maryland heights: the overlook cliff trail

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge to towpath along the Potomac River

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

Potomac River
towpath along the Potomac

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

The Maryland Heights trailhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking up from the Naval Battery

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

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

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

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

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

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

a tangle of trees

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

Forest on the Overlook Cliff Trail

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

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

A fabulous view is always worthwhile!

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

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

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

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

view of the Potomac River from the Overlook Cliff

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

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

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

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

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

Back at the Naval Battery on the way down

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

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

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

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

a labor day walk in cleveland park

Monday, September 4: The first Monday in September is Labor Day in the USA, and the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend marks the unofficial end of summer.  The federal holiday honors the American labor movement and contributions that workers have made to the well-being of the country.

Because Mike has the day off, we drive into D.C. to walk around Cleveland Park’s Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Northwest Washington neighborhood, a collection of over 1,000 structures, is “a visual textbook of the changing taste in domestic architectural styles between the years 1890 and 1940,” according to the Washington Post‘s “No hiking boots required: 6 great city strolls in Washington.”

As we walk around the neighborhood, we see art deco and modernist facades, as well as homes built in the Arts & Crafts style, brick rowhouses, mission-style homes, Colonial revivals, and neoclassical mansions.  We see fabulous porches, turrets, columns, screened-in porches, white picket fences, pergolas, as well as beautifully manicured lawns.

Cleveland Park

In the 1890s, when electric streetcars arrived on Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues, Cleveland Park became a popular upscale “streetcar suburb,” according to The Washington Post.  President Grover Cleveland (1837 – 1908), the USA’s 22nd and 24th president, also built a summer home on Macomb Street.  He was the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office.

Many of the homes here are extraordinary.  It’s fun to walk through this shady and hilly neighborhood.

Cleveland Park home
Cleveland Park home

Reflecting our divisive political climate, we find signs in yards such as: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The signs are written in several languages.

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

Or: “Comb Overs don’t hide Racism * Arrogance * Cruelty * Prejudice & Willful Ignorance.  Words Matter.”

Comb Overs don’t hide…

As part of the resistance, I’m happy to find like-minded Americans who don’t want to be associated with our current president, his base, or their white supremacist notions.

Cleveland Park home

After a while, we reach Wisconsin Avenue, where we decide to stop for lunch.  We have several options, including Cactus Cantina and Cafe Deluxe.  We choose Cafe Deluxe.

Cactus Cantina

At Cafe Deluxe, we sit outside on the patio and eat Apple Brie Flatbread and assorted sides including mac & cheese, succotash and asparagus & corn.

Apple Brie Flatbread
Cafe Deluxe on Wisconsin

After lunch, we walk down Wisconsin to Washington National Cathedral.  We always come here to see the crèche collection every Christmas Eve; this is one rare time we see it during the summer.

Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal Church cathedral of 20th century American Gothic style closely modeled on English Gothic style of the late fourteenth century. The foundation stone was laid on September 29, 1907 in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt and a crowd of more than 20,000. The “final finial” was placed 83 years later in the presence of President George H.W. Bush in 1990, according to Wikipedia: Washington National Cathedral.

Washington National Cathedral

We even see the Bishop’s Garden in bloom, which we never see when we come at Christmas.

the garden at Washington National Cathedral

While walking in the garden, I overhear a frumpy old white man say, “I don’t know what the problem is with Melania wearing high heels down to Houston after the hurricane.  It shows she has some class.”  SMH.  Dream on, Mister.

The Cathedral is both the second-largest church building in the United States and the fourth tallest structure in Washington, D.C.  The scaffolding seen in the photo is for ongoing repairs since the 2011 earthquake.

the Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

We walk back through different streets in Cleveland Park to return to our car.

back through Cleveland Park
Cleveland Park
me in Cleveland Park
Cleveland Park

My novel, still unpublished, is set mainly in this neighborhood, as well as in Egypt and France. 🙂

Steps today: 12,759 (5.41 miles).

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

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

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

I’m so happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How have you been since I’ve been gone?  What kind of music are you listening to?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you had any special family gatherings?  Have you gone on a holiday or had a stay-cation?

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

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

the seafood bar at Whole Foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

me at Coyote Grill
chili rellenos at Coyote Grill

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

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

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

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

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

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

walk around Lake Anne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

downtown Harper's Ferry
downtown Harper’s Ferry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wax Museum and Scoops
Wax Museum and Scoops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
– C.S. Lewis

Twenty-seventeen.  I like the sound of it.  Three-hundred-sixty-five days, each offering possibilities. Or at least invitations to take small steps here and there.

