January 1: Usually at the first of every year, I’m full of ambitions for the coming year. I make long lists of resolutions and dream of all the places I’d like to travel, the books I’d like to read, the things I’d like to accomplish. I do make resolutions this year, but I’m not sharing them on my blog, which I have done the last 4-5 years. I don’t do a yearly recap for 2015, which I have also done these past few years. This year, I just don’t have the energy.
Tonight, while our youngest son, Adam, is crashing in our basement, buried under a mound of blankets and self-pity and depression, we escape the tension in our house to walk through the Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights, hoping to find some twinkling of light in the darkness engulfing us.
My enthusiasm for the coming year has been buried under a burden of worry and grief. I have watched as Adam, who was, in the school system’s terms, a “gifted” child — a person I’ve always seen as someone who could accomplish anything in his life — has self-destructed and is crashing in our basement. In the past few months, I’ve watched as he’s alienated everyone he’s known by trying to push his radical ideas down everyone’s throats. He can’t accept people for who they are and is constantly trying to change everyone. He believes he needs to save the world from self-annihilation.
At the beginning of December, his housemates kicked him out of his house in the middle of the night. He suddenly showed up at our house, loaded up with all his stuff, and dumped it all in our house. After he tried to start several businesses that didn’t take off as he hoped, I could see his heartbreak, and his shame, over his failure. He has now given up and crashed in the basement, curtains pulled, curled up in a fetal position, surrounded by darkness. He has lost all his confidence; he’s lost his way. His emotions have taken control of him, and I’m watching him suffer more than I’ve ever seen anyone suffer.
We’re at wit’s end, not knowing what to do. We want him to get help, but he refuses. We know we’re finally at the point where we have to clamp down and initiate what people call “tough love.”
Tonight as we walk around Meadowlark Gardens, we talk about what our options are. We decide to give him 6 months to get his act together. We’ve already told him we want to have a talk with him at 4:30 tomorrow. We need to formalize this so he’ll be prepared, and awake. We will tell him we will move him into an apartment in Richmond, where his sister and brother live, a town full of young people, a great food scene, and urban gardens. After all, he can’t afford to live on his own in northern Virginia, and living in our house is no longer an option. Besides, as he’s alienated all his friends, there is no longer anything holding him here. We will support him the first month, then each month our support will be reduced by 1/6 until he is on his own. We have to co-sign on the apartment and we have to pay a premium so our obligation is no longer than 6 months. After that, we’re cutting him loose.
He lacks a purpose, a work ethic, stick-to-it-iveness, confidence, emotional fortitude. I think he wants to be a success, but he’s too easily defeated. He refuses to go to school, believing instead that he can educate himself. He does a lot of reading on his own, but I believe that lack of a college education will hurt him in the long run. Skipping the whole college experience, one I think is necessary for a young person to transition to adulthood, has thrust him into adulthood before he’s adequately prepared. But of course, he won’t listen to his parents. He knows more than everyone.
I love him so much, and it breaks my heart to see him suffering. I want him to get psychological help, I want him to get on medication, I want him to go to college, I want him to get a job and keep busy and get control of his emotions. But he’s an adult, and we can only sit by and watch while he makes his own decisions. He’s closed himself off to all advice we offer. We can no longer control him, but we can refuse to support him financially. That is our only option.
So, tonight, we go walk around Meadowlark Gardens with heavy hearts, a feeling of gloom and hopelessness all around us. Maybe there is some scant light to be found here. We can lay down what we will do and what we will not, and then we must hand him over to a higher power. We simply have to continue to love him and to trust that things will eventually work out well for him.
On January 8, one week from today, we will move him to Richmond. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that he will get his act together, and find some peace of mind and some successes in his life.
We were having a fun time and everyone was upbeat until I mistakenly made a comment which upset Adam. The evening suddenly became very tense. I remember when Adam was about 4 years old; he threw a temper tantrum at his own birthday party because he wasn’t getting his way. We had to put him in his room for a time-out at his own birthday party! This kid is a tough one, but of course I love him dearly!
