasts, she investigates age, nostalgia, and value in culture – themes rooted in the mythology of the American Dream.

Notice – Forest  (Autumn) 2002 – McDonald’s Neverland paper bag and colored pencil by Yuken Teruya born Okinawa, Japan.  Teruya transforms paper bags into magical tableaux. He cuts the silhouette of a tree into one side, then bends the paper inward to seemingly take root, leaving the lacy holes above to evoke mottled sunlight.  Teruya’s reuse of these discarded materials memorializes the trees in ingenious floating worlds and suggests a cycle of renewal.

Untitled #192 (1989) burdock burrs and apple wood by John McQueen.

Woman and Child (2002) by Akio Takamori, born Nobeoka Miyazaki, Japan 1950.

Raft (1997) by William Morris.

Downtown D.C.

General Casimir Pulaski is a bronze equestrian statue at Freedom Plaza,13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Pulaski immigrated to North America to help with the American Revolutionary War. He distinguished himself throughout the revolution, most notably when he saved George Washington’s life. Pulaski became a general in the Continental Army and reformed the American cavalry as a whole. At the Battle of Savannah, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was gravely wounded, and died shortly thereafter (Wikipedia: Casimir Pulaski).

At the National Gallery of Art

Edvard Munch: Man’s Head in Woman’s Hair: It is unclear whether the woman is imagined by the man, or if the man’s head floating in the woman’s hair is a figment of her mind…Perhaps she is thinking of him sympathetically, or he is recalling a woman he encountered.  One figure conjures the image of the other, producing the image of the thought.

Lee Friedlander: Los Angeles: Friedlander and his new bride, Maria, seem eager to embark on their journey together through life.

Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, California: Maria Friedlander candidly wrote in the introduction to her husband’s 2004 book, Family: “There are no photographs of arguments and disagreements, of the times when we were rude, impatient, and insensitive parents, of frustration, of anger strong enough to consider dissolving the marriage… a book of pictures doesn’t tell the whole story.” Nevertheless, she concluded, Friedlander’s pictures are about “the celebration of the small moment that only Lee saw.  [They are] Lee’s gift to me of my own private memoir in pictures.  I look at it and feel the moments both revealed and evoked, the joy and the hard times – it’s all there.”

***********

Happy February, everyone! 🙂

 

 

 

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variations on a theme: vintage signs on the jersey shore

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Variations on a Theme challenges us to find the endless variety that one thing can contain.  Here is my take on vintage signs on the Jersey Shore.  These were taken in winter, when most of the places were quite deserted.

Beach Shack – Cape May, NJ
Laura’s Fudge – Wildwood, NJ
Island Breeze – Wildwood, NJ
Bird of Paradise, Wildwood, NJ
Scoops, Wildwood, NJ

the december cocktail hour: letting go & moving forward

Thursday, December 28: It’s time for our December cocktail hour, so please, come in out of the cold and get cozy.  Though Christmas is behind us, I can still offer up some holiday cheer, possibly a classic eggnog (will it be bourbon or rum?), a cranberry mimosa, a pomegranate Moscow mule, or just some red wine. For those of you who don’t drink, I have sodas and seltzer water of various flavors.

You may wonder why I’m even serving alcohol in my house.  Maybe you’re even wondering if our alcoholic has been miraculously cured. No, because once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.  It’s just that I’m slowly but surely learning that I must live my life as I see fit, that I cannot fix another person or make them into what I want them to be.  I’m trying hard to let go and let live, and simply to move forward, one day at a time, asking for help from my “higher power.”  Someone recently told me something wise: I have my higher power (however I choose to define that power).  My son has his own higher power, and I’M NOT IT.  Even though I like to think I can see clearly how to fix his problems, I have to let go and let him make his own decisions, even if they’re detrimental. Mainly, I need to work on myself, and figure out what I can change and what I can’t.  What I can change is myself, and what I can’t change is everyone else.

I hope December 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 had any winter getaways? Have you encountered any new songs?  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?  Have you been drinking enough water?

Over Thanksgiving, my daughter encouraged me to add an app to my phone to calculate how much water I should drink every day; it helps keep track of how much I actually drink. It’s called Plant Nanny, and I’m happy to say, I’ve been drinking more water than ever because of it. Normally, I have been drinking about one tall glass of water a day, mainly because I never get naturally thirsty, so I never think about it.  I also don’t like to drink water because when I do, I’m always running to the bathroom!  But now, since Thanksgiving, I’ve been doing pretty well.  I don’t always drink the 6 large containers a day I’m supposed to, but I usually get to five, a big improvement. 🙂

The Plant Nanny app

I’ve been keeping track of area hikes organized by the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group. I ended up joining a 7.7 mile hike around Burke Lake on Saturday, December 2 with a fun group.  I met a lady named Susan who has walked the Camino de Santiago. She belongs to a group called the American Pilgrims on the Camino – Mid-Atlantic Chapter.  She told me about an event scheduled for Saturday, the 9th: a hike followed by a wine-tasting.  I was thrilled to learn about this group and am now on their mailing list.  The group is for anyone who has ever done the Camino or who wants to do the Camino.

Burke Lake
Burke Lake

Susan is the lady in the green jacket. Sadly, it turned out the Camino group hike on the 9th was cancelled because of snow and, since that was the group’s last event of the year, I’ll have to wait until they start meeting again in 2018.

The Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group at Burke Lake

On Sunday, the 3rd, Mike and I went to a special showing of a Belgian movie called Sum of Histories.  It was being shown on this one Sunday as a pilot to see if American audiences would like it.  The director and producer hope to release it in the U.S. next year. The director talked to the audience about the movie after we watched it. I loved it.  It was about two professors who figured out how to send emails back in time.  Rather than attempting to change big historical events, they send an email to alter what happened to one of the professor’s wives; she had been paralyzed by an accident as a child and he wanted to change what happened to her so she would live a normal life. It shows the domino effect that changes in the past have on the present and future, and how messing with the past can have unforeseen consequences.

Thursday, December 7 was Adam’s 25th birthday, and though we’d hardly seen him since our big altercation the previous week, I asked him if he’d eat his favorite fruit pizza if I made it.  He said he would, so Mike and I took him out to dinner at Artie’s and then presented him with the fruit pizza.  This has been his favorite treat since I started making it when he was a child.  It has a sugar cookie dough crust topped with whipped cream & sugar, and various fruits, including strawberries, raspberries, bananas, crushed pineapple, and blueberries.

When he ordered a beer at dinner, I didn’t flinch.  I’m no longer going to comment or even act like I notice when he drinks. I realize now it doesn’t help for me to try to control him, but I can remove myself if a situation gets uncomfortable for me.  It was fine, and we all actually had a nice time together.

Adam and his fruit pizza

I continued taking my 3 mile walks.  Scenes below are from a walk around Lake Newport and Lake Anne in Reston.  I call it my two lakes walk.  You can see it’s getting pretty drab and gloomy here these days.

Lake Newport, Reston
grasses at Lake Newport
Lake Newport
Fall leaves at Lake Anne

When we had a snowfall on December 9, I took a walk around the neighborhood and found a little snow on the bushes.

bits of snow in the neighborhood

On another late afternoon walk, I found a beautiful sunset.  I love the spindly silhouettes of winter trees against the pink-tinged sky.

From December 12-14, I went on a solo mini-escape to Cape May, New Jersey.  It was about a 4-hour drive.  I think I must have picked the most miserable days of the year to go.  It was about 33F degrees, near 0C, and fiercely blustery.  The wind assaulted me with a vengeance as I walked around the town and on a trail at Cape May Point State Park.  It didn’t let up at night, where I stayed on the third floor of the Pink Cottage, but groaned and hissed and sent the house swaying, shutters banging, all night.  I was freezing with the small wall heating unit in the room, insufficient heat for this kind of weather.  The second night, I luckily found a space heater in the closet, which helped. I loved this little getaway, as I always enjoy a solo road trip. 🙂  I’ll write more about this trip in January.

The Merry Widow at Cape May

My hike around Cape May Point State Park was wonderful and invigorating, but my fingers, toes and cheeks were stinging in the icy wind.

Cape May Point State Park
Cape May Point State Park
sea grasses at Cape May Point State Park

On December 17, as we approached the winter solstice, I took another walk through the woods.  It had become more drab and gloomy than it was in early December.  That same evening, Mike and I went to see the Swiss movie, The Divine Order, about a young housewife who organizes the women in her small town to petition for the right to vote. We enjoyed it.

At least there were some glorious sunsets.

sunset in my neighborhood

We’ve still been watching Longmire, Easy, A Place to Call Home, Curb Your Enthusiasm and the Ken Burns documentary on The Vietnam War, all of which we are enjoying.

I finished three books in December: (1) Call it Wonder: an odyssey of love, sex, spirit and travel, by Kate Evans (I met Kate virtually after I left China and she went to China to teach at SCIC, the same college where I taught); (2) The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner; and (3) Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett. I enjoyed all three of them; you can read my reviews on Goodreads, hopefully by clicking on the links.

Finally, we celebrated Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, we went for a fabulous dinner and gift exchange at my sister-in-law’s house, which, as always, was beautifully decorated.

We should be better at taking pictures of the whole family on Christmas, but all we managed to get was a picture of Mike and me.

Mike and me on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts, ate my traditional Christmas brunch, and then played Rummikub, a game we found under the tree from Santa.  We had a wonderful day all around.

our Christmas tree

On Wednesday, December 27, Mike and I took off on a road trip (10 hour drive) to Nashville, Tennessee.  I’ll have to write more about this trip in 2018.

Alex, our oldest son, is taking off on December 30 to start a new phase of his life in Denver, Colorado.  He has a friend there with whom he’ll share an apartment, and he already has a job lined up.  I’ll be sad not to see him as much, but I hope it will be a good move for him, a fresh start.

In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year and I’ll see you again in twenty-eighteen. 🙂

the november cocktail hour – sans cocktails

Thursday, November 30:  It’s time for our monthly cocktail hour again, but this time I’m afraid I can’t offer you any cocktails.  It will have to be a non-alcoholic gathering, as our family has now come face-to-face, in the most unpleasant way, with the full-blown realization that we have an alcoholic in our midst.  I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now, please come in and keep me company.  I could certainly use a listener, and I’d love the distraction of hearing what’s happening in other people’s lives.

I can offer you soda, hot tea or coffee, or even hot apple cider, since it’s getting cold now. We also have tap water, of course, with a twist of lemon or lime, or I can offer you La Croix grapefruit flavored sparkling water.  You all know I love my glass of wine, but I have to save that treat for when I’m outside the house.

“There’s not alcoholic in the world who wants to be told what to do. Alcoholics are sometimes described as egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. Or, to be cruder, a piece of shit that the universe revolves around.”
Anthony Kiedis, Scar Tissue

I hope November has been good to you. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies or performances, binge-watched any television series? Have you encountered any challenges or jumped any big hurdles? Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you embarked on any new endeavors?