 “The days are long, but the years are short.” ~ Gretchen Rubin

I’m a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions, or, better yet, Intentions.  I always have been, although my success at achieving them is about as good as anyone else’s.  Still.  I love to dream.  If the day ever comes when I stop dreaming, I might as well call it quits.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Perelman Building
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Perelman Building

I have a long list of resolutions that cover a wide array of categories: education, health & fitness, finances, household projects, spiritual & cultural growth.  I use the same categories every year, written in a large bound periwinkle-colored book full of blank pages. At the beginning of each new year, I write: Cathy’s 2017 Resolutions (or whatever year it is) and then I tape a copy of 2017 Yearly Horoscope: Scorpio (which rarely holds any truth in its predictions).  At the end of each year, I evaluate what I did and didn’t do (no rewards or punishments necessary), clip together the pages of the old year, and close it out. It’s my method, and I enjoy the process.  I love the bulk of those years of resolutions, some met and some not. My periwinkle book of wishes and dreams.

Urban hiking in Philadelphia
Urban hiking in Philadelphia

It has taken me a long time in life to figure out what’s most important to me, but now that I know what lights my fire, my intention for twenty-seventeen is to focus on the things I love, to expand on them and to delve deeper, to let the full expression of them bloom.

a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia
a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

These are the things that set my heart on fire: inspirational and creative travel, writing & blogging, photography, walking (urban and nature hiking) and reading. I’ve also been toying with the idea of entrepreneurship as opposed to career-seeking in a world that seems infused with age discrimination.

I guess pedestrians go that way....
I guess pedestrians go that way….

Because I’m interested in so many things and I have so many ideas, because there are so many choices, I often feel overwhelmed; in fact, I feel utterly swamped.  When I read this passage from Robert Clark’s Love Among the Ruins (p. 162-3), I recognized myself in Jane:

Jane, “having resigned herself to the fact that a Ph.D. was not in the cards … for a personality, a character formation, that, truth to be told, has felt itself ‘swamped’ since perhaps the age of four — no, longer still, since before she seemingly alone rowed herself ashore and landed in this life.

“It is, Jane must admit, a curious thing to be so overwhelmed by obligations and duties — to have unfinished chores hugging at her hem while lined up behind them is the impending sense that some fundamental necessity has been completely overlooked — but also to experience moments of terribly clarity in which she sees that she is not busy, that in fact she is doing nothing.  And that ‘nothing’ is perhaps the substance which swamps her, the flood that threatens to sink her altogether.  For it is not merely nothing in the sense of a moment of inactivity, of respite or pause.  Nor is it the nothing of ‘nothing in particular,’ neither this nor that.  It is, Jane sees when she looks up to see it hovering just above and in front of her, her thumb holding a place in a magazine article whose subject she has already forgotten, the index finger of the other hand clawing in the near-spent cigarette pack, ‘nothing at all.’ It is the kind of nothing that is a force in its own right, that precludes all the possible somethings one might try to put in its place; that marks the fact of everything one is not doing and, looming stupidly, heavily like humidity, renders starting impossible.”

How I love it when I read a book of literary fiction (which I read to the near exclusion of anything else) and recognize myself.

following the glowing path
following the glowing path

The nothing that I’m doing, that nothing that has a life of its own, is so physically oppressive that starting something, anything, becomes a force to be reckoned with.  How does one start something when “all the possible somethings” remind me every moment of what I’m NOT doing? I often feel smothered by all those possibilities, and rendered inactive.

Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner
Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner

Yet.  I do continue to search.  To seek.  A good friend of mine once admitted to admiring me for always searching.  For what, he didn’t know.  Neither do I.  But I do believe it is important to keep searching, even if you don’t know what for.

urban hike through Philly
urban hike through Philly

In the excellent memoir-writing book, Writing Life Stories, teacher Bill Roorbach asks one of his 85-year-old students, coincidentally named Jane:

“Jane, tell us, what’s the secret of life?”

Jane smiled benignly, forgiving me my sardonic nature, tilted her head, and said without the slightest pause: “Searching.”

An indignant Chuck (one of the other students) said, “Not finding?”

“No, no, no,” Jane said emphatically, letting her beatific smile spread, “Searching.”