Aeryn, Adam and Mike
Aeryn and Adam
Thursday, December 24: On Christmas Eve, we have our family tradition of visiting Washington National Cathedral. First we take a walk around the Cathedral.
It’s quite a warm today for Christmas Eve, but it’s also rather dreary.
Mike, Adam and Alex
Mike, Adam and Alex
looking straight up
Mike and me on the Cathedral steps
Inside the Cathedral
Stained glass windows
me in the cathedral
Alex, me and Adam
Mike near the iron door
in the crypt
another altar in the crypt
Adam, Alex and Mike with the mosaics
After walking around the Cathedral proper, we walk through the crèches on display during every holiday season. Below is my favorite, created by Zulu tribeswomen in South Africa. Each fabric figure is almost completely covered with tiny, individually hand-sewn glass beads. Even the zebra and lion come to pay homage to the Christ Child.
The Mexican beaded nacimiento was made by the Huichol Indians, noted in Mexico for the degree to which they have preserved their native speech, religion and culture. The Wise Men bear gifts in the form of stylized flowers. A tiny native frog also witnesses the holy birth.
The Polish form of nativity is called a Szopka and is traditionally associated with the city of Krakow. Szopka makers utilize colorful candy and gum wrappers, as well as specially made foils.
The pottery nacimiento from El Salvador shows a small brown frog attending. A tortilla maker, complete with her grinding stone is also present at the birth, as is a little shepherdess wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
The Jordanian nativity was created at the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp, then in Jordan. It features clothing that is thought to be similar to that worn by Mary, Joseph and the shepherds on that first Christmas Eve.
The Kenyan hand-carved crèche includes additions to the traditional animals of ox and ass, including an African antelope, and both a mother and baby elephant and rhinoceros, all commonly found in Kenya.
The Indonesian mahogany crèche was made by physically challenged people on the island of Java.
The Bolivian fabric nacimiento was made by the Aymaras and Quechuas Indians from the Altiplano region. Each of the figures is wearing the native dress of the Bolivian Highlands.
Mexico – glass beads on terra cotta
Poland – cardboard and foil
El Salvador – pottery
Jordan – fabric
Kenya – wahuhu wood
Colorado – gourd and polymer clay
New Mexico – pottery
Virginia – corn husk
Indonesia – mahogany
Michigan – wood
Bolivia – fabric
Bolivia – fabric
After browsing through the crèches, we take the elevator to the tower where we have some sweeping views of northwest Washington.
view of northwest Washington from the tower
Washington National Cathedral
view from the tower
We can see the Cathedral gardens below, so we take the elevator down and take a stroll through the gardens.
It’s plenty warm today, although a little damp.
Alex in the garden
After we leave the Cathedral, we always stop at the Lebanese Taverna Market for lunch. Then we go home to relax awhile, and finish any last-minute wrapping, before we go to Christmas eve dinner at Mike’s sister’s house. Barbara loves to decorate for Christmas. She still lives in her mom’s (my mother-in-law Shirley’s) house. Though I was in China last Christmas, the first Christmas since Shirley died in July of 2014, this Christmas just wasn’t the same without her. I really miss her.
We enjoy a wonderful dinner, eat lots of cookies and Barbara’s famous gold rush brownies, and exchange gifts.
mantel still life
Christmas Eve table setting
Friday, December 25: On Christmas morning, it’s just Mike and I and the boys. Sarah is spending Christmas at her dad’s house in Virginia Beach, so we’ll go visit her later. Barbara comes over later for our Christmas brunch, also our family tradition. I don’t know why I forget to take any pictures of us on Christmas day!
Wednesday, December 30: We drive to Richmond to take Sarah her gifts and have lunch with her. Then we go to visit my dad and stepmother in Yorktown, where we spend the night.
Thursday, December 31: Heading home, we drive up Route 17, a much quieter drive than I-95, to Fredericksburg. On our way back, we stop for lunch at Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant in Tappahannock, where I have crab cakes and Mike enjoys fried oysters. Lowery’s is the restaurant where my mom and dad used to always stop for lunch when they came together to visit me in northern Virginia. My dad doesn’t get up to visit us much these days as it wears him out too much to travel.
