Thursday, December 14, 2017

Snow on the Post Apocalyptic Dark Side

We had been warned that a slight snow flurry would visit us on Saturday, but as usual the predictions were a little inaccurate and we got 3-4", snow falling for most of the day. I had to run errands and tried to get those done early so I wasn't caught in the bad weather, but before I could leave the house, most of the snow had already settled, every branch, berry, bend in the fencing, in fact anything that was still for more than 20 minutes soon blended in with its surroundings.
Kota had to take his daily walk in the morning before the roads were covered, but this was a false concern as the roads stayed snow free all day. But the countryside was beautiful, woodlands and fields cloaked in pure white, the boughs hanging over the narrow lands looking like Narnia. I wished I'd had time to drive about and take photos but I had to get groceries, clean the fireplace, chop kindling and mail gifts and cards to England.
Even though I was happy to see the snow, I was a little worried as I was meeting Richard in DC for a Gary Numan concert that I had no intention of missing. Luckily the roads remained clear, but even as we lined up outside the 9:30 Club at 5:15pm, huge fluffy flakes were still tumbling down from above.
Inside the club we failed to get the balcony stools, already reserved by the elite VIPs, but did manage to get great standing room on the lower balcony. The last time I'd seen Gary Numan perform was in Tonbridge, Kent, during the 80's, I don't remember the year. But I do remember riding the bus from Maidstone with Boo and Del, walking up dark stairs to a small hall with a bouncy wooden floor, and being surrounded by a couple of hundred fans with either black or white hair, black smudged eye makeup and black lips, the style of Gary in the 80's. As he came out on to the small stage, the crowd erupted, jumping up and down, so much, that I feared we'd crash through the floor as the boards sagged and bent under the weight.
I also 'met' Gary a couple of years later at the West Malling Air Show, an annual show near home that always had the Sally B, a Flying Fortress, as its star, accompanied by other WWII planes.  Gary had just acquired his pilot license and was flying that day. I caught up with him as he was being driven in an army jeep. I managed to get in close but he wasn't impressed with my efforts. I found a clip of the 1989 airshow, featuring for some reason The Thunderbirds soundtrack, but there is a fleeting moment of Gary piloting a Harvard he owned.
An article from 2009 on Gary flying.
By the time Gary came onstage at the 9:30 the place was packed, but I kept my heavy fleece on because despite the plentiful body heat it was cold up on our open balcony. Lights flashed and blipped across the audience as the instantly recognizable sound of his synthesizers keened and whined. The set was starting with tracks from his latest album, Savage, which entered the British album chart at No 2, his highest new entry for 38 years. This album has been the most electronic sounding since his first album, The Pleasure Principle, in 1979, and the sound was instantly recognizable. It was like meeting an old friend for the first time in years. His appearance wasn't really that different either. He didn't have the white hair but the styling was similar as was his signature heavy smokey eye makeup. The new album is about surviving in a post apocalyptic world, ruined by global warming, in which eastern and western cultures have merged. His, and the whole band's, outfits were sandy, beige colors, futuristic Bedouin styled garments, that kept making me think of pajamas. Desert scenes played on a screen behind the band with Gary walking dressed in what looked like a more industrial and layered outfit than what he was wearing on stage.
I kept clicked photos, trying to push the shutter in between the flashing lights which danced and beamed across us like distress beacons. They were so bright. For most of the concert though, I gave up photographing, wanting to just enjoy the show.
It was a fabulous concert. He really didn't seem that different from all those years ago in Tunbridge, although he was noticeably more relaxed. He was very stiff in the 80's but maybe that was just part of the act. Tonight he had been very fluid, his arm actions almost like ballet. His voice was as good as ever and he appeared to be really enjoying himself, a polished performer.
His concert set list is featured here. I love this web site. Gone are the days of forlornly wishing you had some idea of what that new track was so you could go and find the album it was on and then have to buy the whole LP. Now you can find the set list in seconds, listen to the track and then download to your phone. Love it!