Our month started out well enough.  My son’s girlfriend Maddy was still here and he was occupied with her, though he still hadn’t returned to work. I think they had worked out Maddy would pay for everything while here, as he had spent all his money in Australia.  He wasn’t working so had no income coming in.

I was trying to play catch-up with some free webinars offered by a friend of mine, Pooja, under her business name of Daring Daydreamers. I hadn’t been able to attend the live versions, so I was trying to catch up on the first two replays: “Vision Boarding for Success” and “Intentional Mind Mapping,” in preparation for the third one, “Communicating Your Vision with Ease” on Friday, November 3.   After attending this webinar live, I signed up for the two-hour “Business Planning Workshop” which was on the 16th.  Pooja had given all attendees a Business Planning Worksheet to complete prior to the webinar, which was fairly easy to do as I had started creating a business plan before I left for Japan.

I also set a goal for myself to write two draft chapters of my memoir each week, and except for Thanksgiving week, I did just that, although I must admit they are very rough drafts.

I saw a lot of movies this month, probably to make up for not seeing a single movie in the theater in October, and to escape the house.  I go often to Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax on Senior Wednesday for $5.50. I went to see the adorable movie Lucky, about a 90-year-old atheist who, after a sudden collapse in his home, has to accept that his good health may be declining and that his life may be coming to an end.  He’s a gruff but endearing character who gets up every morning and does a few yoga poses in his underwear, puts on one of the five identical plaid shirts he has in his closet, and goes out for a walk, smoking cigarettes along the way and encountering his fellow citizens in his small derelict town. He questions his neighbors’ beliefs and fine-tunes his own along the way.

Mike and I enjoyed a fun vegan taco dinner with our friends Karen and Michael on Saturday, the 4th.  This was the first time we’ve visited them in their new house and we had a great time. On Sunday afternoon, we went together to see The Florida Project, a depressing and hopeless story about poverty and generational problems in the shadow of the make-believe land of Disney World in Florida. It definitely gave us something to talk about, especially how the mother’s behavior in letting her daughter run rampant translated into a bratty spoiled child who didn’t have any likable qualities about her.

November 7 was Election Day and in Virginia, it was an important election as we were voting for a new Governor (Ralph Northam won!), Lieutenant Governor (Justin Fairfax), Attorney General (Mark Herring) and a new delegate for the 67th District (Karrie Delaney). It turned out to be a Democratic sweep, thank goodness, a clear message to Trump that Virginians want nothing to do with his brand of hatred.

After I voted I went to my tailor and asked her to take a picture of my “I Voted” sticker; it was recommended we put pictures on social media to remind others to vote.  It just so happened the picture showed her “Alterations” sign on the window, and I noted on my picture that I voted for “Alterations” in our current government.

Election Day – hoping for ALTERATIONS in our current government!

I found a picture on Pinterest, which I don’t often look at, of a meal that inspired me to make this meal of quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado, arugula & yellow tomatoes.  It was delicious!

my concoction: quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado & yellow tomatoes

On Wednesday, November 8, I went to see Victoria & Abdul, about the aging Queen Victoria and her unusual friendship with a young Indian clerk.  I always love Judy Dench, and she was her superb self in this movie. We’ve also recently watched the first season of the TV series, Victoria, about Queen Victoria’s early life.  Now we just need the middle part filled in.

On Thursday, November 9, I went to visit my father and his wife in Yorktown, but I stayed less than two hours.  I have a fraught relationship with my father and I haven’t seen him since I threw a birthday party for him in September of 2016.  At that party, his wife Shirley told me Dad wanted to cancel three weeks before the party, despite the fact that I did everything in my power to get everyone together for that party, even my sister in California who hates to fly and rarely travels.  Luckily, Shirley talked Dad out of cancelling or I would have been furious.  He told me at that party that he would never make the trip to northern Virginia again (about a 3 hour trip by car under the best of traffic), yet he continues to travel about 30 minutes south of here to visit his wife’s family. He’s also a Trump supporter and a racist, so I really can’t take much of him. I know he’s getting older and more frail, so I try to do my daughterly duty periodically.

After a tense conversation, I left his house and went to Richmond where I met Sarah and Alex at Joe’s Inn, where Sarah has worked as a bartender and waitress for nearly 10 years.  They were finishing up their drinks and Alex had to run off to meet someone, so we shortly left. Sarah and I went by ourselves to share a lovely dinner at Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen.

On Saturday morning I went for a walk in Sarah’s neighborhood of Woodland Park while she took her dog for a slow walk.  The trees were beautiful in her neighborhood.  Then we had a delicious lunch at Chopt Salad at Willow Lawn.

trees in Woodland Park, Richmond
leaves in Woodland Park

I loved all the fallen leaves in Woodland Park.  I don’t know why it makes me so happy to shuffle through colorful fallen leaves in autumn.

colorful leaves on the road in Woodland Park

We celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna on Monday, November 13.  Earlier that day, my son’s girlfriend Maddy left to return to Australia.

This night, though fun while we were out, marked the end of innocence for our family. Little did we know this would be the beginning of a spiraling decline in our son’s life.

me at Maple Avenue Restaurant

At this point, still foolishly believing life was good, we enjoyed our dinner. I had an appetizer of crispy broccoli with panko breading, gold raisins, caraway, and yogurt herb sauce.  It was a little too heavily breaded and deep-fried for my taste; I was expecting a light dusting of bread crumbs. Mike’s appetizer of house spreads was much better: burrata, liver mousse, bacon jam, herb ricotta, currant jam, and crostinis.  For dinner, I somewhat enjoyed my Arctic Char Fillet with fresh herb spaetzle pasta, oregano, and smoky tomato sauce.  Again, Mike’s meal was better: pork confit steak with fingerlings, brown butter, sweet potato, eggplant caponata, and chimi churri.  I’m not generally a pork eater, but this dish was lean and flavorful and surprisingly good.

