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. 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

summer flowers
summer flowers

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

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

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

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

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

Mom's Siam
Mom’s Siam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the photos taken with the iPhone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

purple
purple

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

little dainties
little dainties

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

flora
flora

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

man vs. nature
man vs. nature

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

log cabin at Meadowlark
log cabin at Meadowlark

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

white flowers
white flowers

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

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

sculpture at Meadowlark
sculpture at Meadowlark

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

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

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

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

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

outreach
outreach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having dinner at Curry Mantra
Having dinner at Curry Mantra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cocktail hour on the mossy patio

Sunday, August 30:  I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve invited you over for a cocktail hour.  I’m so happy to see you!  It’s taken me a long while to get settled in back home here in Virginia.  Please come in and help yourself to a drink. I have some Bud Light Lime, which Mike calls a fake beer but I find cool and refreshing in the summer heat, and some Montes Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you prefer a cool glass of white wine, I have some La Granja verdejo viura, a Spanish wine I picked up at Trader Joe’s.  Though the weather’s warm (88 F today), we haven’t had humidity all week, so it’s quite pleasant outside this evening.  We’ll have a seat on my patio, covered in moss as it as, as there really is nowhere else to sit outside.

me on the moss-covered patio
me on the moss-covered patio

Our house here in Oakton is rather a mess, so I apologize.  Our kitchen and deck badly need replacing, and we’ll be embarking on a major construction project soon to redo the kitchen, possibly knocking down the wall between our family room and kitchen.  We’ll also tear down the deck and replace it with a screened-in porch, and change our laundry room into a mudroom/pantry/laundry room.  Because of this, the only good place I have for us to sit outdoors is on our patio, which is also in a state of disrepair and is covered in that moss.  It’s Virginia, after all, a state prone to damp summers and wild foliage growth, so the moss taking over our patio isn’t a total surprise.

Mike suggested I have the cocktail hour on the patio, and he quipped, “Unlike our mossy patio, no moss will grow on this rolling stone” (meaning me).  He is endlessly patient with me and my restlessness and my wanderings. I don’t know why he puts up with it; maybe he enjoys having a break from me after going on 27 years of marriage (with a 7 year break ending in 2013). 🙂  Anyway, he’s joining us tonight, so you can ask him yourself!

Please, tell me all about you.  Have you been enjoying the last bits of summer?  Have you traveled to exotic lands or had a staycation?  Have you gone to any outdoor concerts or plays?  Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges?  Have you been on any retreats?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners?  Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you harvested fresh vegetables from your garden?  Have you been to the beach, or gone swimming in a lake?  Have you been exercising and eating healthy? Have you been on any shopping sprees?

The one thing I have done most religiously since I returned home is to exercise every day.  I started out walking every day for 3 miles.  I’ve only missed two days since I returned home, so I’m quite proud of myself.  I gained 7 pounds when I was in China, and I was already heavier than I would have liked BEFORE I left for China.  Thus, I have been keeping track of my calories and exercise on my fitness pal, and so far I’ve lost the 7 pounds I gained in China and am working on losing more. Here’s a chart of my weight loss, which mistakenly states that I started at 150 lbs.  My actual weight when I returned from China and California (where I went a little crazy with American food!) was 152.2.  As of today, I’m at 144.8.  I’m really hoping to stick it out and get down to 135!!

Slowly but surely chipping away!
Slowly but surely chipping away!

A couple of weeks ago, I started going to Oak Marr RECenter twice a week to work out with weights.  Last week, I started going to a Zumba class.  I’m so hopelessly uncoordinated, but it’s a great workout and lots of fun! I sweat like crazy for an hour, so it must be doing some good.  I don’t feel so bad about being uncoordinated as there are a bunch of Korean and Japanese ladies in the class who seem almost as uncoordinated as I am.  I’m not going to let it bother me that I can’t get the steps right; I’m just going to enjoy it and poke fun at myself for my hopeless inability to keep up!

