Friday, November 27, 2020

Finding Thankfulness

As COVID Thanksgiving approached, I was scoffing at the idea of celebrating or being thankful at all.  I thought "C'mon!  2020 has sucked.  We're not supposed to gather together.  What's the point of a big meal when you're not gathered with a big group?  Let's just skip Thanksgiving this year!"  Yes, the COVID blues had definitely gotten to me.  But, as I reflected, I realized I had some big things to be thankful for.

First of all, my HEALTH!  Primarily that I'm not sick with COVID.  But also that my body remains healthy and strong.  Maintaining my fitness routine has been a key coping mechanism for me this year.  Within the last month, as I was reaching the point where my motivation for at-home workouts was fading fast, I discovered not only one, but two groups doing outdoor workouts nearby.  And, let me tell you, these workouts are so much more than exercise for all of us.  It's a reason to get up from our screens and chairs, to get out of the house, to be part of a community when our normal sense of community is so shattered.  So, together we kicked off Thanksgiving day with punishing sets of squats, lunges, and high knees that made my leg muscles burn but also warmed my soul.

My Tuesday evening boot camp group

Second, my RESOURCES - a JOB with steady income, a ROOF over my head, and a pantry stocked with FOOD.  On the days I go into the office, I pass a tent on the sidewalk.  I wonder about the occupant and what brought him to this point, but also about the physical practicalities of maintaining a warm, dry home through rain, wind, and cold.  My biggest concern on that front is choosing the  temperature setting on my thermostat.  My steady paycheck also meant I had no concerns about going to the grocery store to buy whatever my heart desired to eat on Thanksgiving.  In the end, I decided against a fancy, complicated meal.  Instead I made a big pot of butternut squash soup and a tray of popovers, which provided some Thanksgiving flavors without a lot of fuss and plenty of leftovers for the coming days.

My Thanksgiving "feast"

Finally, GOOD NEIGHBORS.  All of the neighbors I've met so far have been friendly.  Beyond my immediate neighbors, the ladies most active in my neighborhood association have recruited me for several projects to brighten our community.  We organized the Halloween celebration last month and "planted" a Thankful Tree in the park, adorning it with leaves of gratitude.  It was through them that I connected with the outdoor workout groups.  I ended my Thanksgiving Day in one of their backyards, where we sat around the fire pit, drinking cocktails, eating Thanksgiving desserts, playing some party games, laughing, and enjoying a beautiful autumn evening.

Our Thankful Tree, woven with cloth into the park's fence

In the end, the holiday I had wanted to skip ended up giving me many things to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Pandemic Halloween

It seemed like the pandemic was threatening to cancel Halloween, but my neighborhood in Arlington, VA was determined not to let that happen.

Erica is truly frightened by this dinner party

I volunteered with my neighborhood association to put together an outdoor, socially-distant, family-friendly Halloween event.  Held in the local park, activities included a spider web maze, scavenger hunt, dance party, and live music.  

New for Erica's resume: spider web maze creator

Thankfully, the weather cooperated by not raining or being too cold.  Which was lucky because it POURED the next day, turning the ground into a soupy mess.  But, for the time being, everyone enjoyed being outside together.  As dusk fell, families departed for trick-or-treating.

Volunteers pose for a pic. Erica is on the right as Cruella

After a quick stop at home for some spiked cider, I joined other volunteers in strolling the neighborhood to check out the trick-or-treating.  We stopped by this amazingly decorated house with multiple scenes of graveyards, witch's cauldrons, the living dead, ghosts, cannibalism, and more.  I overheard someone say it took the homeowner over two weeks to put up all the decorations.  (Both the first and last pictures in this post are from that house.)

Ghoulish seance

While that house definitely had the most extensive and intricate decorations, many others also got into the Halloween spirit and had creative contact-less candy delivery systems including candy shoots, bags hung on the fence, or bowls set out on the steps.  Overall, the day had a festive environment and was certainly a Halloween for the pandemic-history books!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Scavenger Hunt

COVID times are tough for leisurely pastimes.  Many organized activities are cancelled or questionably safe.  Restaurants are open but I'm not eager for dine-in experiences.  As I pondered ideas for fun activities, a scavenger hunt popped into my head.  With a critical mass of my friends from New Delhi currently in the DC area, I designed a scavenger hunt based on our own interests, in-jokes, and shared experiences from India.  

One must-find item on the list was an Indian restaurant.  It turned out to be more difficult to find than expected since we somehow started out in a neighborhood with NO Indian restaurants.  Shocking, I know!  But, with a little help from Google, we eventually persevered.  Once there, we sampled the garlic naan, a staple for Will and Karime at any Indian meal.

Smile if you like Indian food

After our snack, Troy limbered us up with his favorite yoga move.  Actually, now that I think about it, Troy's favorite yoga move is probably ridiculously harder than this, but we were all grateful that he choose the triangle, which all of us were able to execute.

Feel that stretch!