Mike at Lowery’s
Me at Lowery’s
That was the end of our December, and a quiet end to 2015. As a matter of fact, I was asleep by 10:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, snoring right through the New Year! 🙂
Sunday, December 13: Today, we go downtown to check out the Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, to try to get into the Christmas spirit and to escape from our house.
Our youngest son (23) is crashing in our basement after his latest disaster. At the beginning of the month, his housemates in Maryland asked him to move out of their house because of a disagreement. I imagine he is mostly to blame. After a couple of his business ideas crashed and burned, he sank into a depression where he was basically sleeping every minute of the day. It has been a very tough time for us, seeing him suffer and knowing that he is self-sabotaging his own life and squandering the gifts of his intelligence and all the things we’ve given him. He really needs psychological help but refuses to get it. We’re coming to the end of our rope with him. Today, we just need to get out of the house and have an enjoyable outing on our own.
At the holiday market, we look in on all the booths and stop to listen to some Christmas music.
We come first to “Eye Pop: The Celebrity Gaze,” featuring Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Peter Dinklage, Eminem, Michelle Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, Eva Longoria, Serena Williams, and Kobe Bryant, to name a few. This exhibition features 53 portraits of luminaries who have been at the top of their fields.
In the ongoing collection “American Origins,” a “conversation about America” is on view in a series of 17 galleries and alcoves chronologically arranged to take the visitor from the days of contact between Native Americans and European explorers through the struggles of independence to the Gilded Age.
We are enjoying our lazy afternoon, so I don’t do my usual identification of paintings. I present them here simply for your enjoyment, without any identifying tags.
We then walk back out through the atrium where the poinsettia and the twinkling white lights evoke the holiday spirit.
Though we are trying hard to enjoy the outing, it’s tough because we’re constantly worried about our son and trying to figure out what to do with him. We know we have to take the tough love approach, but we’re not really sure how to go about it at this point. He’s become a huge black cloud hanging over us. We love him and want him to succeed and be happy, but we know that unless he gets professional help, it’s doubtful that will happen.
The outing is a short escape from what we’re dealing with at home, and it does feel like a slight relief. Sometimes life is a struggle. I guess I can’t complain too much; after all, we are lucky in so many ways. I just hope we can figure out what to do with him before he’s irrevocably lost to us. 😦
Sunday, December 6: So much for good intentions! I planned to start posting my cocktail hour more regularly after I wrote the last one on December 1, but here I am only getting to it a month later. Welcome to our between-the-holidays cocktail hour. Forget the patio; we are now moving indoors where it’s nice and warm. Mike tells me he’d rather not entertain until we’ve finished our house renovation, but as we are just getting ready to sign a contract with a contractor this week, that wouldn’t be till the spring. I can’t wait that long to have a gathering with my blogging friends!
Please, come in and make yourself comfortable. I’ve made some hot apple cider, and I also can make you can egg nog drink, alcoholic or not, as you wish. Lots of great wines too and some craft beers.
I’ve been trying to keep up with you on your blogs, but in case I missed anything, I’d love to hear how you’re preparing for the holiday festivities. Have you put up your Christmas tree yet? Decorated your house for the holidays? For my American friends: did you have a nice Thanksgiving? Have you been outside exploring nature? Have you seen any holiday light shows or been to any holiday markets? Have you had your first snow of the season? Have you seen any good movies or read any good books? Have you been to any plays or concerts? Have you completed any house projects?