While I was in China, I had set up an appointment with a GI for August 3 because I had been so sick in China all year. However, as soon as I got home, all my stomach problems mysteriously disappeared. Hmm.  Since the appointment had already been set up, I went in to see the doctor anyway.  He was baffled as to why I had come in, and he told me to keep eating healthy and exercising and I would probably continue to feel fine.

I helped Alex, my oldest son, move to Richmond at the end of July.  He’s now attending Virginia Commonwealth University, where he hopes to get a degree in Exercise Science.  His sister, Sarah, already lives in Richmond and should finally finish her degree in English at the end of the fall semester.  Here is Alex’s new house and him in his room with his sister. Sorry the pictures are a little blurry, but my camera has been acting up.  I will need to be looking for a new camera sometime soon, possibly by my birthday on October 25. This will be my 60th.  Ouch. 🙂

Alex's new abode in Richmond
Alex’s new abode in Richmond
Alex's room
Alex’s room
Sarah and Alex in his new room
Sarah and Alex in his new room

Other than exercising, I’ve been working on a 5-hour free grammar course (more like 10+ hours!) and a pre-task for the course I’m taking beginning September 21 at Teaching House, which runs the University of Cambridge CELTA (the Certificate in English Language Teaching), the most widely accepted TESOL program in the world.  It’s a month-long highly intensive course. I think I won’t have a life during that month, or in the coming weeks, as I prepare for the course.

I was surprised on Thursday, August 6, to get a text message from one of my Chinese students, Christine.  She wrote that she was on a train from New York to Washington with her mother and they hoped to take me out to dinner in Washington.  It turned out that Mike and I trekked downtown and took Christine and her mother to the Lincoln Restaurant.  Christine’s English is not bad, and her mother could understand and speak limited English.  When the server tried to explain the complex dishes, such a far stretch from Chinese dishes, Christine said immediately that all she wanted was meat.  She ordered the plate of BBQ ribs, and we had to demonstrate how she should eat them! The plate was almost as big as she is.  Neither she nor her mother had any interest in the small plates Mike and I ordered: Ricotta gnocchi, Shrimp & Grits, and the Pennsylvania Chicken Pot Pie.  When the waitress put the Shishito Pepper Hush Puppies on the table, Christine asked tentatively: “Is that dog meat?” We were taken aback momentarily by her misunderstanding of the word “puppies,” and we all got quite a laugh out of it. 🙂

Christine, me, and her mom, Li
Christine, me, and her mom, Li
Li, Christine and Mike
Li, Christine and Mike
Me with Mike
Me with Mike

Our dinner with Christine was on Friday, August 7, and on Sunday, the 9th, Mike and I went downtown to Arena Stage to see the emotionally moving musical, Dear Evan Hansen. The play explores how far we’ll go to fulfill our need for connection.  According to the playbill: “In our social media world where ‘friend’ is now a verb, and we only share the highlights of our life, what happens when we reveal our true thoughts and feelings?”  The sets were wonderfully done, with columns displaying Tweets and Facebook posts and rotating sets of Evan’s bedroom and the living room of a family whose son committed suicide.  The opening number of the play brought tears to my eyes, as I know how isolating our digitally connected society is for young people, and frankly, for all of us.  It was a phenomenal performance.

The following weekend, August 14-16, I went to Richmond to have dinner with Sarah and Alex at a Greek restaurant called Stella’s and then drove from there to Monterey in southwestern Virginia, where I attended a women’s mid-life retreat organized by Annette of Beauty Along the Road. I stayed two nights at the Laurel Point Bed & Breakfast, a lovely place overlooking the mountains in Monterey.

Before attending the workshop, we were asked to take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths quiz on the University of Pennsylvania: Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center.  It seems anyone can take this quiz, so you might try it yourself.  I found after taking the quiz that these were my top five strengths:

  1. Curiosity and interest in the world
  2. Love of learning
  3. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  4. Fairness, Equity and Justice
  5. Humor and playfulness

We did a lot of interesting activities on the retreat, including making a timeline collage of our lives.  Here’s mine:

My timeline collage
My timeline collage

We also brainstormed as a group the issues women face in mid-life; we wrote a letter to someone who we feel has held us down in our lives and then we burned that letter; we did individual brainstorms in answer to the question: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? We also visualized what our life what will be like in 5 years and then we created a plan of action for the next year to achieve that goal.