After 2 encores, the concert was over, and we were back in the cold outdoors. We went to a pop-up Star Wars bar where I was incredibly excited to meet my first ever stormtrooper. But unfortunately, we didn't make it inside. The entrance fee was $40, which included 2 cocktails, but having had 2 beers at the concert, I didn't think it would be a good idea to drive home after that. So we plan to return very soon, I don't want to rush this experience, it will need to be savored, there is time. As Obi Wan Kenobi said," Remember,....the force will be with you. Always."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas begins in DC

On Sunday Steve and I went down to DC to Margie's house for her annual holiday brunch party. Kota has been doing very well on his medications, so well, that I felt no guilt about leaving him and Rosie Lee for the afternoon.
 He's reclaimed the top perch on the kitty tower, the throne he'd had to vacate for a couple of months until the doctors could get him stabilized, and now he's feeling so much better, it's a delight to see him getting back to his antics and regaining his cheeky expressions. We hike every day now regardless of the temperature. If it's cold he'll go so far then stop and ask me to pick him up, when I'll either tuck him inside my jacket, or if really chilly, wrap him up in his blanket which I sling over my shoulder until he needs it. He knows full well he's getting special treatment and is lapping up every second of it. Which I am too.
Margie had sent a last minute message to the crew requesting that we bring more males, as apparently she was a bit short, noting that most of her acceptances had been from girls. Richard decided to have a little fun with her e-mail, answering with, "Great! More guys! Do you need burly guys? Surly guys? Girly guys? Squirrels guys? Would you like them with a house? Would you like them with a mouse?"
I had to give my two pennies worth too, by responding with a little rhyme,
"Burly, not surly.
With a pet, like a cat, 
Nought resembling a rat.
Single, likes to mingle,
Urbex on first date,
Now that would be great!"
Margie ignored us both, making me laugh even more. I was arriving with my quota of guy friends as I was picking up Steve and then driving to Rob's house, where we'd collect some firewood he'd kindly chopped for me, and then I'd take him also to Margie's house.
This afternoon was destined to be one of many laughs for me, which God knows I needed, and they started at Rob's house. I spotted his Christmas tree and asked when he was finishing it. "It's done!" he said and went to turn the lights on. There was only a handful of ornaments decorating the lonely boughs but Rob was very proud of it and his big grin as he posed next to his tree made me laugh out loud.
 We arrived at Margie's and the first thing I noticed was the fireplace. Not the one in the lounge area but the one hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen, logs crackling and flames leaping.So amazingly realistic that Steve tried to warm his hands on it and was bitterly disappointed at the lack of a result. We had imagined the logs crackling too, since there wasn't any sound from the monitor, but it was funny.
Margie's beautiful paper daffodils catching the afternoon sun. She grows these bulbs every year.
We had arrived an hour or so late but already the food was disappearing fast. The turkey was being demolished right in front of us so we quickly grabbed plates to snaffle a few mouthfuls. Folks were really tucking in, so many dishes of stuffing mashed potatoes, veggies, with sides of paté and crackers, cheese and relishes, fruit and cakes. Food was arriving all the time as new guests poured through the front door, and soon the rooms were packed. There were so many people I wanted to chat with but we were finding ourselves gradually being edged towards the kitchen area and so we decided to brave the outdoors and claim the small patio down below.
I was surprised twice as I went down the steps, once, noting that the weather was lovely, only a very slight chill in the air, and then I also realized Margie's patio was bare. Usually it's a little grotto area out here, vines and creepers and roses climbing up trellises on the back of the house, up the steps and over the fence, hiding the alleyway. But Margie had had a new brick floor laid out here so this year had not been able to grow much, needing to keep the area clear for the builders. We pulled out the chairs and sat as we had every year, looking up at the tree with its twinkling orange lights. And at a large flock of sparrows who were nestled on the small branches above us, staring down as we looked up. Of course the inevitable happened and Rob was left with a sparrow signature on his jeans, causing the rest of us to laugh uproarously as he speedily vacated the bench. The birds continued to sit above us, chattering and twittering but no more presents were left.