We just picked up our Christmas tree this afternoon, and it’s now sitting in a bucket of water until we can decorate it sometime this week. Mike put the wreaths on the windows and a spotlight near the front door which illuminates the wreaths. Other than that, I haven’t done anything holiday-related other than to buy myself some Christmas presents, notably a new Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and a telephoto lens. I won’t be opening it until Christmas, but it’s already been delivered. 🙂
Mike and I went on a beautiful hike on Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River on Sunday, November 8, which I wrote about here: a november rock scramble on billy goat trail. The following weekend, we went to Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Sharpsburg, Maryland, where we stayed in a B&B, walked all around Antietam Battlefield, and had a wonderful time celebrating our anniversary. More about that later. 🙂
I had a fabulous Thanksgiving on November 26 at my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland. My sister Stephanie from California and my brother Rob from New Jersey couldn’t make it, but my dad and stepmother were there, as well as my sister Joan, her husband Steve and my nephew Seth. Sadly my niece Kelsey, who is now married to Dave, had to go to Dave’s house for the holiday, so she wasn’t there. However, in a rare alignment of the stars, all three of my children were in attendance. It was a wonderful day.
We drove 2 1/2 hours to Salisbury and when we arrived, my sister was busy cooking. The table was already set. We visited and hung out while the turkey cooked, drinking wine and eating cheese & crackers and smoked oysters.
Mike asleep on the couch
Seth, caught by surprise!
Sarah and Alex
Shirley and Dad
Dad and Shirley
Joan and Steve, perfect hosts as always, made sure everyone was happy and had what they needed.
Some of the kids and Mike threw a football around in the front yard. Mike somehow ruptured the tendon on one of his fingers, causing it to dangle at the joint. Later he found out from the doctor it’s called mallet finger. As an ex-football player, he was quite embarrassed about it!
Mike took a picture of my sister and me out by the pool.
When dinner was finally served, we all loaded up our plates and joined each other around the table for a wonderful meal.
After dinner and dessert, we drove back home to northern Virginia. The next morning Sarah wanted to invite her Aunt Barbara, Mike’s sister, over for brunch. We had a somewhat healthy version of huevos rancheros and bacon and waffles.
I finished reading Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan on November 24, which I really enjoyed. Then I dove right in to The Outside of August, by Joanna Hershon. I find this story intriguing because it’s told from the point of view of a daughter whose mother, Charlotte, is always escaping to foreign lands. They can’t really figure out what she does when she goes away, nor why she feels compelled to always leave. The family feels the mother’s absence intensely when she’s absent, and they seem to always be waiting for her return. Of course, I can identify with this story as I can see a lot of myself in that mother. It’s interesting that it’s told from the children’s point of view, and focuses on how her absence really affects the children. Of course, in my all-too-real life, I can see the effect my absence has had on my children, although they insist that they are proud of me for following my dreams and for my bravery and adventurous nature. They say one thing, but their actions often speak differently. I’m nearly finished the book and am anxious to discover why the mother always felt the urge to escape to exotic lands. Maybe it will tell me something about myself that I don’t know.
I went to see the movie Steve Jobs. It was an excellent movie and it just so happened Adam was home on the afternoon I was going to see it and asked to come along because of his fascination with Jobs. Adam is brilliant, and like Steve Jobs, he doesn’t see the need to go to college. He wants to change the world like Jobs did, but in a way that involves permaculture, organic farming, etc. At this moment, I can see Adam struggling to find a direction and I wish with all my heart that he’d reconsider going to college. One thing I’m figuring out is that I cannot force my children to do what they don’t want to do. It’s a losing battle, and I’m learning to give it up. I have to step back and give them the reins and see what they can figure out on their own. But I must admit it’s frustrating to see such a struggle going on with him when he could have it so easy.
Mike and I went to see Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and, another night, we went to see singer Madeleine Peyroux at The Barns at Wold Trap. I really loved the movie, Spotlight, in which journalists in Boston took on the Catholic Church over the abuse of young children by priests. I was less impressed with Brooklyn, about an Irish immigrant girl. It seemed tedious and predictable.
I had a goal to send off my novel to 10 agents by the end of November, but I only sent it out to five. I don’t know why I’m so resistant to putting it out there. Of course I’m afraid of rejection, but shouldn’t I be more afraid of it sitting on my computer, unseen by anyone, as it has for the last twelve years? I hope to send it out to at least five more agents by year-end.
