the february cocktail hour: a month of walking & reading

Wednesday, February 28: Welcome to our February cocktail hour! Please, come in out of the cold and keep me company.  This month I can offer you a special Mardi Gras Blackberry Basil Margarita, as our ice maker is now operational. I know it’s already Lent, so for those of you who honorably practice your faith, I can also offer sodas or seltzer water of various flavors.

I hope February has been good to you so far. February has never been my favorite month, except for Valentine’s day, which never quite lives up to the hype, and my husband’s birthday on the 26th.  I’m happy it’s a short month.  I always think of it as a grey and brown month, and my pictures below will confirm that view. It also is a month of preparation for the year.  Since the outdoors is so uninviting, I tend to stay in a lot, reading and embellishing my dreams.

Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new, taken any classes or just kept up with the news? Have you been to the theater or to a concert? Have you been 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?

Preparing for upcoming travels

I’m enjoying immersing myself in my upcoming journeys.  This coming weekend, Mike and I will visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Only a four-hour drive from here, it’s pathetic that I’ve never been. For many years, I’ve overlooked American cities as worthy travel destinations. Now, I keep adding them to my travel plans. Why not take advantage of places closer to home? When I was 23, I took a three-month cross-country trip around the USA and I figured I’d been there, done that. I guess I’ve taken my country for granted.

After all my travels abroad, and after coming to appreciate all the nuances of different cultures and countries, I can more fully appreciate the variations in American sub-cultures and American places.  Even within our small towns and our national and state parks, treasures are waiting to be unveiled.

To prepare, I’ve read two novels and one memoir featuring the city, as well as Moon Handbooks Pennsylvania – the part about Pittsburgh.  Here are the three books I’ve read that feature Pittsburgh:

These books have fueled my imagination and will surely add depth to my visit.  We also watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which takes place in the city.  The movie inspires me to stand up through the sunroof of our car as we drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. 🙂

I created a playlist on Spotify for the trip as well.  Of course, one must have a playlist when taking an American Road Trip!  Here are my Pittsburgh Tunes.

I’ve now postponed my Four Corners Road Trip to May, as parts of Mesa Verde National Park don’t open until May 20. Because of this, I’m working backwards from there, and have plotted out much of my trip, beginning my drive from Virginia on May 1 with a planned arrival in Denver on the evening of May 3 after three 8-hour days of driving.  Mike will join me in Denver and will fly back home from Phoenix after 10 days; we’ll part ways in Flagstaff, and unless my sister decides to join me, I’ll be doing the rest alone. I have a long reading list around this area.

Finally, I’ve started preparing for walking the Camino de Santiago in September.  I found out that the The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela only swings the large incense burners on certain days. I had mistakenly thought they did it every day.  As I really want to be there for the pilgrim’s service where they swing the incense, I will aim to arrive there for the November 1 service on All Saints Day.  This month, I’ve continued reading the three books I mentioned last month. I’ve also increased my walking distances and started going to the gym.

To immerse myself in the Camino experience, I shared Spanish tapas with pilgrims and wanna-be pilgrims at a potluck for American Pilgrims on the Camino in early February. This month, I walked 40 miles in my Keen Targhee hiking boots, 23 miles in Brooks Ghost running shoes, and 4 miles in Merrill trail runners, in an attempt to break in boots/shoes and decide which ones to wear on the Camino.

I hiked 4 miles on the Vienna bike trail.

The Vienna bike trail

It was a gloomy day when I joined the Mid-Atlantic Hiking group on the Gold Mine Area Trails and Great Falls, but at least it didn’t rain. I somehow twisted my knee on this 7.2 mile hike, which got me a little worried. To help build strength in that knee and in my shoulders, I’ve been to the gym twice a week for weight-lifting and doing calisthenics recommended by my son, Alex, who does calisthenics coaching part-time.

Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side
Great Falls, Maryland side

I also hiked 4.7 miles at Bull Run Mountains State Natural Area Preserve with the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group and sipped wines at the Winery at La Grange afterward. We found an old cemetery on that hike.

Bull Run Mountains State Natural Area Preserve
Winery at La Grange
Winery at La Grange

On another miserable Saturday, I slogged 6.4 miles through mud and rain at Fraser Preserve and had coffee after with Susan, a Camino pilgrim I met on an earlier hike.  We were covered in mud and our hair was plastered to our heads!

delectable treats, movies and celebrations

I’ve been whipping up experimental dishes, including a simple pasta with broccoli rabe.  Mike and I ate Thai food at Kobkun Fine Thai Cuisine.  We celebrated Valentine’s Day with sushi, sake and Sapporo at Yoko Sushi.  I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for the second time, since Mike didn’t see it with me the first time I saw it. After, we enjoyed Malai Kofta at Curry Mantra.  I learned more about the complicated Palestinian situation from the movie The Insult, where a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian get into a vicious court case over an insult. After the movie, we tried a new restaurant, Havabite Eatery, where I scarfed down a white pizza.  We shared blackened swordfish tacos and avocado super toast at Earls Tyson’s Corner for a mid-week treat.

pasta with broccoli rabe
dinner at Earls Tysons Corner

Challenges… and life goes on

We stood by helplessly as my youngest son, feeling frustrated by his close friend’s emotional breakdown and the toxic environment at his job, walked out of work without telling his boss he was leaving. A week later, he announced he was taking off to live the life of freedom, or the “hero’s journey,” he envisions – a life where he will “sign no leases, fill out no resumes, work cash jobs, and treat each day as a holy-day.”  I gently suggested that if it’s his philosophy to live that way, he should be a man and stop expecting his parents to bail him out, and he should not expect to come back home except to visit on holidays.  That’s when he said, “Every day is a holy-day!”  Oh dear. There are some things I will never understand, but I know he’s going to live his life how he sees fit, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.  All I can do is choose how I will respond to what he does.  As it was, we parted on good terms, and I wished him the best and told him I love him. I’m working on letting it all go.

Though feeling gobsmacked by our son’s surprise departure, we celebrated Mike’s 64th birthday by having dinner of Zucchini Babycorn Jalfrezi and Gobi Tak a Tin at Masala Art and then seeing Hold These Truths at Arena Stage, about Japanese-American Gordon Hirabayashi’s fight against the US government’s orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast during WWII.  What an appropriate theme for today’s political environment, where immigrants are being excised daily from our society.

Dinner at Masala Art
Hold These Truths

Reading

I finished reading seven more books (14 total for the year), especially loving: The English Major by Jim Harrison and the audiobook of Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I also finished reading The Girl in the Moon Circle by Sia Figiel for an A-Z book group that is reading, in alphabetical order, books from all the countries of the world.  Our group mistakenly thought the book was about American Samoa, but it’s actually about Samoa, to the west of American Samoa. 🙂

The Girl in the Moon Circle

Blogging

I’ve also been slowly working on posts about my travels, finally finishing up my time in Japan (catbird in japan); I’m getting close to finishing with Prague (in search of a thousand cafes). I’m planning to start a new blog in March, unconnected to any of my other blogs, which will encompass all things travel: inspiration, making an art of travel, and creating art from travel.  I hope you’ll join me there when I start it.  Once the blog is live, I’ll stop posting on all my other blogs except this one, where I’ll continue to share things not related to travel.

I hope all is well for you and I look forward to hearing what’s going on with you!  I wish you a happy March!:-)

 

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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.”

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Happy February, everyone! 🙂

 

 

 

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. 🙂

harpers ferry, west virginia

Friday, January 13: On a beautiful Friday in January, just before I was to begin teaching a 7-week session at VIU, I decided to drive to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia for a morning outing.  Before this job dropped into my lap, I had made a schedule for myself that included taking a photo outing every Friday.  Despite getting the job at the last-minute and having to prepare two syllabuses and lesson plans, I went out anyway, determined that I wouldn’t allow this job to ruin my personal goals.  In the end, the outing caused me a great deal of stress over the weekend.  It turned out I would never have time for another Friday outing during the entire 7-week session.