My shirt was supposed to show a twinkle in the sunlight but the photo doesn't show that. Rainbow colors would shoot from the tiny sequins as they sparkled in the sun. I do love things that glitter! Steve posed with a horrendous 'pretend poo' that Margie had got to play a prank on Tony, but once he brought it out to us, it was squeezed so much by everyone that the odious white contents oozed out and it was tossed away. Over the fence I think, but I was glad to see the back of it, it was truly awful.
Much later I headed back inside to see if there was anyone I hadn't chatted with. I noticed a few people were missing from last year's event but there was still a great crowd. The food table was getting bare but somebody had placed some superbly delicious cheese scones in the middle, which were soft and warm. Steve picked out some 'sweets' from a Hong Kong box, which I guessed Richard had brought back from his travels. I didn't like the look of them and Steve noted that they tasted 'odd', unable to identify the flavor. Enough said, I wasn't trying them.
The party was still going strong out on the patio, our little crew still stuffing their faces and braving the white missiles from the sparrows above, who seemed to be determined to remain in the tree, however much noise we made. A cake appeared for Emily's belated birthday, another odd creation, peanut butter carrot cake. Who'd have thunk? Steve and I did try a small morsel of that but I'd had enough of eating for the day. There had been some wonderful creations, Margie's punch being one of the best, as usual. This year it was a banana rum concoction. I had no idea what else it contained, but it was delicious. It would have been easy to simply stand there with a straw running directly into the punch bowl, but sadly, by the time that idea crossed my mind, the bowl was empty. This was my cue for us to leave. I had a little puddy tat at home who needed his meds and it was a work day the next morning. We left the party to continue into the evening and left the noisy bright city for our quiet rural homes, my cheeks aching from the laughter still sounding in my ears.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thansgiving Weekend 2017

After the 'Kota Krisis;, I wasn't able, (mentally or financially), to throw an extravaganza of a Thanksgiving meal as I had done last year, and so was thankful that I only had a couple of guests, Steve and Jason, this year and both were supplying the desserts.
 I prepared an easy appetizer of dill pickles stuffed with cream cheese and cheddar which were then wrapped with bacon and baked. These disappeared quickly! I then made a turkey and bacon pie, cooked in homemade pastry with a tarragon and leek sauce. This took only a little time to prepare, and then with my stuffing, a tray of roasted beets, parsnips, brussels, onions, carrots and mushrooms, with mashed potatoes and gravy, we were good to go. And go we did, especially the boys! Little conversation ensued while the plates were thoroughly vacuumed and then completely refilled, after which the consumption continued at a slower pace, allowing some words to be spoken in between huge mouthfuls of food being shoveled in.
I had no opportunity to take photos as the meal was demolished so fast. I watched Steve and Jason in amazement. I was stuffed after one plateful and looked on incredulously as on round two three quarters of the pie disappeared and much of the side dishes. Their energetic consumption was compliment enough for me, although they looked pretty uncomfortable after the last mouthfuls went down. After much wriggling on seats and being unable to find a position of ease, it was decided a short hike was required before any attempts at dessert could be considered.
 It's been a while since I've walked around the perimeter of Maggi's land, so I led the way through the woods, then the fields and down to the little creek. The air was still and quiet, and we happily trudged through the thick carpet of crunchy leaves, glad to be moving and working some of the food off.
It was a bit slippery climbing up to the top of the rocks, the leaves skidded underfoot, but we finally stood at the top and surveyed the quiet woodlands. We eventually managed to get back to Meadow House before dusk, and even though we really hadn't got enough room for dessert, we gallantly plowed through Jason's walnut pie and Steve's cranberry and orange pudding with ice cream. After a couple of hours the boys departed, all of us wanting our own sofas to adopt a horizontal position where some napping would inevitably follow. It did, and it was bliss.
Over Friday and Saturday, between a couple of grocery trips, I cleared my patio. This was another task that had been put off due to the Kota Krisis, and I was glad to catch up. Pots were emptied and stacked, the purple vine that had perished through the freezing nights was cut down from my screens. Furniture was carried to the shed and the patio finally swept of leaves.
 Kota had been helping me through the task, sitting and monitoring my progress and checking all the pots. Rosie Lee preferred to stay cozy in front of the fire and had zero interest in taking a short hike when I offered. But Kota was keen and off we went.