I’ve been doing way too much shopping, such a foolish thing to waste my time on. But I find myself in the house all day and feeling trapped. I just have to get out and see other human beings. I’m considering signing up for a real estate course just for something to do where I can get out with other adults. I’ve always enjoyed looking at houses and my banking background will come in handy. I don’t really want to teach ESL in America as the pay is horrible for the amount of work required. And now, I don’t want to go abroad because I need to stay home for various reasons, mainly my children, Mike and the upcoming home renovation.
In 2000, I did The Artist’s Way 12-week course. Doing that inspired me to write short stories and eventually my novel. Now I’ve decided to undertake The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon. I just started it on December 2 and it will take 12 weeks. Who knows what this might open up for me.
I find myself quite depressed about all the violence that is happening in the world, especially related to ISIS: the Paris shootings, the Beirut attacks, the downing of the Russian plane, the recent killing of a governor in a state in Yemen. The killings in San Bernardino this week by a husband and wife who pledged their support to the caliphate. Will the violence ever end? I have that same uneasy feeling I had after September 11, the time period during which my novel takes place. I wrote the novel at a time when I felt shaken by world events, and those events keep repeating themselves in different forms today. I don’t begin to know the solution to dealing with the ISIS caliphate and their violence-with-a-vengeance campaign. I don’t even know if people such as these, people who are so hell-bent on forcing their world view on all of us, can be bargained with in a non-violent way. Would they be wiling to bend, even a little?
Here in America, we have our own brand of terrorism as well, with disenfranchised and alienated people taking their anger to the extreme by grabbing an easy-to-access weapon and randomly shooting innocent people. I can see the alienation that is taking over our country and we should work on correcting that deep issue rather than thinking more gun laws will solve what I see as symptoms to the problem. I am for some gun control, especially for assault-type weapons, but I also would like to know that when I feel threatened in any way, I can go out and get a gun myself to defend my family.
No matter what, I refuse to be afraid. I will not let these people have power over me, and I hope most Americans will refuse to stand down. I am not going to let someone else dictate to me what my life will be.
Back to more pleasant things. We haven’t yet had any snow in northern Virginia, but we have had many rainy and dreary days. I love to go outside to walk every day, if possible, and the weather has put a damper on that. The weight I lost over the last couple of months is slowly creeping back, so I need to pull back on my eating. But on these cold and dreary days, comfort foods are calling my name. We’ve been making a lot of soups, the perfect remedy to cold winter days.
Here’s one view along my favorite 3-mile walk around Lake Audubon. We’ve had a lot of gray skies like these lately.
We went this past Friday night to Mike’s company’s holiday Christmas party. I haven’t gotten dressed up like that in years, and I have to say, I really don’t like getting dressed up! I’m always so uncomfortable wearing pantyhose and walking in heels. I don’t know why on earth someone can’t invent some comfortable pantyhose!
It was a fun gathering with lots of fantastic food, especially crab cakes and a pasta bar and a great salad bar. It was nice to meet many of Mike’s coworkers. The best thing about the party was this crazy photo booth thing where you got inside and did silly poses and the photo booth printed out a column of pictures. It was so goofy and loads of fun!
Mike all dressed up
Me in rare dress-up form
Finally, on Saturday, we went to Richmond where Mike went to the University of Richmond vs. William & Mary football game and I met Sarah and Alex for lunch at Fresca…on Addison. Later that evening, we picked up Alex and his girlfriend Ariana, and we all went to the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and then had a Cuban dinner at Kuba-Kuba. I’ll post something about that later. It was great fun and got us all in the mood for the holidays. 🙂
I know I’ve talked a lot about what’s been going on with me, but I hope you’ll tell me what’s happening with you in the comments. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Hugs to you all and thank you for coming. Have a holly jolly Christmas and a happy New Year!
Tuesday, December 24: We have another long-standing tradition of going to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. She lives in Vienna, Virginia and on our way to her house, we drive past the most decorated house in Vienna.
My mother-in-law, now 87, is on oxygen and is very frail. Known as Nana to our children, she used to cook a feast of ham loaf and scalloped potatoes and other goodies from her Ohio past, but she’s too frail to cook these days. It makes me sad to see her in such poor health, and so weak, and such a shadow of her former self. She still has a big heart, though, and her poor health won’t put a dent in that.
