Week Seventeen: A Native American Powow
As some of my readers may know, I am extremely proud to be part Muskogee (Creek) – a people who were the original residents of of the American southeast, particularly Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. Most of my knowledge of Native culture, however, stems from what I sought out myself as an adolescent and young adult. During my undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, I studied Native history and lobbied the University’s Curriculum Committee to adopt an academic program in Native American and Indigenous Studies. In law school, I organized panels and speaking events addressing legal issues that uniquely affect Indian Country. Finally, as a practitioner, I’ve spent some of my pro bono efforts counselling an Indian tribe on federal funding issues.
Upon moving to Washington, DC, I befriended a group of impressive young Native men and women who work in Native American policy (law, housing, youth outreach, etc.). Their commitment to and impact on Indian Country is both notable and humbling. Somehow, telling a Tribal leader at an event in the Native American History Museum that you practice white collar litigation doesn’t pack quite the same punch as it does at an ABA happy hour.
For my New Thing during Week Seventeen, I attended the First Annual Native American Pow Wow at Georgetown University. My friends and I browsed tables filled with vendors selling dreamcatchers adorned with feathers and beads, essential oils with healing properties, and jewelry made from silver and turquoise (I restrained myself – I have a bit of an obsession with turquoise). I enjoyed a delicious – if somewhat unhealthy – lunch of fry bread* with strawberries and whipped cream. As we munched, one of my friends shared the bittersweet history behind the tradition of making fry bread. 150 years ago, to prevent the Navajo people from starving during the grueling 300-mile “Long Walk” from Arizona to New Mexico, the US government gave them little more white flour, sugar, and lard. And thus, fry bread was born. Today, the dish is viewed as a cultural unifier. Native American writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie is quoted as saying “Frybread is the story of our survival.”
* True story – A few years ago, I almost burned down my apartment building while making fry bread. Remember, throwing water on a grease fire is a bad idea. Oops.
With our stomachs satisfied, we sat in the grass to watch the dances. Native men dressed in ceremonial regalia stomped their feet in rhythm with the beat of the drums. Native women in jingle dresses created their own music as they traipsed across the grounds with light, graceful movements. I smiled as young children joined in – many wearing minute versions of the same traditional clothing. Sadly, the sky opened up and it began to rain, prematurely ending our visit.
Week Eighteen: Stories from the Past
During Week Eighteen, I flew down to Florida to spend time with my family. The weekend was filled with many New Things for Caroline and baby Andrew. Both enjoyed their first ice cream cone, and Caroline willingly ventured into the ocean (brave girl!) and flew a kite. Caroline and I made bears, bunnies and birthday cakes in the damp sand. Although not talking yet, Andrew has begun to make himself known through baby babble and by gesturing with his tiny chubby hands*.
* In the second photo above, Andrew is saying “Hey! I wasn’t done with that!“
On Sunday morning, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a homemade Mexican feast made by Carole Dahl Weidemiller at my Grandfather’s nearby condo. Seizing the opportunity to make the most of my time with him - and to check New Thing #13 off the List – I asked my Grandfather to tell me about his childhood. In response, he shared a sweet story that was entirely new to me.
My Grandfather grew up in upstate New York in the 1930s and 40s. “My father was doing well before the Depression – he built himself a nice big house,” he recalled. However, when the stock market crashed, his father was forced to move the family into his parents’ two-story home. “I loved it,” my Grandfather said. “I would come home from school and my Grandmother would have something delicious for me to eat. In the summer, my Grandfather would take me to the YMCA to swim and every two years I got to go to the dealership and pick out the color of his new car.” I pictured my Grandfather as a young boy, happy to be surrounded by three generations of love despite the hard times. As we talked, baby Andrew stood on wobbly legs while clutching my Grandfather’s chair. I understood.
Shifting focus, my Grandfather noted that his grandparents met as young children – “My Grandmother’s father died during the potato famine in Ireland and her mother died shortly after coming to America. She was an orphan and a member of our neighborhood, so my Grandfather’s parents took her in. My Grandfather grew up with her – he loved her and she could speak fluent German and cook like his own mother, so of course they married.”
At this point, I interjected, asking – “didn’t you meet Grandma really young as well?” My Grandfather exclaimed, “we sat next together in the first grade!” Shaking his head and smiling, he said “that is just what you did back then – you fell in love with the girl next door and you married her!” Joining the conversation, my sister and her husband joked affectionately about the “could have been” nuptials with their childhood playmates. As I scooped Andrew up into my arms, I silently gave thanks that they found each other two decades later after being raised hundreds of miles apart. We parted with hugs all around and promises to meet again soon. Although we can’t all live in the same house, I’m glad that it is easy today to cross long distances to keep our family together.
