Month: October 2014

Unexpected Pleasure

One of the best things about culture in DC? So much of it is free. All of the museums that are part of the Smithsonian—free. So it doesn’t matter if you stay for a few minutes or a few hours.

I had 45 minutes to kill on Thursday morning and decided to partake of a little culture. Going with convenience, I headed to the American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery (two sides of the same building) because it was the closest.

I rambled down the hall into “Richard Estes’ Realism.” These paintings are amazing. Estes first photographs a place, then layers multiple viewpoints to paint a scene that seems like something you or I could see if we visited the same spot.

I loved this painting of the Brooklyn Bridge. It really felt like I was standing there. (Note to self: go walk across the bridge during a future visit to NYC.)

She's about to walk on the Brooklyn Bridge

She’s about to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

I find articles describing art hard to read, so I am not going to write much. Read this article from Forbes instead. It includes two of my other favorite paintings: Sunday Afternoon in the Park and Antarctica. The article in Smithsonian magazine also is good. Make sure to scroll through the gallery at the top of the screen to see more paintings.

I didn’t have enough time to see the full exhibit, so I’ll be returning before it closes February 8, 2015. (Yes, I included this sentence in part as a Public Service Announcement so anyone who will be in DC can make time to see it.)

When Flying Became Close To Terrifying (aka Trapeze School)

I lost my daredevil instincts decades ago. Before I was old enough to do it, I wanted to jump out of an airplane. Since becoming an adult, not so much.

The most physically daring thing I’ve done in years is zip lining and the other challenges at the Sandy Spring Adventure Park ropes course. (Readers in the DC area should go—it’s great fun.)

Then, a few weeks ago, we were trying to figure out a surprise for my friend’s 40th birthday that would be more fun than just drinks and dinner. Winning suggestion: a group lesson at the Trapeze School New York (but in DC—there wasn’t time for a trip to the Big Apple).

(Side note: as great as DC is, this winning suggestion also was the only suggestion since her actual birthday was on a Tuesday.)

Unlike many I’ve talked to since this experience, I have not always wanted to try flying on a trapeze. The Sex and the City episode in which Carrie goes to trapeze school didn’t inspire anything in me.

But, for my friends, I’ll do (almost) anything. So I found myself at TSNY, being briefed on how to jump off a very high, very small platform. And I was told I would enjoy it.

The climb up the ladder was close to terrifying. It’s a long way up, and the ladder shakes. A lot. I stepped one rung at a time, like a child might, and only looked up.

Letting go of the bar and holding onto the trapeze with both hands was close to terrifying. I felt safe with the staff person grasping my belt, but I also felt how the trapeze wanted to swing.

Jumping off was close to terrifying. I made him count me off twice. And I definitely closed my eyes the moment I jumped off. I also might have squealed. I am not sure because I don’t remember much of what happened as I was flying through the air.

Close to terrified

Close to terrified

But once I was standing on solid ground again, the surge of adrenalin and hindsight made the experience seem exhilarating. I was ready to go again.

The next pass was captured on video. I had not processed how to do the flip dismount and didn’t tuck. You can see that they lower me down so slowly and lightly. No bouncing up and down in the net for me.

My final pass was the best. I’m not sure if I kept my eyes open or not when I leapt. But once flying, I smiled, enjoyed it and tucked when instructed. Perfect ending. Even though there was time for one or two more passes, we left to start the drinking and dining part of the celebration.

Although I didn’t seek this out, and it wasn’t part of my, “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow so what should I do?” activities, it fully qualifies as a “do something new and different” experience. I might even go back again. It would be cool to do a catch and release move.

BTW, it turns out this was not a winning surprise for the birthday girl: she is afraid of heights. She climbed the ladder, stood on the platform, held the trapeze with her right hand and let go of the rail with her left hand for a few seconds. She then decided three things:

  1. that was enough—she’d faced a fear and didn’t need to do anything more,
  2. at 40 she doesn’t need to do anything she doesn’t feel like doing, and
  3. she doesn’t need to feel bad about it.