My sister-in-law, Barbara, does most of the work this year, getting a ham and corn pudding and green beans from Whole Foods. She buys an array of cookies and decorates the tree and the mantel (along with help from my sons). She goes all out on wrapping presents in the most elegant and exotic paper imaginable. This year she’s decorated the tree with bird and animal ornaments.
Here are a few shots of our family gathering on Christmas Eve. Again, it’s been four years since I was home for Christmas, so it’s lovely to be with family again on the holidays.
Wednesday, November 27: Because I’ve been living abroad for the last three years, I’ve been absent from Thanksgiving since 2009. This Thanksgiving, we try to cobble together as many of our clan as we can for the holiday.
I start by heading south on I-95 early Wednesday morning, along with the 1 million people estimated to be leaving the Washington metropolitan area for the holiday, to pick up my daughter Sarah in Richmond. What is normally a less than 2 hour drive is nearly three hours because of the mass exodus. After dropping Sarah’s dog Bagel at home, we go out for some pre-Thanksgiving shopping at Tyson’s Corner Center for her Christmas presents. There is no way I will shop on Black Friday, and we won’t see her for the Christmas holiday, so it has to be today or never.
Before shopping we enjoy some conveyor belt sushi at Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine at the mall.
Thursday, November 28: On Thursday morning, after preparing broccoli salad and kale and sun-dried tomato hummus spread, we pile in the car to drive to my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland.
Today, we celebrate with most of my sister’s family and most of my family, along with my father and stepmother. My brother, who is now working in retail because of his job loss during the economic downturn, has to work so is unable to come. With the new Black Friday scenario, which involves stores opening on Thursday evening, he cannot make it to Maryland for the day. This whole Black Friday scenario, which is now insidiously creeping into Thursday, infuriates me beyond words. I don’t want to ruin my Thanksgiving by thinking, or writing (aka ranting), about it.
My son Adam is in California, just having finished his Permaculture Certification; he is spending the holidays with a fellow permaculturist and his family before he heads to Taos, New Mexico for a two-week Earthship Internship program beginning December 2 and ending on the 13th (Earthship). When we speak with him, he says he’s really sad to be away for the holiday and really misses us, BUT if he were here with us, he wouldn’t be able to be in California. After all, no one can be in two places at once. I fear we are losing him to California, where his deep beliefs about the values of holistic coaching, permaculture, and radically sustainable housing are not as far-fetched as they seem to be on the East Coast.
My other sister, Stephanie, who lives outside of Los Angeles, never makes it home for the holidays because she doesn’t care to fly. I’m sad to not see her, but we all talk by phone and I will see her on January 2, when I go to California for 10 days. I look forward to that, as I’ve been promising for years to visit her and have never kept my promises. 😦
Finally, my niece, Kelsey, who just got married this past summer, spends the holiday with her new husband’s family, one of those things that happens once one gets married.
Despite the missing family, we have a wonderful holiday feast with Joan, Steve and my nephew Seth; my dad and his wife Shirley; Mike, me, Sarah and Alex; and Lily, Joan’s golden lab. I am thankful for the laughs that are always a part of my family’s gatherings, for the wonderful feast my sister prepares, for the changing seasons, for the cold brisk November air, for my sister’s amazing hospitality and her warm, welcoming home. Last but not least, I’m thankful for the traditional dishes of Thanksgiving: turkey, gravy, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and the “slightly chilled red wine” that is my brother-in-law’s forte. I have missed these foods in my years abroad.
I’m thankful that I have 5 days off from teaching, and when I return to work on Monday, I only have two weeks remaining in the semester. I’m thankful for nearly completing my 5-week Travel Writing course through the Australian Writer’s Centre (which I will finish on Saturday), and for the 8 chapters of my novel I did manage to revise during the November NaNoWriMo challenge. Sadly, I didn’t finish the novel, but I will try to complete it in December, when I don’t have my teaching obligations.
Most of all, I’m thankful to be back home in America with my family.