Week Fifteen – Art Jamz Studio:
Initially, I intended New Thing #14 (Take an Art Class) to involve some guided art instruction. However, I found myself near the end of Week Fifteen without a viable option. So, I decided to find my inner artist and enjoy some free, undirected studio time at Art Jamz in Dupont Circle.
Clad for the first time this year in shorts and flip-flops, I savored the sundrenched walk from my apartment to the studio. In search of inspiration, I snapped a photo of an interesting flower along the way. After arriving at ArtJamz, I sipped a glass of white wine as one of the instructors handed me a bespeckled smock and showed me the range of painting supplies.
I loaded my palette with bright colors and got to work. It was gratifying to create something from scratch without any instruction or recipe to follow. When playing the amateur artist, there is no such thing as a “mistake” – if I didn’t like a particular color or paint stroke, I simply turned it into something else. As he brought me another glass of wine, the instructor exclaimed “This is interesting! You’re definitely artistic.” (I tipped the man well for his questionable but seemingly sincere praise).
At the conclusion of my allotted two hours, I was satisfied with the result. I liked the contrast between the organic shapes and the sharp lines. I also felt that my painting captured the spirit of the odd flower. Admittedly, however, a friend responded to my Facebook post showing off my masterpiece with – “I see you painted a chicken thing! Nice!” Regardless, I had a good time. Next time, I fully intend to bring along some girlfriends for an afternoon of Blush and brushstrokes!
Week Sixteen – A Solo Tough Mudder:
New Thing #2 – Complete a Tough Mudder in Vibram FiveFingers shoes – has been on the books for months. Tough Mudder is an intense 10-12 mile race that incorporates about 20 challenging obstacles. My best friend Danielle and I completed our first TM in Maryland last September. After going through multiple water-based obstacles, our tennis shoes became waterlogged and caked in mud. By mile nine, it became difficult to keep my balance on the muddy path – turning an ankle became a real danger. Afterwards, I decided that the next Tough Mudder I ran would be in shoes better suited to the course. And so, I bought a pair of Vibrams – what my big sister jokingly calls my “caveman feet.”
If you aren’t aware, Vibrams are a type of minimalist shoe that are meant to replicate being barefoot. Learning to run properly in Vibrams requires months of training because you essentially have to teach yourself an entirely new strike – landing on the front of your foot instead of your heel. Barefoot running with a forefoot strike pattern has been shown to have many benefits – including increased balance and speed as well as reduced impact to/wear on your ankles, knees, hips and back. In preparation for the race, I’ve been wearing Vibrams as much as possible – walking to work, hiking, and running in them.
As it turned out, the most novel aspect of New Thing #2 had nothing to do with my footwear. Although I’d signed up for the race with a friend from college, leading up to the event I was unable to get a hold of him. Two days before the event, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be completing the Tough Mudder on my own. I had a few dark moments that afternoon. Many of the obstacles are very physically and mentally challenging – it was difficult to imaging facing them alone. True to her best-friend duties, Danielle quickly calmed me down. She said, “You know you can handle it physically. Think about how empowering it will be to do it alone. That is awesome!” It is funny how much a simple shift in viewpoint can change everything. In the span of five minutes, the prospect of running a solo race went from being terrifying to thrilling.
As it turned out, I only spent a third of the race alone. In the first four miles, I had to push myself. One of the early obstacles required me to jump off a 20 foot-high platform into muddy water of an unknown depth. It took some mental grit to throw my body into the open air without a buddy to chant “Together! 1–2–3, GO!”
Fortunately, while making my way down a steep slope, I tripped over a tree root and a fellow “Mudder” asked – “Are you alone? Join us!” Thankful for the offer, I kept stride with the group (7 guys and 1 girl) for the rest of the course. Befriending someone in this scenario was an interesting experience. The typical “Where are you from? What do you do?” small talk was interrupted by an icy plunge into the Arctic Enema, or climbing a Berlin Wall. During one obstacle – the “Wounded Warrior” – we even had to carry one another.
I’m extremely grateful for my newfound friends. The April day was unusually cool, and the water-based obstacles were frigid. As the race wore on, we took a few moments after each obstacle to huddle together for warmth. Many of our fellow Mudders ran with hypothermic blankets wrapped around their shoulders. We crossed the (electrified!) finished line in two waves with our arms linked. Afterwards, we each celebrated with a beer – half of which was lost due to our shaking hands.
The days following the Tough Mudder were rough. My body was incredibly stiff and sore, even the most basic task took tremendous effort. I awoke on Monday, bruised, battered and (seemingly) beaten. However, the mental challenge of facing a Tough Mudder alone left me feeling stronger than ever. I now know that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to do. With that mindset, I have registered for a triathlon this fall. (I suppose that I should put purchasing a bike on the to-do list!) So, be on the lookout for that New Thing in a few months!
Readers, I realize that you have been eagerly awaiting tales of my (mis)adventures, so I apologize for the two-week delay!