One of the hardest items to find was a pair of Crocs.  This was in honor of our friend, Maribel, who LOVES Crocs so much that she convinced most of us to buy a pair.  Now, Maribel isn't especially into the classic plastic Crocs with the iconic holes.  She loves Crocs' other designs, many of which aren't easily recognizable as Crocs.  So we were a bit skeptical if we would actually find any Crocs. And then - hurray - we found this boy in a park and he agreed to let us take a picture of his Crocs, although he surely thought we were absolute morons for being so excited about his shoes!

Look at dem Crocs!

Also harder to find than expected was Will's favorite food - pizza.  We passed a Papa Johns, but Will deemed that unworthy to count as his favorite food!  After some more searching, we finally found a pizza place - which turned out to be another tribute to Maribel and her husband Dorian, who are not with us in DC but are from the Bronx!

Only NY-style pizza would satisfy Will

Some in our group had not yet experienced the scooter craze that has invaded DC and many other American cities.  The scooters themselves were easy to find, although it took some time for all of us to get the proper app downloaded and take a test run to get used to the feel of the scooter.  Then we were off at a blazing 10 mph through the wilds of a quiet residential neighborhood in Northern Virginia.

Check out those smoking' wheels!

As we ended our scooter ride, our scavenger hunt was complete.  Not exactly the Amazing Race, but a fun way to spend a sunny, September Sunday.

From left: David, Will, Karime, Erica, Yanira, Troy

Monday, February 23, 2015

Icy Visit to Music City

When we planned our U.S. trip many months ago, we thought our stop in Nashville, Tennessee would offer a slightly warmer respite from the Northeast winter.  Ha!  Our visit to the Volunteer State coincided with the coldest, iciest weather in years.  In fact, our initial flight into Nashville was cancelled because the airport closed down icy runways and ran low on de-icing fluid.  We arrived a day late to frigid wind blowing over icy walkways.  Undeterred, we set out to see the sights of the city.

Jeremy practically skating on the frozen lawn of The Parthenon

Of course, any visit to Nashville must include several stops on the country music circuit.  I went in open-minded, but not being a country-music lover, I felt like a fish out of water.  We took a tour of RCA Studio B and the guide was spouting out all these names, clearly sure we knew everyone she was talking about.  (Guide:  "I don't need to tell you about the legacy of Waylon Jennings, Chet Atkins, and Hank Snow."  Me:  "Huh?  Who?")  One of the first exhibits in the Country Music Hall of Fame was an entire hallway dedicated to Alan Jackson, another artist I'd never heard of, so I didn't care to spend much time looking at the jackets he wore at various performances.  I came away feeling that these sights were clearly targeted to the knowledgeable country music fan coming to worship at the altar, rather than the curious individual looking to learn more about an unfamiliar genre.

Jeremy inside the Country Music Hall of Fame

Another obligatory stop for us was the State Capitol building.  Since our cross-country trip in 2005, we have made a point of visiting the Capitol building of any capitol city we pass through.  I won't bore you with the full list, but we've seen the Illinois, California, and Massachusetts Capitols to name a few.  Comparatively, Tennessee's State Capitol was not as impressive as others we've seen.  Its design was very understated, topped with a humble tower rather than a grand cupola and built in earth-toned limestone with modest interior adornments.

Tennessee State Capitol

Although the cold, icy, and eventually rainy weather did its best to put a damper on our visit, we persevered to have a good time.  One side benefit of the poor weather was that we easily entered uncrowded honky tonk bars to hear several fun bands.  But, if you're planning a trip to Nashville, I think visitors would appreciate it most in milder, warmer weather that you can enjoy on foot.

Erica with the downtown Nashville skyline

Friday, March 1, 2013

Colonial Williamsburg

Jeremy and I spent a wonderful long weekend in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia in November 2012.  As soon as we arrived, Jeremy volunteered to play a cow in a retelling of Jesus' birth from the point of view of the animals in the stable.  The storyteller said Jeremy was the coolest cow ever...I have to agree.

The centerpiece of Colonial Williamsburg is Governor's Palace, home of the colonial governor sent by the King of England.

The Palace was opulently appointed, including this hallway featuring what appeared to be the governor's entire collection of swords and guns.

Sadly, several of the homes in Williamsburg also featured some of the most atrocious wallpaper I've ever seen!  Those revolutionaries loved crazy, busy, gaudy wallpaper!

Horse-drawn carriages were constantly crisscrossing the streets of Williamsburg.  I wasted plenty of time trying to capture the perfect carriage shot.

The highlight of our visit was touring the shops of the various tradespeople of Williamsburg.  All the artisans work with authentic tools and methods of the colonial period.  This craftswoman was creating a handmade wig, while chastising all of us for our shameful wig-free heads.

Our weekend concluded with the Grand Illumination, an annual celebration of the holiday season when torches are lit throughout Williamsburg and fireworks are set off at the Capitol Building.