I was glad I went even though it took me longer to drive there than the 1 hr 9 min estimated by MapQuest.

At the Visitor’s Center, I was told there was a 2 1/2 mile hike to the river bluff or a shuttle into the town of Harpers Ferry, where I could get some lunch.  I only had time for one or the other, and I was hungry, so I opted for the town.  The town is supposedly closed off to cars, so I was required to take the shuttle despite having my car.  Later, as I walked through the town, I saw cars driving through, so it was obviously NOT “closed off to cars!”

I was dropped by the shuttle on Shenandoah Street, from which I could see St. Peter’s Catholic Church on the hill overlooking the town.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

I walked down the quiet street, looking at the preserved shops from the 1800s.

Shenandoah Street
Shenandoah Street
Philip Frankel & Co.

At the end of Shenandoah Street, I got a glimpse of the John Brown Museum.  I didn’t go inside because I didn’t want to take that much time.

The story is this:  In October 1859, determined to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory and several other strategic points.  The raid failed, with most men killed or captured.  Brown’s trial and execution focused attention on the issue of slavery and propelled the nation toward civil war. (National Park Service pamphlet)

John Brown Museum

I walked up High Street, which has shops and restaurants.  As it was lunchtime and I was hungry, I searched for a place to grab a bite.

High Street

I stopped by the train station to watch some of the trains barrel past.

I ducked into Hannah’s New Orleans Seafood & Southern BBQ for some lunch. It was bright and cheery, and the Bubba Gump Louisiana shrimp fried in Cajun cornmeal was delicious. 🙂

A lunch stop
Tenfold fair trade collection

After lunch, I walked back down High Street.

High Street

I took the path up to Jefferson Rock.   First I came face-to-face with St. Peter’s Catholic Church.

Irish laborers flooded into the Harpers Ferry area during the 1830s to build the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad.  St. Peter’s Catholic Church symbolizes America’s melting pot tradition and the customs, habits, and religion of the early Irish immigrants.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

During the Civil War, to protect the church from Union and Confederate shells, Father Costello flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutrality.  St. Peter’s escaped the war relatively unscathed. The church was remodeled in 1896 and Mass is offered here every Sunday.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

Further up the path, I found the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of Harpers Ferry’s five earliest churches.  Built in 1852 with money provided by church fairs, St. John’s served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage.  It was rebuilt afterward, but was abandoned in 1895 when a new Episcopal church was built in the upper town.

Ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church
Ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church

Above the ruins sat a pretty house with a grand view.

a fancy house on the path to Jefferson Rock

This is how Thomas Jefferson described the view from Jefferson Rock during a visit to Harpers Ferry in 1783:

“On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent.  On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also.  In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea … This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Looking from the hill to St. Peter’s and the Potomac River

Around 1860, the U.S. armory superintendent ordered red sandstone supports places under “Jefferson Rock” because it was “endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.”

Jefferson Rock

Going back down the hill, I passed the ruins again.

The ruins again
Looking down at St. Peter’s and the Potomac
St. Peter’s Catholic Church
The John Brown Museum below

At this juncture of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, George Washington envisioned military strength and chose Harpers Ferry as the site for a U.S. Armory.   By the early 1800s, the rivers powered the armory complex and commercial mills.  The revolutionary method of manufacturing with interchangeable parts was perfected at the Halls Island rifle factory.

Below is Arsenal Square and the John Brown Museum.

The John Brown Museum
The John Brown Museum and St. Peter’s

I followed part of the Appalachian Trail from the end of Shenandoah Street across the footbridge to the C&O Canal and Maryland Heights.

Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
bridge across the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry
Walking bridge across the Potomac River
Where the Potomac River merges with the Shenandoah

There is a lot of train activity at this juncture of the rivers.