I spent Easter weekend (Week Thirteen) with my family in Nashville. That Saturday morning, my sister joined me in my first “off-List” New Thing – participating in the 2013 Nashville Color Run (my first 5K!). Proceeds from every Color Run go towards local charities in each host city. The Nashville event benefited Amputee Blade Runners – an organization that helps to provide free running prosthetics for amputees. As my sister and I approached the exuberant crowd gathered at the starting line, it was easy to see why the Color Run is promoted as “the Happiest 5K on Earth.” Kids and adults alike danced among the throng while sporting tie-dyed tutus, angel wings and other costumes.
During the race, each member of our group eagerly darted and twirled through the “color stations.” I reveled in the simple, silly joy of it all – “Pink! I NEED MORE PINK!” We arrived at the finish line 31 minutes later, bedecked in a rainbow of cornstarch powder. As we hugged close for the camera, my sister vowed that Caroline would join us next year. I smiled at the thought of a tutu-clad Caroline – who loves anything and everything purple – dancing in a cloud of violet.
Upon my return to DC, I was welcomed by a mountain of work. Each day I promised myself that I would write my Week Thirteen blog post. However, after a dozen hours spent on my office computer, wrestling with words on my laptop lost its appeal. Thankfully, my weekend afforded me some much-needed down time. On Saturday, some friends and I enthusiastically played (and lost) a game of touch football. The following morning, I joined another friend for Week Fourteen’s New Thing – a monument bike ride.
At the start of our journey, I became acutely aware of the fact that I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was about 12 years old. Even then, I was the always sole rider on an empty tree-lined street. Riding a bike in a city like DC is an entirely different animal. I white-knuckled the handlebars and prayed that my next blog headline wouldn’t read “New Thing #53 – Mow Down a Toddler.”* As we eased onto Mount Vernon Trail, however, I began to relax and enjoy the sensation of flying downhill with the wind in my face. I thrilled and laughed as each rut in the ground jolted my body off the seat. My friend and I biked a total of 8 miles, stopping periodically to take in views of the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, and the Tidal Basin (framed by budding cherry blossoms). Before continuing on to join others at brunch, we walked around Teddy Roosevelt Island and read aloud from stone slabs engraved with the former president’s poignant words.
* Incidentally, this wouldn’t actually be a New Thing. Feel free to ask me about the time I broke my finger after careening out-of-control down a ski slope in Tennessee.
Both of these fun, novel experiences made me reflect on the need for PLAY in our lives. No one questions 2-year-old Caroline’s play. For a toddler, playtime is viewed as a necessary tool to learn about the world, to problem-solve and to build relationships. Sadly, conventional wisdom ignores the key role of play in being a healthy, thriving adult. Play is often seen as a luxury, an indulgence. However, play has many benefits that continue into adulthood. According to Dr. Stuart Brown – the founder of the National Institute For Play (NIFP) – making time for play as an adult reduces stress, promotes better sleep, and boost our immune system. Play also allows us:
- To be more productive in our working lives;
- To explore our interests and master new skills;
- To foster deeper emotional connections; and
- To be more creative and enhance cognitive processing.
You may ask, what constitutes “play”? NIFP defines play as a purposeless activity that is fun and which allows you to be fully “in the moment.” The concept of play is central to the 52 Things mission – after all, the “goal” of each New Thing is simply the experience itself. And most* items on The List are undoubtedly fun.
* Admittedly, the idea of a week-long a raw food diet (New Thing # 45) seems less-than-enjoyable. In fact, the mere thought of it makes me want to eat some bacon.
According to Dr. Brown, there are several distinct “patterns of play” that adults and children alike should incorporate into their daily lives, including:
- Attunement Play. This aspect of play is characterized by emotional connection and shared experience. Attunement occurs when I play “peak-a-boo” with baby Andrew or cheer on a friend during an intramural softball game on the Mall. Marriage counselors often encourage couples to engage in fun, novel activities because shared experiences strengthen relationships and promote intimacy.
- Body Play/Movement. Body play occurs when you are testing your physical limits through sports, fitness, etc. Dr. Brown defines body play as “a spontaneous desire to get ourselves out of gravity.” This quote seemed particularly fitting in light of my recent exploits into the world of Crossfit. If you aren’t aware, Crossfit focuses on “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements.” A central idea behind the program is that moving in functional ways – ways our body was meant to – is both effective from a fitness standpoint and fun. In fact, I had my own “defying gravity” moment during Week Fourteen. While participating in a 7:00am WOD (“workout of the day”), our class was instructed to perform a series of handstands. I complied until my arms ached with protest – not because of any nebulous fitness goal, but simply because it was FUN to test my body while turning the world on its axis.
- Object Play. Unsurprisingly, object play is a fun activity that is centered on an object. Playing Frisbee with a dog or operating a handheld video game would qualify. As a further example, one of my good friends will spend hours beading intricate jewelry. According to NIFP, object play increases cognitive function and enhances our ability to solve complex problems.