Finally, to top off our meal, we had fried apple pie with lavender honey, dulce de leche, and old-fashioned ice cream.  This time mine was better than Mike’s Lithuanian Honey Layer Cake with cinnamon, allspice and caramelized honey, and whipped sour cream.

I continued to take my 3-mile walks all over the place, but on this Thursday after our anniversary, on a walk around Lake Audubon, the trees were glowing.

around Lake Audubon in Reston

On Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving, I met my friend Leah in D.C. at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace for brunch and bottomless mimosas.  She lives in San Francisco but comes home to D.C. to visit her father each year around Thanksgiving. Leah got the most delicious Chopped Salad with Buttermilk-Jalapeno Dressing, Market Vegetables, and Popcorn Crawfish, while I enjoyed a small portion of 3 Cornmeal Crusted Chesapeake Oysters served over Andouille Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash.  It was a tiny meal but delicious.  No matter, I was mostly focused on the bottomless mimosas for $20. This Bottomless Mimosa Brunch is hosted every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm with Reggae tunes playing in the background.  We had a great time all around, catching up on our lives while also bemoaning the state of our government in the last year, with the despicable and greedy Republicans in charge.

We passed by Birch and Barley, which looked to be closed but I found out later is not.  I recognized it as the place where my CELTA class colleagues and students went to celebrate after our last day of class in October of 2015.

Mike and I went to Arena Stage to see the musical The Pajama Game on Saturday, November 18 after eating at Masala Art, our favorite Indian restaurant in D.C. Here’s the review in the Washington Post: Splashy ‘Pajama Game’ at Arena Stage Aims to Seduce with 1950s Style. It was fun, and some of the music was great, especially “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which I played on Spotify on the way home.

The Pajama Game was first produced in 1954, with catchy tunes and sexy dance numbers.  The musical’s themes revolve around protest and inequality in the workplace.

The Pajama Game at Arena Stage
Mike at Arena Stage

I finished reading three books this month: first, I finished Water from heaven: An American woman’s life as an Arab wife, by Anne Schreiber Thomas.  I met Anne and her husband when I lived in Oman and she and her husband lived in Abu Dhabi. The story tells of an American woman, Cindy Lou Davis, who met and married Mohammed Ali, a Muslim from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.  Anne knows Cindy Lou and she did a great job of capturing Arab culture in UAE, not too dissimilar from Oman’s.  I also finished Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull, which I really enjoyed.  Lastly, I read the bizarre book, The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris, by Leila Marouane.  I started reading this book because I planned to join a book group that is reading books from all the countries of the world in alphabetical order. The story actually takes place in Paris but it was chosen as an Algerian book, since the protagonist Mohamed Ben Mokhtar, who has Frenchified his name to Basile Tocquard, and his family are Algerian.  If you’re interested in reading my reviews of these books, you can probably find them by clicking on the title links above. 

On Sunday, November 19, Mike and I took a walk along the Fairfax Cross County Trail.  It was a beautiful crisp fall day, but I was feeling a little anxious about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Worried about our son’s drinking, I had counted the number of wine bottles, and was certain that two had gone missing.  I knew when Sarah and Alex came for the holiday, the wine would be flowing and I didn’t know how Adam would cope.

a glowing tree

On Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, I woke up to hear a tense discussion in the basement between my husband and son, and I found a note under my empty wine rack.  I had hidden all the wine bottles on Monday, but on Monday afternoon I had bought two more for the holidays and thought, He wouldn’t dare take these when they’re the last two. The note said, “Sorry for taking wine. I love you.  Thank you.”  Apparently he had drunk the two bottles over the night and was drunk first thing in the morning. A huge argument ensued with screaming and yelling.  Things got so nasty that I threatened to call the police.

Slowly, we all calmed down and had a long talk, made up, cried and hugged.  Later in the morning, I invited Adam to walk with me, again on the same Cross County Trail.  We had such a wonderful day, talking about everything, about how difficult it was for him when in every social situation people are pressuring him to drink, and how he felt powerless.  He talked about wanting moderation, being able to have just one or two drinks, but how he couldn’t seem to stop once he started.  We talked about how it was important for him to go to AA so he wouldn’t have to go it alone, so he could have a community of people who also struggle with addiction. We could send him to rehab, I could drive him to AA, he could join some Meetup groups of people with similar interests so he didn’t feel so isolated. We talked about how he’d cope over Thanksgiving when people were drinking.  We loaded him up with Kombucha, so he could drink that while others were drinking wine.  He seemed receptive.  After our walk, we went to Mom’s Organic Market so he could pick out some healthy food (he’s very picky about the kind of food he’ll eat) and we shared some healthy bowls at the Naked Lunch Cafe.

See how much help I tried to offer?!  See how foolish, and how crazy, I was?