To make ourselves accountable, we were asked to declare our intention. My intention is to have my novel published in one year, by August 16, 2016.  Here are the steps with a timeline to reach that goal:

  1. Research agents at the library and online and from books I like.
  2. Find at least 10 agents by August 31 and note what each agent requires: query letter, synopsis, number of pages/word count, format of 1st 50 pages or first 3 chapters.
  3. Finalize my query letter by September 20.
  4. Write my synopsis by October 31.
  5. Send out whatever is required to 10 agents by November 30.
  6. Repeat the process and find 10 more agents.  Sent next 10 queries to agents by January 31, 2016.
  7. Continue to repeat this process.
  8. If I can’t get anywhere, look into self-publishing.

Next we had to list the obstacles we might encounter.  Mine are:

  1. My word count is 107,000 and most agents won’t look at a novel over 100,000 words.
  2. My query letter needs work.
  3. I haven’t written a synopsis.
  4. I may need to edit the novel again.
  5. Procrastination.
  6. Lack of knowledge of the proper steps to take.

We also had to list some allies who might be able to help us achieve our goals.

At the end of the retreat, we each took a seat in a special chair while everyone said words about us that were recorded by a group member.  Here are the kind words that people said about me.  I was humbled and flattered by the whole process and will keep these words with me to look at whenever I get discouraged.

The final wrap-up
The final wrap-up

The retreat was a wonderful experience.  I learned a lot about myself and the issues other women are struggling with.  I hope I can stay on track with my big goal despite the time commitment of my upcoming CELTA course. I’ll be reflecting often on what I learned at that retreat. I highly recommend it for other women in the area.

Other than my constant exercising, household chores, de-cluttering, moving my kids out and onward, and attending the retreat, I’ve also seen some interesting movies in theaters, including A Borrowed Identity, Trainwreck, Samba, The End of the Tour, Phoenix, Ricki and the Flash, and Mr. Holmes. You can see I’ve been busy making up for the time I lost in China! I’ve also watched the last season of Last Tango in Halifax and have gotten involved in the Danish political series, Borgen. I’ve also been watching some of the series Rectify.

As for books, I’ve read I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum and Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, both of which I loved!  I’m now reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which I’m also enjoying immensely. 🙂

I’ve eaten at Lebanese Taverna, Cafesano (Italian), Saba’ Yemeni Restaurant and Guapo’s (Mexican).  I’ve been shopping for healthy foods at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and trying to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and watching my portion sizes. Other than an occasional treat of cheese and chili rellenos, I’ve been pretty self-disciplined!

Most of my friends know how I love to shop. I’ve been on a few shopping sprees mostly to buy various types of jeans and some cute tops, and even a kimono wrap thingy. I hardly wore jeans at all in Oman or China because it was just too hot, and I realized I didn’t have any that fit me.  So, yes, I’ve done a little shopping and I’ve probably gone a bit overboard.  Here’s me at some of my recent weights and wearing some of my cute purchases.  I do love fashion, but it sure helps if you’re tall and thin, neither of which I am!

As for reverse culture shock, I haven’t experienced it as much this time as the first two times I returned home from abroad. The main reason is that I’ve let go of all expectations.  I don’t expect any friends to contact me, and slowly but surely, I’ll make an effort to contact those people I’d like to see. I find myself weaning out my list of friends each time I return as I don’t feel like bothering to contact people who never make any effort with me.   After all, what’s the point?  There are people I love and care for: people who don’t judge me and people who make me laugh and people with whom I have a shared history; those people will continue to be part of my life.  As for anyone new I meet, I’ll be happy to share my life with them if they’re interested in doing so!