- Social Play. Engaging in social play with others develops our sense of trust, empathy and social awareness. In a similar vein, Narrative Play involves the art of storytelling. When we engage in storytelling, we often reap all of the benefits of social play while simultaneously encouraging creativity and innovation. Narrative play also helps us understand ourselves and process the events in our lives. The 52 New Things blog is a testament to the benefits of storytelling – sometimes writing about my new experiences is a struggle, however, I always end with a better understanding of what I learned.
- Imaginative Play. Imaginative play comes more naturally to small children, who aren’t hampered by knowledge of how the “real” world operates. When Caroline plays “doctor” and heals a beloved baby doll, she is developing her social, emotional, and language skills and building self-confidence. Although “pretend play” may look different at 30, it is nonetheless important because it provides stress release and helps us to shape our goals. This type of play can be as simple as taking a walk and letting your imagination run wild – dreaming up your perfect life 5, 10, and 20 years from now. I’ll admit, I do this pretty much every time I walk the dog or enjoy a cup of coffee.
In sum, my challenge to all of you is this – do something that “conventional wisdom” tells you that you are to old to do. Think about an activity that you enjoyed as a child and shape it to fit your adult life. Alternatively, follow the lead of a child that you know or your pet. Forget about being productive or having a “goal” and make pretend, test your physical limits, goof around, be in the moment and have fun!
I am a sucker for a good story. I have been known to devour a novel in less than a day. I’ve also spent a few lost weekends trapped in a Netflix marathon after discovering a new TV drama. The characters become very real to me. As a child, I would become so emotionally invested in Lucille Ball’s role in I Love Lucy that I would hide my face in embarrassment each time she found herself in a (hilarious) scrape.
My reading habits are pretty varied. Right now I’m making my way through the popular Game of Thrones series. I also love curling up an, particularly one of the Georgian/Victorian classics (Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, etc.). Aside from a viewing of Citizen Kane forced on me during 11th grade AP English, however, I have never ventured far into classic cinema. With another cold and grey weekend upon us, a friend and I spent Sunday morning watching an old film at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD (See New Thing #37).
The theater itself was interesting. The lobby was filled with old movie posters featuring James Dean and Katherine Hepburn, vintage film equipment, and – oddly – an original Easy Bake Oven. After briefly touring the exhibits, we chose a couple seats in a screening room filled exclusively with patrons 30-50 years our senior. The feature film was Suez (1938) - a fictionalization of the story surrounding the construction of the canal connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea in the 1850s.
As the movie played, I found myself becoming just as attached to the characters as I would with any modern drama.I smiled at the beautiful and tomboy-ish Toni’s antics to win Ferdinand de Lesseps’ heart. My stomach dropped when Ferdinand was betrayed by a dear friend. It didn’t matter that the story appeared in black and white, or that the screenplay was written 75 years ago. As one of my favorite authors, L.M. Montgomery, once wrote:
The materials of story weaving are the same in all ages and all places. Births, deaths, marriages, scandals–these are the only really interesting things in the world.
A few days after our movie outing, I compiled a list of other classic films to watch. To start, I chose Gone with the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Stage Door (a homage to Lucille Ball). I now have an endless array of new stories to wrap myself in and characters to fall in love with. Rather than venturing out to Maryland to see them on the big screen, however, I think I’ll enjoy them from the comfort of my couch. I can only assume that its easier to admire Audrey Hepburn’s chic style while wearing flannel pajamas.
I live in a great town. I’ve been extremely thankful for this of late, because I cannot imagine conducting my weekly scramble for a New Thing in a place like Peducah, Kentucky. Although only ten miles square, DC is made up of vibrant neighborhoods that are teeming with history. As an intern living in Capitol Hill, I thrilled each time I passed the Supreme Court steps during my morning walk. And for you Lincoln fans, you know Mary Surratt’s Boarding House – the focal point for the conspirators’ candlelit meetings planning the assassination? That house is now a Chinese restaurant that I walk by on my way home from the gym.
I love the fact that each neighborhood in the District has its own distinct personality. Last week, I had the opportunity to host my cousin Bobby while he was in town for a medical school conference. Since he’d seen all the monuments and museums on a previous visit, I tried to round out his DC experience by spending each day in a different area. During his four-day stay, we:
- Enjoyed a nice Italian dinner at a downtown restaurant frequented by Hilary Clinton;
- Walked along the quaint brick-lined streets of Georgetown inspecting the expensive wine selection at Dean and Deluca and sampling a tasty treat at Georgetown Cupcakes;
- Split an “adult” milkshake in a 1960s-themed diner along U Street, an area that is famous for its music venues, quirky vintage shops, and authentic Ethiopian food; and
- Battled animated foes as our favorite Simpsons and TMNT characters in a retro arcade-slash-bar in the eclectic H Street neighborhood.