Searching is what keeps us alive, gives us hope, keeps us moving along, step by step, through our lives.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”  ~ Vincent van Gogh

enticing shop window
enticing shop window

In the areas of life that excite me, here are my intentions for the year ahead:

Reading: I intend to bask in my love of reading, using Goodreads extensively, adding to my to-read list and writing reviews of every book I read.  My goal is to read 40 books in different areas: literary fiction, memoir, poetry, short stories and travel memoir; books on the craft of memoir, travel and fiction writing: and inspirational books on creativity. Last year, my goals was to read 35 books and I achieved that goal. I was enriched by every page I read. 🙂

a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly
a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly

Photography: I intend to read books on photography, push myself to play more with my camera, possibly take a photography workshop, and challenge myself to be more creative. I will try to participate in several photo challenges on WordPress.  I would also like to get and learn a new photo processing software.

diagonal walkways
diagonal walkways

Walking (urban and nature hiking):  I intend to continue my 3-mile walks 4x/week, but also to take local urban hikes through cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, and Richmond and natural hikes in the Shenandoah mountains or elsewhere on the East Coast.  I also hope to do three official 10K walks this year.  Of course, I walk a lot whenever I travel abroad because I believe it is the best way to fully experience any destination.  I also have a dream of walking the Camino de Santiago in the fall, possibly September-October. If I do it, I want to do the whole thing, The French Way, all 780 km of it.  I hope I can swing it this year.

As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. ~ Buddha

urban hike in Philly
urban hike in Philly

Inspirational and creative travel:  I intend to travel more intentionally this year, and to make something creative from my travels.  My plan for this spring is to try to volunteer at a bed & breakfast in Croatia for a week, travel solo in Croatia, and then meet Mike, where we will explore Hungary and Czech Republic, focusing on Budapest and Prague.  In the fall, I hope to be able to walk the Camino de Santiago.

urban hiking in Philly
urban hiking in Philly

Writing & blogging:  I’d like to stop being lazy in my travel writing and blogging and to push myself to be more creative and inspirational.  I intend to travel more intentionally and observantly, keeping a detailed travel journal and taking more creative photos. I hope to make something from my travels, whether the stuff of memoir or fiction, poetry or storytelling photography.

still decked out for the holidays
still decked out for the holidays

As for my fiction and memoir writing, I’d like to self-publish my novel and finish my memoir by year-end.  In addition, I plan to take classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  I’ve already signed up for three classes: How to Build Complex Characters, Building Better Characters, and Character Building. I know, they all sound alike, don’t they?  However, they each have a slightly different focus and are taught by different teachers.  I’m interested in this subject because I want to create characters to take with me to Croatia and on my other travels.  I’m also interested in creating a course on how to create characters and bringing that character to …..(fill in the blank with a foreign country name).

Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments
Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments

Entrepreneurship/Career:  Finally, there is the issue of work.  I’ve been reading a book by Gail Sheehy called Sex and the Seasoned Woman.  I started this book years ago, but I finally finished it this year.  What I found most interesting were the stories of older women who decided to reinvent their lives and bring their passions into fruition.  I found a story about Elaine, who started out as a schoolteacher, to be funny and inspirational (p. 232-235):

Elaine’s husband asked her: “What are you passionate about?”

“Books,” she said.  “This may be a really dumb idea, but I’ve always wanted to be a bookseller.”  Now she is the proprietor of a large bookstore in California.  Later, her husband asked her again if there were anything she was missing in life.

“Teaching,” she admitted.  “This may be a really dumb idea, but what if we started a conference for travel writers?”  Now their bookstore has expanded into a small university of sorts.

Elaine says “But these things didn’t start as smart business ideas.”  They started with Elaine saying to her husband, “This is probably a dumb idea, but….”

So, THIS is probably a dumb idea, but I hope to start a new blog where I don my teaching hat and write posts about how to immerse oneself more creatively and intentionally in travel, how to approach travel with awe and with an eye to inspiring creativity in oneself.

The Church of St. Luke & The Ephiphany
The Church of St. Luke & The Epiphany

I’m hoping that eventually this will lead to me offering creative travel retreats.  Slowly, slowly.  As a teacher, writer, and traveler, I know I am perfectly capable of doing this.  Yet.  And of course, there is always a YET!  I’ve never been an entrepreneur before, so I know I will have a steep learning curve. I intend to climb that curve, even if it involves backsliding down that slope as I learn.  I will need confidence and courage.

Philadelphia urban hike
Philadelphia urban hike

In that vein, I’ve written a lot of notes about defining my business and my market, signed up for a course called Starting Your Own Business, and have subscribed to Entrepreneur magazine.  Now I need to come up with a name!