I’ll drink to that!


Full trapeze school photo album (from 10/14/2014):

Ommmmm. Seven Things I Learned At The Ashram

IMG_0521 - Version 2Last week, I spent four days at the Sivanandana Yoga Ranch Ashram in Woodbourne, NY, at the foot of the Catskills. I’ve never been on a yoga retreat and have been to only a handful of yoga classes in the past five years. Needless to say, I didn’t really know what to expect.

Short version:  It was great.

Longer version:

1.   Good vegetarian food is good. I was worried about being hungry. They only serve two meals a day—brunch and dinner—and they are all vegetarian. As a low-carb eater, I feared facing brunches of French toast and pancakes, and dinners of pasta in various forms, probably with a lot of eggplant (a vegetable with which I have a love/hate relationship).

My fear was wasted. The food was excellent, with rarely a carb or an eggplant in sight. Vegetables abounded and there was plenty of protein from beans and lentils. The dishes varied, with no repeats. I arrived on Mexican night and Thursday was Southern night. I would order almost everything served here in a restaurant (there was one pot of soup that didn’t make the cut for me and many others, but one miss in eight meals is a good track record). Good inspiration for my resolution to try new, healthy recipes.

I only delved into the supply of protein bars I had smuggled in during my last afternoon. After a few bites, I realized that (1) I wasn’t really hungry, just thirsty, and was not sure what to do with three hours of free time, and (2) it didn’t taste that good, so I pitched it. The rest of the bars I brought with me returned to DC, where I’m sure they will taste good on another day.

2.   Practice does make perfect (or at least improvement). There were two yoga sessions a day, each lasting two hours. Although there was a different teacher each time, we spent 90% of each class practicing the same asanas (poses) in the same order. I had the chance to really learn what we were doing and see signs of improvement in technique and flexibility. During the penultimate class, my feet touched the floor in plow pose and I got my toes off the mat in crow pose. Never expected either of those to happen, even in the moments before they did.

I could do this

Plow: I could do this

I could do this too (for a mili-second)

Crow: I could do this too (for a millisecond)






3.   Meditating is HARD. Twice a day is satsang (translated as “a gathering of the wise” or “gathering together for the truth”), which is the gateway to inner peace. I was looking forward to inner peace. Satsang starts with 20-25 minutes of meditation. During this time, I was supposed to concentrate by:

a.  sitting cross-legged with my spine straight,

b.  remaining still,

c.  breathing rhythmically and relaxedly,

d.  repeating a mantra, and

e.  focusing on the point between my eyebrows or at my heart center.

Of these, I had a really hard time with a, b, c, d and e. Inevitably my left foot fell asleep, which would cause me to shift around and lose concentration. It all went downhill from there. I would start thinking random things and when I would try to return to a mantra, I often would end up singing parts of songs (but never a whole song) instead. I didn’t find much inner peace, but am going to keep working at it.

4.   Chanting in a small room full of people feels good. Literally.  I could feel the sounds and vibrations. The second part of satsang is chanting prayers and mantras. Most are call-and-repeat, so the fact that I don’t speak Sanskrit wasn’t a problem (also, there was a songbook and some songs in English). After a few sessions, I knew enough to sign along comfortably.

This part of satsang reminded me of song sessions at camp after dinner. The whole dining hall would be up clapping and singing and most nights, you could just feel the joy in the room. Using song to create that feeling of being part of something bigger, of participating in a community for a little while, is a technique found in many religions and spiritual practices. I totally understand why.

5.  It’s hard to have a bad day in beautiful surroundings. Just look at this photo and the ones below. Enough said.

Typical view from the grounds

Typical view from the grounds

6.  I enjoy helping others. Those who know me probably are saying, “Duh.” It was good to rediscover that I enjoy being helpful just because I can, as opposed to doing so because it is my job.