As a relatively new Washingtonian, I still have a lot to explore and discover about my city. For example, I have little experience with the South West/Waterfront neighborhood. Dubbed “the little quadrant that could” by its enthusiasts, the area has seen a lot of growth in recent years. Eager to become acquainted with every corner of the District, in drafting the New Things List I made sure to include New Thing #32 - Buy and Prepare Seafood Purchased at the Wharf (the Maine Avenue Fish Market in SW).
I will say that I wish I had picked a nicer weekend for this adventure – my Sunday morning outing at the Wharf was cold, grey and damp. However, the attendants at the stands seemed happy to be there and cheerfully answered my rather naive questions (“What is a not-too-fishy tasting fish?” and “What is the difference between a sea scallop and a bay scallop?”). As I considered my purchase, the Maryland blue crabs leered from their crates - waving minute but menacing claws. Despite their glares, I didn’t feel quite prepared to toss a live animal into boiling water. Accordingly, I bought enough Flounder and Bay Scallops to feed three people. I then walked along the waterfront, wishing that this stubborn winter would give way to spring (and that I owned a boat for when it did!).
Later that evening, I set to the task of cooking dinner for two friends. The menu consisted of: pan-seared flounder with lemon and pepper, bacon-wrapped scallops, sauteed brussels sprouts and spaghetti squash. Incidentally, learning to make spaghetti squash is also on the New Things List. (It is a delicious vegetable, you should try it!) I opted for microwaving the squash, and after scraping out the strands with a fork, sauteing the insides with some butter and garlic. As a novice cook, I found myself stressing as I attempted to prepare four dishes at once. Although each task was relatively simple by itself, I found it difficult to time everything perfectly. I ended up calling in reinforcements to turn over the flounder fillets while I tended to the vegetables.
Initially, I saw preparing this meal as an opportunity to practice for New Thing #4 – Throw a Dinner Party. Now, I’ve decided to host that gathering potluck style by preparing a main-dish/dessert and welcoming each of my friends to bring a side. To all those “top chefs” out there who can whip up a more complex meal without breaking a sweat, I salute you!
We live in a world that applauds the ability to multitask. While in law school, I could keep one ear on the professor’s lecture while flipping through Facebook photos, scanning news headlines, and maintaining three different G-chat conversations. I was able to retain enough of the lesson to do well on the exam, so what did it matter that I wasn’t 100% “present”? This attitude towards my education was very different from that of a few short years before. As a college student, I relished my intimate history classes where it was impossible not to listen and actively participate. My attention only wavered when an idea for short story would not let me rest until it was written in the composition notebook secretly nestled between the pages of my textbook. In general, however, my classroom attendance meant more than being physically in my seat.
I am a late-comer to the “smart phone” phenomenon. Until I moved to Arlington, Virginia a year and a half ago, my cell phone could do little more than make a phone call. Still, I am aware of how reliant I have become on it in a short time. As an intellectually curious person, I love being able to secure an instant answer to any question. I’m also guilty of flooding social media with photos of my niece and nephew, my dog, or a dessert from a trendy new restaurant (complete with a vintage filter, of course). Life as a young attorney also requires me to tote around a second smart phone reserved for work e-mails. My weekend mornings are often spent in trepidation of hearing the melodic tone that could signal canceled plans.
All of the above explains why New Thing #26 – Spend a Weekend without Phone, Internet, or TV – made the 52 Things List. This past weekend seemed the perfect opportunity because the weather promised to be mild. And so, on Friday at 5:00 pm I went “off the grid” until early Monday morning. Although my initial goal was simply to be more productive and to enjoy some additional time outdoors, the lessons I learned were actually much more poignant.
First, my short respite from technology taught me to be more intellectually and emotionally engaged in my surroundings and when interacting with others. Without my own smart phone in hand, I was able to better observe the impact that they have on our lives. During a leisurely walk with my dog, I saw a couple glued to their iPhones as they left a Sunday service with their arms linked. In a darkened bar on Saturday night, many of the patrons’ faces were framed by the blue light emitted by their cell phones. When one person disengaged himself from the conversation to check the latest news in social media, his compatriots would frequently find comfort in their own phone. Although I’m not the type of person to shy away from a conversation, I was left wondering how often I effectively remove myself from the room in this manner. I certainly felt the loss of my phone throughout the weekend – a technological “phantom limb syndrome,” so-to-speak.
Second, I also discovered how my reliance on technology potentially impedes my physical well-being. On Saturday afternoon, I gathered a blanket and my dog and curled up with a book in a nearby park. With only a novel to read, my eyes began to droop. I enjoyed an hour-long, restorative nap. This may seem unremarkable to you; however, naps are not a feature of my everyday life. I now suspect that this is because my weekend afternoons at home are often spent playing on my phone, watching TV or skimming the internet. With so much mental stimulation, it is a small wonder that I never “feel” tired during the day. In fact, I often struggle to fall asleep at night; this experience has inspired me to limit myself to the dim glow of a book-light after 11:00pm.