I will reveal more about my ideas for this business on a new blog at some point soon, I hope.  I have lots of ideas. 🙂

southside Philly
Southside Philly

As for my ESL career, I will cut back on my job applications, but I will periodically apply to jobs abroad or at home.  My heart isn’t really in the work itself, except for the travel opportunities offered.  If I get a job, it may waylay my aforementioned plans, but I’m open to any adventure the world throws my way! 🙂

facade in Philadelphia
facade in Philadelphia

I hope everyone continues to dream and grow in twenty-seventeen, and I hope all your wishes come true. 🙂

(All photos were taken on urban hikes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 29-30, 2016)

an evening at lewis ginter’s dominion gardenfest of lights: “H2Whoa”

Saturday, December 5:  After I fetch Mike from the University of Richmond football game, we sit in Starbucks drinking hot coffee for about an hour before we’re due to pick up Alex and his girlfriend, Ariana.

From Alex’s house in The Fan, we head over to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden for the Dominion GardenFest of Lights.  It’s quite a cold night, so we bundle up to walk through the 30-acre light and botanical display.  The “H2Whoa” theme showcases water in all its forms and highlights the many ways water shapes our world.

I apologize in advance for the poor quality of my photos, for without a tripod, I fear they’re pretty blurry!

blue fountain at Lewis Ginter
blue fountain at Lewis Ginter
Alex, me and Mike
Alex, me and Mike

Many of the flowers and fish throughout the gardens are made from recycled materials, especially plastic bottles — cut, painted and shaped into fantastical creatures and botanical features.

garden of recycled plastic
garden of recycled plastic
Pirate's booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Pirate’s booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Pirate's booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Pirate’s booty, Purple Octopuses and Schools of Fish
Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland
canopy of lights
canopy of lights

In the children’s area, we find a zoo of colorful animals.

Alex and Ariana are a cute couple, don’t you think?

Ariana and Alex
Ariana and Alex

We make our way slowly over toward the Conservatory.  The warmth inside beckons.

Conservatory
Conservatory
Fountain Garden
Fountain Garden
Fountain Garden
Fountain Garden

Inside the Conservatory, we’re greeted by a giant octopus and schools of fish on the “ocean’s floor.”

An underwater world in the Conservatory
An underwater world in the Conservatory
Gardens in the conservatory
Gardens in the conservatory

We find many garden features in the Conservatory, some real and some created out of plastic bottles.

In the Conservatory, we also admire the elaborate electric train dioramas.

Finally, we head back into the Visitor’s Center, where we wander around the gift shop to warm up.

heading back to the Visitor's Center
heading back to the Visitor’s Center
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octopus ornament
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sea creature ornaments
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cute owl ornament
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terrier ornament
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elk ornament
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butterflies
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lanterns in the gift shop

After our fun exploration of the GardenFest of Lights, we go to The Fan, where we wait in line for a Cuban dinner at Kuba-Kuba Restaurante y Bodega.   We enjoy a lively atmosphere, delicious meals and cold beers, after which we take Alex and Ariana back home and we drive home two hours to northern Virginia. 🙂

a november rock scramble on billy goat trail

Sunday, November 8: The Billy Goat Trail is a 4.7-mile (7.6 km) hiking trail that follows a path between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal, and the Potomac River.  Laid out by the YMCA Triangle Club in 1919, it is one of the most popular, and grueling, hikes in the Washington metro area.

The trail has three sections: Section A, the northernmost, is 1.7 miles (2.7 km); Section B is 1.4 miles (2.3 km); and Section C, the southernmost, is 1.6 miles (2.6 km).  The trail in its entirety offers beautiful views of the Potomac River (Wikipedia: Billy Goat Trail).

This morning, Mike and I hike Section “A,” which is strenuous and involves a lot of rock scrambling and the need for good balance. It’s challenging, to say the least. With its difficult terrain, the 1.7 mile hike takes most visitors 2-3 hours to complete. It takes us about that long today.

You can read more about the trail here: Hiking Upward: Billy Goat Trail.

We park the car on the Maryland side of the Potomac River near the Old Angler’s Inn and head out to the towpath.  Billy Goat Trail is off the towpath after some distance.