Trees on the CCT

On our way home, Adam told me how he’d like to make some suggestions to his boss to improve his business so his boss wouldn’t be so angry all the time.  It sounds like the business is growing and needs more employees, so I immediately thought of ZipRecruiter, an advertisement I hear every day on Modern Love: The Podcast. (Again, I’m so full of helpful ideas!)  I told Adam that I listen every day to Modern Love and they play the same two ads: ZipRecruiter and Iconundies.com, about pee-proof underwear for women.  We laughed about those and then he was interested in hearing the podcast to hear the advertisements.  It just so happened the next podcast up on my list was this one: “Take My Son To Jail: Modern Love 72.”  The essay, read aloud on the podcast, was about a son who was diagnosed with various things over the years, from autism to schizophrenia, but nothing ever seemed right.  It turned out the son had told his mother at 18 that he wanted to be treated like an adult.  Then he went through a stretch of time where he lied about everything and then stole his mother’s car.  When the police in their small town called the mother, she told them to take him to jail, because he’d said he wanted to be treated like an adult and she was sick of all the lies and his behavior.  She did it lovingly.  Sadly, many years later, the son was found dead in his apartment at age 28 with no known cause of death.

We weren’t finished listening to the podcast when we pulled into our driveway, but Adam wanted to finish listening to it after we got in the house.  As I had just threatened to call the police this morning, maybe he could identify with it. I hoped that maybe he understood where I was coming from.

We hadn’t shared a day that wonderful in a long time. All seemed good.  And hopeful.

“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away. Not only did the sadness go away, but I was fantastic. I was beautiful, funny, I had a great figure, and I could do math. But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”
Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be

a few colorful berries

But. Hope is fool’s folly when dealing with an addict. This is the dilemma. As his parents, we love him and want the best for him.  We want him to be happy and productive and responsible.  We want him to be a man. We are willing to do anything to help him.  And this is where the problem lies. WE CANNOT HELP HIM UNLESS HE WANTS TO HELP HIMSELF.  And though he SAYS he wants to help himself, he doesn’t actually take action to do it. This is where we want so desperately to believe, but we’re fools for doing so.  In our belief that we can fix him, we’re as insane as he is.

Before he left for Australia in mid-September, he was doing so well.  He was working, saving money, paying his debt, working solidly on a podcast which I thought was very well done. He was proud of himself for being clean for 70 days.  But once he got to Australia, he was pressured constantly to drink, and apparently he did drink, so much that he didn’t like how he was feeling and acting, so he quit cold turkey.  He said that weekend after he stopped was hell because everyone else was partying like their lives depended on it and he felt outside of things.

While in Australia, he lost his momentum on his podcast and spent all his money.  And then he brought Maddy home with him, and he promptly got sick and didn’t go back to work.  He and Maddy broke up and she left earlier than she originally planned.  Maybe their relationship was doomed because of the hopelessness of being on opposite sides of the world.  Maddy doesn’t want to leave Australia and he doesn’t want to leave the U.S.  He has no career and no direction and knows he needs to get his life together, but he just can’t seem to muster what it takes.

This is the nature of the addict.

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

treetops and blue sky

Thanksgiving actually went pretty well.  Sarah and Alex arrived, they drank wine and Adam drank Kombucha.  We enjoyed chatting and we all watched several episodes of Fresh Off the Boat together, all bundled together under blankets on the couch in the basement. The next day, we worked together to prepare dinner, enjoyed our huge meal, and then played a rousing game of Malarky together.  It was great fun; I haven’t laughed so hard in ages.  But where all of us could laugh, make fun of ourselves, and relax, Adam seemed on edge, testy.  He always wants to win and takes it personally when he thinks he’s going to lose. He can be condescending and difficult to be around.

The day after Thanksgiving was worse, with Adam staying mostly to himself and Alex working out. Sarah was her easy-going self.  I suggested we all go see Lady Bird together and everybody was up for it. I enjoyed it.  Sarah said it reflected perfectly the struggles of her generation.  I’m sure all my kids could relate to the mother-child struggles, with the mother pushing her child to be the best she could be.

But later, Adam sat in front of the TV, lost in his own thoughts, not talking to Alex or Sarah or any of us.  He was supposed to go to work Friday night, but called in sick.  He should have gone Saturday, but he didn’t then either.  Sarah and Alex left around 11:00 on Saturday, and Adam went back into his shell, seeming more depressed than ever.

“I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy, I didn’t have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. I didn’t make for an interesting person. I didn’t want to be interesting, it was too hard. What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn’t fit the other. I didn’t care.”
Charles Bukowski, Women

On Sunday, Adam got up early and went to work.  He was at work from 7 in the morning till 7:30 at night.Mike and I went for a fun hike at Maryland Heights.  In the evening, we got a text that he was going to his friend’s house.  I know he needs to have friends, but I know these friends like to drink.  I was on edge all night.  He never came home until 9:30 Monday morning.  I didn’t know if he’d been drinking but I couldn’t help but suspect it.  He steered clear of me and later in the day, I found him sleeping the day away in the basement.  I asked if he’d been drinking last night and if he was going to an AA meeting we’d told him about on Monday evening.  He answered no to both and said not to bother him, he was napping.

fallen heroes

Later in the evening, I was determined that we talk to him together.  We went downstairs and told him we wanted to talk to him about going to AA.  Highly on edge, he said he wasn’t going and he didn’t want to talk about it. We insisted that we need to talk about it because our agreement was that he would start going to AA if he lived in our house.  Tempers escalated and things got ugly, ending with him pounding a hole in his door, another hole in the wall, breaking his computer, and picking up an ottoman and trying to throw it at a TV.  He said horrible things to us and was out of control. He told us he was more powerful than us and he became threatening.  I threatened to call the police.