Of course, being “off the grid” also had its disadvantages. On Saturday morning, when I left my first CrossFit class – sweaty and exhilarated – I was disappointed not to be able to call my dad to describe the experience. I also missed my daily phone calls with my big sister, catching up while my niece’s singsong voice and my nephew’s baby babble sound in the background. I realized that I take for granted being able to pick up the phone and reach out to my loved ones hundreds of miles away.
On Monday morning, after my self-imposed ban on technology ended, I awoke to an ominous e-mail from my father. The note simply read, “The weekend is over. Call your sister.” I soon learned that my sister’s pastor - Pastor David - had announced that he had a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Because I attend his service whenever I’m in Nashville, I personally know Pastor David to be funny, kind and humble man of profound faith. I listened as my distraught sister grieved for a person whom we both hold in high esteem. As I got ready for work this morning, I listened to Pastor David’s most recent sermon. His heartfelt words resonated deeply with me. Here was a man who two weeks ago believed himself to be healthy and to have many years ahead of him with his wife and three children. During the sermon, he pointed out that – although you may think you know where your life is headed – sometimes “the bottom falls out.”
Pulling from his own painful experience to bring guidance to others, Pastor David quoted from Psalm 90:12 – “Teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I think there is a powerful lesson to be learned from these words. Many of us unintentionally slip into periods in which we live our life on “auto-pilot.” We go through the motions – doing our job, going to church, walking the dog – without stopping to reflect and find the joy in all of these things. As I learned this weekend, we sometimes allow small, petty distractions to disengage us from the world.
The lesson that I have taken away from all of this is - to be present in my own life. Now is the time to close the laptop and play outside, to put away the phone and actively listen to the person across from me. Now is the time to preserve my strong relationships and repair my broken ones. Life is fleeting. As Pastor David noted, we never know when the earth will shift under our feet. So, while I have a firm footing, I intend to savor the feeling of the sand between my toes.
** If you would like to watch Pastor David’s sermon, you can find it here. Those of us touched by his ministry would appreciate any thoughts/prayers for his health, and for the peace and well-being of his family.
First off, my apologies for the belated post. I spent yesterday’s “Snow-quester” working from home and waiting for the 4-8 inches of snowfall that never transpired. It was difficult enough to be productive with my dog hurling toys at my head. Accordingly, I put blogging on the back-burner and spent the day working whilst playing fetch with an over-enthusiastic puppy. Needless to say, I spent Wednesday being far less productive than last week – during which I crossed two New Things off my List – Take a Self Defense Class (#48) and Enter a Bake-Off (#39). Without further ado:
New Thing # 48 - Krav Maga:
On Saturday morning, my friend JG joined me for an introductory class at Krav Maga DC. Developed by Israeli Defense Forces in the 1950s, Krav Maga is a self-defense system that focuses on realistic fight training through aggressive defensive and offensive maneuvers. At the start of the class, our instructor showed each of us how to form the Krav Maga stance. The proper stance features a forward lunge with hips squared facing the “attacker.” Your elbows should point to the floor and hands should be raised to protect your face. In practice, the Krav Maga stance feels a bit awkward. JG noted that she felt like a Velociraptor. Personally, I saw myself as Splinter – the wizened rat from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series.
The instructor then taught us Krav Maga’s two basic offensive moves – the jab and the cross. Each time he threw a punch, the instructor let out an intimidating noise -”HESSSHHH!” As we practiced, the attendees were encouraged to make similar sounds. I settled on a guttural and unattractive ”UGH!” Our instructor then explained “Your attacker wants the attack to be quiet. YOU want to be as loud as possible. This may alert others; it also intimidates the attacker and signals that you are trained to fight.” Note to self – if ever attacked, be sure to channel (1) Splinter the Rat and (2) an angry gorilla.
After this introduction, the real workout began. We warmed up with dynamic stretching, jogging, push-ups and burpies. We then played a two-person game of “tag” in which each of us attempted to touch our partner’s shoulder, knee, or foot while evading his or her attempt to touch our own. Next, the group performed a series of punching drills in which we practiced the jab, cross, and a combo move in rapid succession. An instructor warned each of us to always punch with our top two knuckles – lest we break a pinky finger in a real fight. Unfortunately, I forgot this lesson in my enthusiasm to pummel my partner’s pad. The result wasn’t pretty.*
*I snapped this photo after class. When the owner asked what I was doing, I said gleefully – “I’m photographing my injuries!” Hopefully, my follow up comment of “Its so cool!” soothed any fears of an impending lawsuit.