The C&O Canal
The C&O Canal

The C&O Canal operated from 1831 until 1924 from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, along the Potomac River. The canal’s principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains. The 184.5 mile canal’s construction began in 1828 and ended in 1850.  Rising and falling over an elevation change of 605 feet, it required the construction of 74 canal locks, 11 aqueducts to cross major streams, more than 240 culverts to cross smaller streams, and the 3,118 ft Paw Paw Tunnel (Wikipedia: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).

reflections of November trees
reflections of November trees

The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a trail that follows the old towpath (Wikipedia: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).  We walk along the canal towpath for a while until we turn left off the trail to Section A of Billy Goat Trail.

At first the trail seems quite easy; we simply follow a hilly dirt path.  We quickly catch our first glimpses of the Potomac River.

first view of the Potomac River
first view of the Potomac River
looking up the Potomac
looking up the Potomac
Mike on Billy Goat Trail
Mike on Billy Goat Trail
boulders ahead
boulders ahead
the path ahead
the path ahead
tree roots and boulders
tree roots and boulders
trees growing over boulders
trees growing over boulders

We continue past the stream and past a pond and meadow.

pond
pond
pretty skies
pretty skies
boulders and trees
boulders and trees
reaching for the sky
reaching for the sky
meadow
meadow

Then we emerge from the forest and come again to the banks of the Potomac River.

Section “A” traverses Bear Island’s rough and rocky terrain, including a steep climb along a cliff face along the Potomac River’s Mather Gorge. At another point in the trail, hikers are required to scramble over and around huge boulders (Wikipedia: Billy Goat Trail).

the Potomac River
the Potomac River

When we get to the edge, my daredevil husband can never resist climbing up the rock face and perching himself precariously on the edge.  He is not ready to accept that he’s over 60!  Of course, neither am I, but I’m too afraid my clumsiness will betray me!

Mike on the cliff
Mike on the cliff

I’m content to sit in a safer place.

me on Billy Goat Trail
me on Billy Goat Trail

Billy Goat Trail holds fond memories for Mike and me.  When we started dating in the fall of 1987, we would take turns coming to visit each other.  He lived in northern Virginia and I lived in Richmond, and we alternated weekends in each of our respective towns.  One of the first weekends I visited him in northern Virginia, he took me to Billy Goat Trail.  We stopped multiple times along the top of the gorge and talked, him about his first wife’s death from cancer and me about my divorce from my first husband and about my daughter Sarah, who was 2 years old at the time.  We were a lot younger then!

more ponds
more ponds
ponds and meadows
ponds and meadows
boulders along Billy Goat Trail
boulders along Billy Goat Trail
The Potomac River
The Potomac River

At one of the points along the trail, the only way to keep going is to climb down this steeply inclined ledge, shown below.  We always come from the end of the trail where we have to climb down, but the people in the picture below are coming from the opposite end of the trail, and must climb up.  There is usually a line waiting to go up or down this ledge, especially on a beautiful fall day like today.  I always get a little nervous at this point, but it never turns out to be as bad as I think it will be.

a line at the ledge
a line at the ledge

From the top of Mather Gorge, we can see rock climbers climbing up the cliff faces on the opposite shore, on the Virginia side.  I wasn’t able to capture them in pictures.

Mather Gorge along the Potomac
Mather Gorge along the Potomac
Mike along the Potomac
Mike along the Potomac
The Potomac River
The Potomac River
me along the Potomac
me along the Potomac

Every time I hike this trail, I forget how strenuous it is and how hard it is on my body.  My arms and legs get sore and tired from pulling myself over boulders and leaping from one boulder to another and from climbing across too many boulders to count. I know I’m going to be hurting this afternoon and tomorrow.

We finally turn inland and return to the C&O Canal, where we pass a covered bridge and some of the old locks from the days the canal was operating.

covered bridge
covered bridge
Lock 16
Lock 16
Lock 16
Lock 16
the towpath
the towpath

There are lots of walkers, bicyclists and runners out today.  We pass this patriotic man carrying a flag with his two kids following on bicycles.

a patriotic runner
a patriotic runner

Finally, we’re back to the wide part of the canal, and almost back to the car.  I am one sore cookie!

the widened canal
the widened canal
map of Billy Goat Trail at the entrance to the trail
map of Billy Goat Trail at the entrance to the trail
Back along the canal
Back along the canal

It’s been such a gorgeous day today, with temperatures in the low 60s and bright blue skies.  I’m exhausted and my arms and legs are aching, but it was well worth it to hike this trail again.  Though I’ve done it numerous times in the past, it’s been over 10 years at least.  I guess I still have it in me, even after my last over-the-top birthday! 🙂