When things escalated even more, the decibel level nearly explosive, I did just what I threatened.  I called the police, telling them we had a domestic situation.  Adam left the house and sat outside waiting for the police.  He wanted to tell his side of the story first, I guess.  It was a horrible night.  I told the police I wanted him out of the house. They told us we couldn’t just throw him out at that moment.  They told me there was nothing they could do unless he actually hurt us.  Wow, that might be too late, mightn’t it?  The officer was a good man, kind and sympathetic. He said, with all his experience over 20 years with this kind of situation, there is nothing we can do to help our son unless he wants to help himself.  He told us our options; we could go to the Sheriff’s Office and file eviction papers, post them on our house, and have him evicted in 30 days. We could file charges for property damages. He suggested we should wait till our tempers had calmed to continue our discussion.  Then he left the house.  I stood up, said I was done talking for the night, and went upstairs to bed, saying I had nothing more to say.  But.  I couldn’t sleep because I could hear Mike and Adam talking for two more hours, voices raised.

Later, Mike told me that in two hours of talking, our son said that when he came home from Hawaii, he spent two full weeks trying to detox by sleeping and spending a lot of time alone. He said Mike didn’t know how much he suffered because he was at work all the time (I was in Japan).  He said he really does want to change.

I won’t believe it until I see it.  I’m ready to file eviction papers at a moment’s notice, but I said I’d see how it goes over the next week.  I hate the thought of evicting him in the middle of winter, but I don’t know what else to do.  We have absolutely no control over him and I actually feel threatened in my house. 

“You’re walking down Fool’s Street, Laura used to say when he was drinking, and she had been right. He had known even then that she was right, but knowing had made no difference; he had simply laughed at her fears and gone on walking down it, till finally he had stumbled and fell. Then, for a long time, he stayed away, and if he had stayed away long enough he would have been all right; but one night he began walking down it again – and met the girl. It was inevitable that on Fool’s Street there should be women as well as wine.

He had walked down it many times in many different towns, and now he was walking down it once again in yet another town. Fool’s Street never changed, no matter where you went, and this one was no different from the others. The same skeletonic signs bled beer names in vacant windows; the same winos sat in doorways nursing muscatel; the same drunk tank awaited you when at last your reeling footsteps failed. And if the sky was darker than usual, it was only because of the rain which had begun falling early that morning and been falling steadily ever since.”
Robert F. Young, The Worlds of Robert F. Young

Difficult Valley Stream

On Tuesday night, we watched the DVR of Madam Secretary we had recorded on Sunday. In the show, President Dalton was upset because his son, a drug addict, had checked himself into rehab.  After an international incident in which the U.S., at the President’s insistence, tried to negotiate with Mexico to turn over an imprisoned drug lord to the U.S. to be prosecuted, Secretary McCord tells the President she’s sorry about his son.  He says the worst thing is that no matter how many times his son goes to rehab, and how often he gets clean, he’s always going to have that demon on his shoulder, threatening to send him spiraling again.

Why has it taken us so long to face the fact our son is depressed and an alcoholic?  Sure, we’ve had our suspicions.  But I have tried to normalize it. I know depression runs in our family and all of us have grappled with it.  I remind myself how many young people drink, how much I used to drink when I was in my 20s.  But, then I never drank alone.  I was always able to get up and go to work.  Could I quit after two drinks?  I often didn’t, but could I have?

How many times have we deluded ourselves? I’ve lost count. I had a wonderful day with my son on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my sweet and brilliant son who was once so close to me.  Now, less than a week later, we are in dire straits. I never know when another bomb will drop; it’s like I’m living in a war zone.  He is depressed but refuses to seek help because he doesn’t trust doctors and he refuses to go on anti-depressants, yet he continues to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. He is isolated and lonely, but he won’t go to AA. He thinks he’s more powerful than we are and we can’t force him to do anything. And he’s right about that. If he won’t help himself, how on earth can we help him?

Plainly and simply, we can’t.

But we can’t let him drag us down into his abyss.  That I know.  I am considering options.  I am leaving open the eviction option.  I am considering leaving the house and going to stay somewhere else until he’s out of the house.  I am figuring out ways I can take care of myself and stop offering him help and solutions.  He doesn’t want our help anyway, and in fact resents our meddling.  I will work on myself, as I’m the only one who is any of my business.

“There are millions of people out there who live this way, and their hearts are breaking just like mine. It’s okay to say, “My kid is a drug addict or alcoholic, and I still love them and I’m still proud of them.” Hold your head up and have a cappuccino. Take a trip. Hang your Christmas lights and hide colored eggs. Cry, laugh, then take a nap. And when we all get to the end of the road, I’m going to write a story that’s so happy it’s going to make your liver explode. It’s going to be a great day.”
Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be

I grew up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic and who attempted suicide (and failed) too many times to count.  The first time, she walked in front of a neighbor’s VW van when I was 13 years old.  Another time she drove into a tree. She was in and out of mental hospitals, undergoing electroshock therapy, and she was constantly on cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs.  She was also an alcoholic.  I survived those years by detaching and I’ll have to survive this by detaching.  I love my son deeply, but I’m going to stand back for now. I have to, to keep from going crazy. Until he gets his life together, I need to keep distance between us. The whole environment is too toxic and too heartbreaking.

It may seem strange to be writing about anniversary celebrations, going to movies, reading books, meeting friends, and celebrating holidays in the midst of the hell we are going through.  But that is life, isn’t it?  We can choose to sit around wringing our hands in desperation, hoping that something good will come of all this or, alternatively, bracing ourselves for something horrible to happen. Or we can try to eke out moments of happiness in whatever ways we can in the midst of it all.  I’m going to try to do the latter, for my sanity, which I’m determined to preserve.  I did it when growing up with my mentally ill mother, so I’ll do it with my son as well.