I’m so happy that you joined me tonight for cocktail hour on the mossy patio. I hope you feel relaxed, even though you had to listen to a lot from me!  I can’t wait to hear about what you’ve been up to; hopefully it’s something that has brought you laughter, peace, tranquility, and even adventure.  I’ll try to have a cocktail hour more frequently, so we don’t have quite so much to catch up on.  Please, do come back and join me again!

Hugs to each of you! 🙂

 

 

coming full circle: summertime amidst virginia’s flowers

Monday, August 4: Last summer, when I first arrived back in Virginia after two years away, I visited Meadowlark Botanical Gardens around this same time, in early August: meadowlark botanical gardens & the new korean bell garden. Here I am, a year later, visiting the gardens again as I prepare to take off again to exotic lands.

I finished teaching my summer classes last Friday, and now I have a bit of a break before I go to China.  Mike and I are going on a week-long trip to Puerto Rico from August 9-16; we both could use some fun and relaxation after everything we went through in July.  It looks like I’ll be flying out from here on August 30 to get to Nanning by September 1.  Most of the rest of my time will be filled with wrapping up details here in Virginia and getting ready to go.

This morning, I take a walk through Meadowlark Botanical Gardens to see the summer flowers in Virginia one last time.  I’m sure Nanning, the capital city of subtropical Guangxi Province, will have plenty of pretty flowers of its own, so I’m not worried.  I’m sure both Puerto Rico and China will have plenty of interesting sights to see!

I begin my walk at Meadowlark at 10 a.m., as soon as they open their doors.  I’m delighted to find this sculpture has been moved closer to the entrance, and it’s now surrounded by pretty flowers.  It used to sit in a spot off the beaten path, and with no flowers around it.  I love its new home.

This sculpture has a new home.
This sculpture has a new home.

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

For practical reasons, I probably won’t be posting any more photos on this blog for quite some time.  My upgraded media storage expires on August 13, and as I’ll only be in Virginia for less than two weeks, it doesn’t make sense to renew it for now.

idyllic scene
idyllic scene

If you want to see my travels in Puerto Rico, I’ll be posting on this blog: notes from north america.

For my time in China, you can check out a blog I started when I visited Beijing in fall of 2010:  catbird in china.

I’ve heard Facebook is blocked in China, so I won’t be able to post anything on there.  I’m not even sure I’ll be able to blog.  But if I am, these places are where you’ll find me!

a day trip to solomons, maryland ~ a taste of real summer :-)

Tuesday, July 29:  The heat and humidity certainly indicate that summer is here in northern Virginia, but as we don’t live near the water, it doesn’t seem like summer.  I grew up in southern Virginia, near Wormley Creek off the York River and not too far from Virginia Beach.  We used to spend our summer days either crabbing from a dock, swimming in the creek, river or ocean, motor-boating, sailing, water-skiing, or lying on the beach slathered in coconut oil.  Everything revolved around the water.  Here in northern Virginia, summers are simply an annoyance.  I hate the heat and humidity when there are no sea breezes and no water activities nearby.

I’ve been wanting to visit Solomons and Calvert Cliffs in southern Maryland, less than a 2 hour drive from my house, but I’ve not been able to find the time to go for an overnight.  I’ve also been hesitant to fight the traffic headed to the beach every weekend.  So today, a Tuesday in the middle of my work week (I teach Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings), I decide on a whim to hop in the car and go to Solomons for the day.

Solomons was actually an island until about 1868, according to Moon Handbooks: Maryland & Delaware.  Isaac Solomon, who developed oyster canning in Baltimore, purchased “Sandy Island” and built a processing plant at the northern end.   The channel that separated the mainland from the island was gradually filled in with oyster shells until only a ditch remained.

I get a late start since I decided to take this trip at the last minute.  By the time I arrive, I’m just in time for lunch at Solomons Pier.