Next, each of us were taught how to kick an attacker in the groin and/or the face from a safe distance. We also learned a move in which you (1) grab the attacker’s shoulder, (2) firmly press an elbow into his neck, (3) execute a swift knee to the groin, and (4) disengage by throwing the attacker’s body forward and using this momentum to run away. The group then completed a series of “fury drills,” during which we performed each move we had learned as fast as possible while screaming at the top of our lungs. This was surprisingly empowering. Later, the owner explained that the purpose of the fury drill was to encourage aggression – after all, one of the key principles of Krav Maga is to counter any attack with an instinctive and aggressive response. Although I’m no shrinking violet, I think even a wallflower would find her inner warrior after a few lessons in Krav Maga.
New Thing #39 – Enter a Bake-Off:
After a morning spent defeating imaginary foes, I shifted focus towards more domestic pursuits – baking a cake! A few weeks ago, my law firm announced that it would be hosting a charity “Bake-Off” (See New Thing #39) benefiting a local elementary school. As a self-proclaimed “paleo* nerd,” I decided to make a flour-less chocolate cake. I also wanted to incorporate the cayenne-and-dark-chocolate flavor combination that I enjoyed during the History of Chocolate lecture from Week Seven. After browsing the internet, I ended up combining several recipes for a Mexican Chocolate Cake flavored with chili, cinnamon, and cayenne. In case you’re feeling adventurous (and hungry!) the recipe is reproduced below.
*If you aren’t familiar with the concept, a paleolithic/”primal” diet eschews all grains and focuses on whole, unprocessed foods. Basically, I try to eat a lot of meat and vegetables. However, dark chocolate is allowed in moderation. To learn more, check out the writings of Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf.
The cake was delicious - it was dense, moist and packed the perfect amount of flavor. Because I wanted the dessert to pack some heat, I ended up using more cayenne pepper and cinnamon than what was called for in any of the recipes I’d found. Although I didn’t win the bake-off, I consider the experiment to be a success. My cake was the first to sell out in the office cafeteria – the bake sale ran from 11:30-1:30 pm and my entry was all but eaten by 12:15 pm. Further, several people asked me for the recipe; one person just informed me that she is baking the cake for a friend’s bridal shower this weekend! In sum, I learned to make a yummy new dessert and helped to raise money for a good cause. It was a day well-spent in the kitchen!
Flourless Mexican Chocolate Cake
Prep Time – 25 minutes; Bake Time – 25-30 minutes
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more to grease pans
12 ounces chili-infused 60-75% dark chocolate*
11 whole eggs, separated
¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
Cinnamon (to taste)
Cayenne pepper (to taste)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1½ cups heavy cream
* To cut down on cost, you could use regular dark chocolate and add ancho chili powder. Recipes online suggest 1-2 tablespoons for a cake of this size, I would add 1 tablespoon and taste-test.
Preheat an oven to 350˚F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with nonstick spray or butter.
In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter and bittersweet chocolate. Set aside and let cool.
Combine the egg whites and ¼ cup of sugar in a bowl and whisk until white peaks form. Set aside in a clean bowl.
Clean the mixer bowl, and combine the egg yolks with the remaining ½ cup of sugar. Whisk until it reaches ribbon stage.
Add the cinnamon and cayenne to the chocolate mixture. Fold the yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture, followed by the egg whites. Divide the mixture between the two prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. The sides of the cake will likely rise higher than the center. Once the cake cools, you can trim the sides (and eat them!) to in order to stack the two layers.
While the cake cools, prepare the chocolate ganache. Pour the chopped semisweet chocolate into a mixing bowl. Scald the heavy cream in a saucepan set over medium-high heat until it bubbles around the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Add cinnamon and cayenne pepper to taste, depending on how much heat you want in the final product.
Pour the ganache over the top of the bottom cake, and using a knife, spread it evenly. Place the top cake on the chocolate, creating a double layer. Next, smear the remaining ganache so the entire cake is covered.
Serves 10-12. ENJOY!
Once – a few months after I moved to Nashville for law school – I came across an unfamiliar scene. As I walked down a scenic side street, hundreds of red and gold leaves were swept up by the wind. They began to dance in my path, some lightly touching my hands and face before moving on. Pleasantly taken aback, I twirled and laughed like a small child. When the last leaf settled, I called my father and described the breathtaking incident to him. My father’s laconic reply was – “Yes, Lacey. That is called autumn. It happens in places outside of Florida.”
As the above anecdote makes clear, I can appreciate the feeling of a crisp autumn wind and the beauty of a light snowfall. Alas, I am a Florida girl at heart. By the time that mid-January rolls around in Washington, my enthusiasm for winter freezes up and my more cynical side begins to feel that – after all – seasons are overrated.