We are at a stand-off now.  I haven’t laid eyes on our son since Monday night, and he lives in our basement.  Mike goes down once a day to check to see if he’s still alive.  I cannot forget our terrifying Monday night and I’m sure he is furious at us.  He probably feels hopeless, and that makes my heart break. But we feel hopeless too. Forgiveness will be slow in coming.

On Wednesday, November 29, I went again to Senior Wednesday to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  This may have been one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  The characters were complex and grew and learned from their experiences.  It gave me a little hope for all of us.

Friday, December 1:  I went to an Al-Anon meeting today at an Episcopal Church I used to attend.  This group works on the 12 steps, one step each Friday at noon. Today, it so happened that they were working on Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It helped me to listen to nearly 20 people share their struggles with the alcoholic or drug addicts in their lives. It helped me feel part of a community, that all is not hopeless, and that I need to focus on myself and to ask for help from a Higher Power.  One thing I learned in Al-Anon today is that I have to trust in my Higher Power, whatever that means to me, and then I have to let go and believe that my son has his own Higher Power who will take care of him.  They said to me: “Keep coming back.”  I’ve dropped into Al-Anon meetings in the past, but only periodically, when things were in crisis mode.  This time, I need to commit to going regularly, at least once a week, if not more.

Many people may be put off by my sharing of something so personal.  But I am a strong believer in deep sharing, rather than superficiality.  Looking at social media, one would think everyone’s lives are fine and glorious things. There is deep shame in society about talking about mental illness, depression and addiction.  But I believe if we don’t talk about it, and we continue to sweep it under the table, it will continue to infect our societies, generation after generation, ad infinitum.

One day, you might be able to read all about all of this in my memoir.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll tell me something about your November, your life, your experiences, whether exciting or challenging.  Anyway, I wish you all a fabulous December and a festive holiday season. 🙂

maryland heights: the overlook cliff trail

Sunday, November 26:  Today is sunny but brisk, a perfect hiking day, so Mike and I take a trip to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park for a post-Thanksgiving hike. Sarah and Alex went back to Richmond on Saturday and Adam is at work, so we have the day to ourselves.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is similar to the Four Corners area in the southwest USA, except that only three states come together: West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. Here at Harpers Ferry, the three states don’t actually touch, but are separated by the Potomac River and the Shenandoah Rivers, which merge here to form one channel. In the Four Corners, four states (Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) meet at a single point. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park includes nearly 4,000 acres of land in Jefferson County, West Virginia; Washington County, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia.

Today we will be walking in Maryland on the The Maryland Heights Trail.  Before we leave the house, Mike proposes we walk the entire circuit on a map he’d printed out. There are two routes on the trail.  You can choose one or both, and he hopes to do both. Since I’ve never been here and don’t know anything about it, I agree that it sounds reasonable, although I’m a little hesitant as my original plan was to go for about a 2 hour hike and then go out for lunch on our way home.

The Overlook Cliff Trail is 2.8 miles, or 2 hours round-trip from the trail head.  The Stone Fort Trail is a loop that branches off the main trail and is 4.7 miles, 3 hours round-trip. Both of these distances are from the trail head, so the total distance is less as the Combined Trail is included in both sections. Mike estimates if we do both the Overlook Cliff Trail and the Stone Fort Trail, it will be 5.3 miles, or 3-3 1/2 hours.  Since we don’t get to the trail head until 11:00 a.m., if we follow Mike’s plan, we won’t be able to eat lunch until 2:30 or 3:00.  I don’t know if I want to eat that late!

There are only two small parking lots near the trail head to Maryland Heights, and we manage to squeeze in on the edge of one.  We leave the car teetering precariously, two wheels on the asphalt and two perched on a couple of boulders in a kind of small gully. We cross the old canal to the towpath, where we walk a bit along the Potomac River to the other parking lot.

Bridge to towpath along the Potomac River

The park was declared a National Historical Park by the U.S. Congress in 1963 and includes the historic town of Harpers Ferry, notable as a center of 19th-century industry and as the scene of John Brown’s abolitionist uprising. John Brown (1800–1859) believed that armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States (Wikipedia: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park).

Potomac River
towpath along the Potomac

We reach the trail head, crossing the canal and the road to begin our ascent.

The Maryland Heights trailhead

The hike promises spectacular scenery, geology, Civil War and transportation history.

The first bend on this combined trail offers a nice view of the Potomac. The trail is a continual ascent, with no flat areas at all.

looking down at the Potomac as we climb
Maryland Heights trail
trees and shadows on the hillside

Veering off the Combined Trail, we stop by the 1862 Naval Battery. Positioned 300 feet above the Potomac River, the Naval Battery was the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights.  Hastily built in May 1862, its naval guns were rushed here from the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard.  Along with a detachment of 300 sailors and marines, the battery was equipped to protect Harpers Ferry from Confederate attack during Stonewall Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862, according to a park sign.

Naval Battery
grasses at the Naval Battery
View across the Potomac to the town of Harpers Ferry

Thwarted that spring, Jackson returned to Harpers Ferry in mid-September 1862, during the Confederacy’s first invasion of the North. Jackson’s three-day siege included an infantry battle on the crest of Maryland Heights on September 13, in which the Confederates advanced south along the ridgetop.  The Naval Battery guns were turned uphill to pound the crest, but orders to retreat forced the Federals to abandon the mountain and this battery.

Looking up from the Naval Battery

On September 22, one week after the Union surrender at Harpers Ferry, U.S. forces returned to Maryland Heights to build fortifications at better locations on the crest and slope of the Heights.  The Naval Battery lost its defensive importance and eventually became an ordnance depot.

After leaving the Naval Battery, we return to the Combined Trail and turn right.