7. There are multiple paths of yoga. This ashram follows the teachings of Swami Vishnu-Devananda*. Instead of the Gideon Bible, every guest room has a copy of Meditation and Mantras, in which he describes the four paths—Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

I could get on board with Karma Yoga, selfless action (see #6 above). I appreciated Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion (see #4 above), but I’m not looking for a new religion.

I went to the ashram seeking Raja Yoga, although I didn’t to call it that at the time. Raja Yoga is about mental control, and includes asanas (see #2 above), meditation (see #3 above) and relaxation. I don’t expect my life ever will include Jnana Yoga, self-realization. I’m ok with that.


*The ashram I visited follows the teachings of Swami Sivananda, who sent his student, Swami Vishnu to the West to introduce yoga in 1957. Clearly he was successful since yoga mats now are ubiquitous. The Beatles are sometimes credited with popularizing yoga in the West. Guess who introduced it to them? Swami Vishnu-Devananda, when he met them in the Bahamas in 1965.


A few photos (10/7/2014-10/11/2014):




The afternoon I arrived

Sky the afternoon I arrived

Sunrise meditation walk

Sunrise meditation walk

Mist on the grounds

Mist on the grounds

Raspberry bushes right there

Raspberry bushes right there

View 20 mins away

View, taken 20 minutes after leaving



Civic Duty: A Day In Two Parts


Today I had my first getting-ready-for-work day that in fact wasn’t. Meaning, I wasn’t getting ready for work under the old definition of that word.

For the first time since I left my job, I got up in the 6’s, ran to the grocery store (I’m a weird morning person that way) and then showered, dressed and ran to the corner to catch the bus, only to wait and start stressing when 5 minutes became 7 became 11 until the bus arrived. Then, because this is DC and it was the morning rush hour commute, I found the Cleveland Park platform packed because of delays on the Red Line. (I had checked my Metro app for alerts—none. Not very helpful.) More stress.

I was about to be late. And I had been warned not to be late.

I was re-joining morning rush hour for the first time to attend the 9.30 am Check In Clerk training. That’s me: a Check In Clerk! I’ve been involved in Election Protection since 2004 when I spent a week in Ohio coordinating the state’s seven legal command centers. I have learned many things could cause long lines at the polls: equipment problems, ridiculously long ballots or poor election workers. In the past ten years, I have trained and coordinated hundreds of lawyers and law students who volunteer to spend the day outside the poll stations or at hotlines to help voters exercise their rights. And I’ve always wondered, “Would things run better if these lawyers were inside serving as poll workers instead?”

Now I will find out because for the first time, I’m going to spend the day as a poll worker.

As someone who has taught a training or two, I was impressed with the DC Board of Elections session, which included practicing a number of times. I got very good at the process, which starts: “Good morning! May I have your first and last name please?” and ends: “Would you like a paper or electronic ballot?” The training finished with a timed test in which we had to check in a number of voters. (I got a figurative gold star for best time in the class—yay me!) We all also got BOE reusable shopping bags, DC being one of the first jurisdictions to impose a plastic bag tax, and nice quality bags at that.

BOE election training swag

BOE election training swag

(Public Service Announcement: it is not well known that DC has same-day registration, so if you live here and want to vote here, you can. Just be sure to bring a valid ID.)


I concluded the day by attending a debate between the top three DC mayoral candidates hosted and being broadcast live by our public radio station, WAMU 88.5, and held at NPR’s swanky new national headquarters.

Mayoral debate swag

Mayoral debate swag

I had hoped to leave the debate clearer about whom to support, but no such luck. The debate was contentious and rancorous, heavy on sound bites and accusations but light on details. If any DC peeps have made up their mind, feel free to contact me and let me know who your choice is and why.

All in all, a great day bookended by doing my civic duty.*


* When reading columns or other blogs, or even listening to stories on NPR, I often cringe at the closing because it is some quip or attempt at a joke. Now that I’m writing blog posts, I have a lot more sympathy for other writers. Winding up these things is hard.


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