 I love how dramatic this image appears, the poor hydrangeas culled by the frost until next spring. Almost as those they were frozen in time.
 Kota Kat did very well on his hike, with him even trotting at times. We had plenty of rests when we'd sit and sniff the crisp air. He was insistent that he lead the way at all times so I dutifully followed him through the woods and fields. We stood and watched as bluebirds and robins flitted from tree to tree, chirruping to their partners. As we got close to home, he decided a hill was too much to take on and asked to be carried. He purred all the way back to the house and was happy to sit on his rocking chair in front of the fire, sharing treats with Rosie Lee.
I then met up with a couple of English friends on Saturday evening. We started off at a winery and then finished with a meal at The Hunter's Head, a favorite restaurant of our group. I have no photos of that because it was just so nice to spend a few hours with friends without electronics being part of the scene. not once did any of us take out our phone, we simply enjoyed our conversation and company.
After all the food of the holiday weekend I was ready for some exercise, and on Sunday decided to climb part of the Appalachian Trail from Front Royal.
 I stopped occasionally to take a few photos of the bleak fields, resting after their summer crops.
 The country lanes were desolate but I did interrupt some black vultures, who were about to commence their feast of expired opossum. I had to drive by very slowly, their reluctance to abandon their dinner was very obvious and I wondered if they'd just been discussing as to who would have first dibs at dinner.
I parked at the start of the trail, only two other cars were there, so I wouldn't be meeting many folk. But almost immediately I met one guy with his two dogs on their way down. and soon after I came across another with his, also tired, hound. Later on my way back down I would come across a dog bandanna, with a 'let it snow' theme. I hope the rightful owner saw it tied to the tree at the parking lot. I'm sure the woofer didn't miss it...
This part of the trail runs alongside part of the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center, a place I haven't managed to visit yet, but which is on my list of things to do. Only opening their doors once a year to the public makes this a tougher achievement. I scoured the fields behind the high, well maintained fencing, looking for I don't know what, but I had it in my head that I might see a 'push-me-pull-you', or at least a giraffe. Nothing. I didn't even see a bird land on a nearby tree. I wondered if these fields were ever used.
It felt good to be out exercising in the fresh air, it seemed like ages since I'd last hiked. There was a crisp breeze and the trail led up and up, but I didn't mind, It was great to be outside and enjoying nature. Although the only nature around me was sleeping. A few leaves were clinging grimly to branches while the ground was deep in rusty crunchy foliage that had fallen recently. I scuffed my way through, skidding occasionally on the dry slipperiness or tripping over rocks hidden beneath. There were few clumps of green grass or moss, but mostly neutral greys and browns dominated the landscape. There were few creatures about too, a lonely bird call whistled far above occasionally and even the squirrels seemed to be dozing today. I had the trail to myself.
I had walked about 2.5 miles, most of it uphill, when I heard a loud hollow crack in front of me and stopped immediately. Because I hadn't been out for a while I'd forgotten to prepare properly, grabbing only my camera and a jacket. I didn't have my hiking backpack on, not even thinking about it, until that noise made my hand automatically reach back for my pepper spray and grab thin air. I'd forgotten my bag. My heart lurched a little because that cracking noise had been quite loud and my first thought had been 'Bear!' I stood still and listened, feeling a little vulnerable, but there were no more sounds. it must have been a branch falling. I walked on a little further then sat on a boulder, an odor of skunk wafting around, making me grin as I thought, I wasn't the only one who'd been alarmed. I then also realized that I didn't have any water, but on this short hike, it wasn't needed. And that was the end of the hike too. I couldn't shake off the feeling of being unprotected, and with the sun starting to drop towards the horizon, it was probably best that I head back down.
My mind started playing tricks as the shadows grew longer and danced around me, the air cooling as the wind blew the branches. Black bears like feeding around dusk time and soon I was seeing bears crouching under bushes or any dark areas that were gloomy with the failing light.
But soon I was back down to the parking lot, wishing I could have gone further. I tied up the bandana I'd found, so it could be seen from the road, and made a note that as soon as I got home, I'd add a flashlight to my hiking backpack. I can feel that another trek in the mountains is imminent.