We walk along until we come to a branch in the trail.  We have already walked 40 minutes, all uphill.  A sign at the branch tells us that the Stone Fort Trail, to the left, is a “strenuous but rewarding hike to the summit.  The route passes Civil War forts and campgrounds, scenic overlooks and weathered charcoal hearths.”  It also says the distance is 3.3 miles, or 3 hours round trip!  That doesn’t even include going to the Overlook Cliff Trail, straight ahead, which is described as a “moderate but pleasant hike to a scenic overlook of Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah Valley,” with a distance of 1.4 miles, 1.5 hours round trip.

So confusing!  Mike had estimated the entire hike, doing both trails, would take 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  This sign is telling us that from this point, after already walking 40 minutes, that if we go both directions, we’ll have to hike 4 1/2 more hours.  So, adding the 40 minutes both ways, up and down on the combined trail, the whole hike is turning into nearly a 6 hour hike!!

Mike doesn’t believe this is correct, but I can see the trail and it looks straight uphill and very rocky. I’m dubious.

We decide we’ll go take the Overlook Cliff Trail. At this point, we walk a narrow, rocky descent to the cliffs overlooking Harpers Ferry.

a tangle of trees

The sign at the branch in the trail tells us that we are “hiking the same mountain road that defeated Federal troops descended on September 13, 1862.  Despite a six-hour resistance upon the crest against a 2,000-man Confederate advance, Union defenders received orders at 3:00 p.m. to withdraw from Maryland Heights and “fall back to Harpers Ferry in good order.”  Forty hours later, with the capture of Harpers Ferry by Stonewall Jackson, Union commander Col. Dixon S. Miles surrendered 12,500 men, including the 2,000 defenders from Maryland Heights.”

Forest on the Overlook Cliff Trail

Now we going down and down the steep Overlook Cliff Trail. I feel like we’re descending nearly half of the distance we ascended to get up here in the first place.  This means we have to climb back up to get back to the combined trail.

The trail is an easy downhill until we get close to the cliff, where we must scramble over boulders to get down.  Finally, we have views of the Potomac River to our right, the town of Harpers Ferry ahead, and the Shenandoah River to the left.

A fabulous view is always worthwhile!

Overlook Cliff view of the Potomac
the Potomac from Overlook Cliff
Potomac River View
Potomac River

Harpers Ferry, formerly spelled Harper’s Ferry with an apostrophe, is the easternmost town in West Virginia. The town’s original, lower section is on a flood plain created by the two rivers and surrounded by higher ground.  (Wikipedia: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia)

The town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, with the Shenandoah River on the left, and the Potomac in the foreground

I visited the town of Harpers Ferry in January of this year.  You can read about it in my post: harpers ferry, west virginia.

view of the Potomac River from the Overlook Cliff

Harpers Ferry was named for Robert Harper, a millwright who continued a ferry operation here in 1747.  The waterpower of the two rivers – harnessed for industry – generated tremendous growth in Harpers Ferry.  By the mid-19th century, the town had become an important arms-producing center and east-west transportation link.  John Brown’s raid and the Civil War brought Harpers Ferry to national prominence.  Destruction from the war and repeated flooding eventually led to the town’s decline.

The town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, at the confluence of the Shenandoah River and the Potomac Rivers

After leaving the overlook, we backtrack to the first intersection.  We had agreed that we’d determine whether to do the Stone Fort Trail after we returned from the Overlook Cliff Trail.  The Stone Fort Trail is described on another sign as “a more strenuous hike, steep in spots, to the summit.  Along the way are weathered charcoal hearths and the ruins of Civil War defenses and military campgrounds.  Scenic vistas reveal Maryland Heights as a strategic mountain citadel on the border between North and South.”

Apparently, according to the National Park Service website (different from the signs!), you “hike one mile uphill past Civil War artillery batteries and through boulders to the Civil War Stone Fort. The trail curves out of the Stone Fort past breastworks and descends steeply over one mile back to the green-blazed trail.” (National Park Service: Harpers Ferry Hikes).

I’m not convinced I want to walk uphill another mile and then downhill on a rocky slope for another mile at this point.  For one, my stomach is rumbling, and two, I wasn’t expecting so much climbing! I suggest to Mike that we come another time and focus just on the Stone Fort Trail, now that we’ve already done the Overlook Cliff Trail.  Luckily, he agrees and we begin our downhill walk, passing once more by the Naval Battery and its pretty grasses.

Back at the Naval Battery on the way down

Now the path has become quite crowded, as the Overlook Cliff Trail is the most popular of the trails.  We don’t see anyone walking up the Stone Fort Trail.

Finally, we finish our walk and manage to get our car out of the precarious spot.  A group in a red sedan is waiting for our spot, but I don’t see how they will park there as the underbody of their car is so low to the ground.  I warn them they may have a tough time. We have a Toyota RAV, so our car sits higher.  As we drive up the road a bit and do a U-turn, we drive past to see the people trying their best to jockey into our abandoned spot.  It looks like they’re either going to hit the cliff or get their car hopelessly stuck.  Oh well, what can we do?  We warned them. 🙂

On our way back, we stop in Purcellville to have lunch at Jose’s White Palace and Cantina.  I get my go-to Mexican meal of a Chili Relleno and Mike gets Yucca Frita Con Chicharon (pork), the “Latin American alternative to French fries,” and a bowl of Posole Con Pollo soup (white hominy chicken and house-made sauce).  Finally, food! 🙂

Total steps today: 13,102 (5.55 miles) – almost half of which was uphill!

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. 🙂