Solomon's Pier
Solomons Pier
Blackened shrimp tacos for lunch
Blackened shrimp tacos for lunch

My lunch is wonderfully pleasant.  The weather is superb today, in the high 70s.  A cool breeze blows off the Patuxent River.  I haven’t had such a pleasant moment all summer.  I want to sit here all day and bask in the sun and the breeze and the sight of the sun reflecting off the water.  But alas, there are sights to be seen, so off I go for a walk along Patuxent Avenue.

I come across this charming little Episcopal church, St. Peter’s.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

Beside the church are some pretty irises.

flowers beside St. Peter's
flowers beside St. Peter’s

I walk south of the pier and see the view of Solomons Pier and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge, which crosses the Patuxent River to St. Mary’s City.

Solomon's Pier
Solomons Pier
Solomon's Pier and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge
Solomons Pier and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge

Along the south shore, piers jut into the water and boats bob in the waves.

Piers south of Solomon's Pier on the Patuxent River
Piers south of Solomons Pier on the Patuxent River
Sailboat on the Patuxent River
Sailboat on the Patuxent River

I find this cute little shop, with these two polished old-fashioned bicycles out front.

Solomon's Gallery
Solomons Gallery

As I walk further south into a quaint neighborhood of weathered houses, I see more piers and boats.

weathered house
weathered house
piers
piers
pier with kayaks
pier with kayaks
flowers and pier
flowers and pier
boathouse, pier and the bridge in the distance
boathouse, pier and the bridge in the distance
a duck poking around in the grass
a duck poking around in the grass

I veer left down Charles Street where I find a marina full of boats but not a human in sight. I find these gauzy curtains dancing in the strong breeze.  They seem ghostlike in this deserted place.

the wind whips around these gauzy curtains at the abandoned marina
the wind whips these gauzy curtains about at the deserted marina

There are plenty of boats waiting patiently for their owners.

boats at the marina
boats at the marina
piers
piers
a yellow catamaran
a yellow catamaran
catamaran, another angle
catamaran, another angle
a cozy little boat, flip flops and all
a cozy little boat, flip flops and all

As I walk among the boats at this marina, not a soul is in sight.  The wind is gusting and the boats seem to be conversing in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, whining.  They seem a little lonely today.

electric chargers look like rigid little men, waiting to be put to use
electric chargers look like rigid little men, waiting to be put to use
Hello, Miss Betty
Hello, Miss Betty
pretty sailboats all in a row
pretty sailboats all in a row
a boat with a garden
a boat with a garden
Life buoy, Pump Out Station and ICE
Life buoy, Pump Out Station and ICE
Across Back Creek: Solomon's Yachting Center & Calvert Marina
Across Back Creek: Solomons Yachting Center & Calvert Marina
Fill 'er up!
Fill ‘er up!

Leaving the marina, I pass by this cozy Victorian bed and breakfast, Solomons Victorian Inn.

Solomon's Bed & Breakfast
Solomons Victorian Inn

Walking back down Charles Street, I come across this funky Tiki Bar.  There’s only one client in the open air bar in this early part of the afternoon.

Tiki Bar
Tiki Bar
Hats on Right, Pants Up Tight ~ No Exceptions
Hats on Right, Pants Up Tight ~ No Exceptions ~

I walk around the back where colorful Adirondack chairs, tables and giant heads are scattered about in the sand.

Welcome to the Tiki Bar
Welcome to the Tiki Bar
Which way should I go?
Which way should I go?

Finally, I head back to my car, and I take a parting shot of this old corrugated iron building with kayaks neatly stacked behind little boats filled with grass.

Not sure what this is...
Industrial still life

It’s such a pleasant time at Solomons on this breezy day.  Luckily I discover that it really doesn’t require an overnight stay, as there’s really not much to do unless you have a boat.

I have a mind to hike to Calvert Cliffs next, so I head north about 5 miles and enter Calvert Cliffs State Park, where I’m told it’s a 1.8 mile hike each way to get to the cliffs. I need my exercise after those blackened shrimp tacos, so off I go.