Rail transportation in the United States began in Baltimore, Maryland on July 4, 1828, when Charles Carroll, the only living signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

On the same day, President John Quincy Adams turned the first spade of earth along the Potomac River for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

The race was underway as the progressive railroad and the traditional canal struggled to become the first to connect the Ohio Valley with the east coast.  Harpers Ferry was one of the first milestones of that race.

Trainspotting

Work on the railroad and canal progressed slowly at first, but by 1834 both companies had completed construction to a point opposite Harpers Ferry. The canal had won the race to this point, and it continued up the Maryland side to the Potomac.

The B&O Railroad, plagued by land disputes with the canal, crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry in 1837 and rapidly pushed on.  By 1842, it reached Cumberland, Maryland, and a decade later, the railroad was open to Wheeling on the Ohio River.

the bridge

Business boomed at Harpers Ferry with the arrival of the railroad.  Refrigerated cars brought oysters and other luxuries to the town.  Thousands of travelers visited Harpers Ferry as it became a gateway to the Ohio Valley.

The Civil War shattered Harpers Ferry’s prosperity.  Much of the town was destroyed, and Confederate raiders constantly sabotaged the railroad.  Despite the war, the railroad escaped permanent damage, and the B&O survives today as a main artery of transportation in the United States.

bridge shots

On the other side of the footbridge, I saw the path along the C&O Canal, but I didn’t have time to explore it further.

The C&O Canal was burdened by a lack of building supplies and a scarcity of skilled labor and thus encountered serious financial problems.  It did not reach Cumberland, Maryland until 1850 — eight years after the railroad reached that point.  Plans to continue further westward were abandoned.

Made obsolete by the faster and less expensive railroad, the C&O Canal never attained any great measure of economic success, but it did transport coal, flour, grain, and lumber to Washington for nearly 90 years.  Canal operations ceased in 1924 when a flood devastated the Potomac Valley, leaving the canal in ruins.

the path continues
steps to the other side
playing with color

Today’s view of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers passing through the water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains has changed little from Meriwether Lewis’ view in 1803.  Lewis hoped to find a similar, accessible trade route on rivers passing through the Rocky Mountains.

The first mode of travel consisted of a primitive ferry established in 1733 by Peter Stephens.  Stephens sold his business to Robert Harper in 1747, and Harper and others carried settlers and supplied across the waters until 1824 when a bridge constructed across the Potomac made ferryboat operations unnecessary.

In less than a decade after the bridge was completed, the iron horse and the mule brought the transportation revolution to Harpers Ferry.

Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry

In 1848, the building now known as John Brown Fort was built as a fire-engine house for the U.S. Armory.  On October 16, 1859, it served as a stronghold for John Brown and his raiders, as they were penned into the building by the local militia.  U.S. Marines stormed the building at dawn on October 18th and captured Brown.  Convicted of murder, treason, and inciting slaves to rebellion, he was hanged in nearby Charles Town on December 2, 1859.

John Brown

The Fort escaped destruction during the Civil War, but from 1861-1865, it was vandalized by souvenir-hunting Union and Confederate soldier and later travelers.  In 1891, it was dismantled and transported to the Chicago Exposition, and in 1895, it was rescued from conversion to a stable and brought back to Harpers Ferry to be exhibited on a farm.  Then in 1909, it was purchased by Storer College and moved to campus.  Finally, in 1968, it was moved by the National Park Service to within 150 feet of its original location.

John Brown Fort
Philip Frankel & Co. with St. Peter’s on the hill behind
Looking up at Jefferson Rock
St. Peter’s Catholic Church

After my fun excursion, it was sadly time to return home and get to work on preparing for my classes.  I could have explored a lot more.  Sadly, it would have to wait for another day.

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

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

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

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

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

downtown Harper's Ferry
downtown Harper’s Ferry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wax Museum and Scoops
Wax Museum and Scoops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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