Accordingly, I have spent my evenings of late bundled up in my covers whilst planning excursions for when spring and summer return. On Saturday, I booked tickets to Bonnaroo – a music festival held each summer outside Nashville (See New Thing # 28). However - because I cannot wait until June to thaw out - for Week # 8 I decided to stave off any further seasonal effectiveness by attending a hot yoga class.
I arrived at StudioDC on Sunday afternoon for a 90-minute Vinyasa Flow Yoga class conducted at the balmy temperature of 95-100 degrees. Vinyasa yoga is characterized by a series of fluid movements; the poses run together (“flow”) to become almost like a dance. I reveled in the heat during the warm-up stretches. As the class progressed, however, it became clear that vinyasa is a true workout. My quadriceps protested as we held a side-plank. Other moves made my lack of balance painfully apparent. I spent much of the class with my toes spread out and gripping the matt in an effort not to collide with the person next to me.
Surprisingly, the heat was enjoyable and didn’t seem to make the class any more difficult. Although 95-100 degrees seems intimidating, it is very tolerable without the glare of the sun beating down on you. After weeks of grey, cold winter days, I relished the warmth and the sweat pouring out of my body. Only one complication arose when I tried to raise my foot behind my body and my slick hands caused me to lose my grip. My arms windmilled forward ungracefully and the instructor caught my fall. After giving him a sheepish smile, I finished the class without further mishap.
The classed ended with a few minutes spent in quiet reflection. As we lay on the floor, eyes closed, the instructor sprayed lavender scent around the room. With the ceiling fans turned on and circulating fresh air, I realized for the first time how hot I was – my face pulsed with warmth. I left the class with the impression is that hot yoga is a solid workout and a pleasant way to re-charge and begin a new week. I think I will make the Sunday afternoon class a staple of my routine. Hopefully, next time I will be able to spare the instructor my clumsiness and keep my feet on the ground!
Photo: I wasn’t able to snap any shots of my impressive yoga-moves. So, I’ve included a picture of my nephew Andrew doing an apt demonstration of the “Happy Baby” pose.
Bonus New Thing – the Old Stone House: Sunday was actually a surprisingly mild day in DC. So, in the morning I took my dog Callie on a 4-5 mile “urban hike” to Georgetown and back. During the walk, I stopped in at the Old Stone House – the oldest untouched building in Washington, DC. The Old Stone House was built before the Revolutionary War in 1765. The simple, three-bedroom home was built from stones quarried near the Potomac River. If you live in Washington, the Old Stone House is definitely worth a visit. It was interesting to leave the weekend foot traffic along M Street and seemingly step into a time 250 years in the past.
The History of Chocolate – Lecture and Tasting:
As Valentine’s Day approached during Week Seven of my New Things adventure, the District became replete with themed events for couples and lonely-hearts alike. As a self-proclaimed chocoholic and a history nerd, I decided to attend a lecture on “The History of Chocolate” at the Dumbarton House in Georgetown. The event was followed by a tasting of chocolate treats from various historical periods.
During the lecture portion, I learned many New Things about my favorite sweet:
- The technical name for chocolate is “Theobroma cacao” meaning “food of the Gods” in Greek. There are actually three types of cocao (criollo, forastero, and trinitario) – which have different flavors. However, 95% of modern day chocolate is made from forastero because this strain is most resistant to disease.
- Most of our chocolate comes from West Africa. Sadly, the vast majority of chocolate harvesters have never tasted chocolate because they cannot afford it. In my post-event research, I learned that many of these workers are children. I came across a number of articles addressing this disturbing issue.
- The Myans used chocolate medicinally and in religious ceremonies. The Aztecs were the first people to consume chocolate as a food for the wealthy class. In Aztec culture, chocolate was even used as currency.
- The Mesoamericans consumed chocolate as a cold, frothy drink. The Spaniards were the first to drink chocolate hot.
- According to a 17th century text by a Spanish doctor – “Chocolate is healthy, it makes the drinker fat and corpulent, faire and amiable. It is an aphrodisiac, in woman it causes fertility and eases delivery…” (1631).
- Domingo Ghiradelli was an Italian businessman who moved to the Bay Area in 1949 during the gold rush as a prospecter. When he realized that selling chocolate could make more money than finding gold, he built the Ghiradelli Factory in San Francisco.
- The modern day, chocolate bar (called “eating chocolate”) did not exist until the mid 19th century. Milk chocolate was made popular after Heinrich Nestle developed powdered milk intended for infants – his neighbor, Daniel Peter, had the breakthrough idea of using the powdered milk to make eating chocolate.
Once the lecture concluded, my friend Julie and I enjoyed a tasting of chocolate through the centuries. We sampled an Aztec-style chocolate drink, an 18th century chocolate tart and chocolate meringue, 20th century milk chocolate and the latest trend in chocolate – a chocolate bar made with sea salt. Personally, I loved the Aztec style drink – it was light and frothy and had the bitter taste of dark chocolate. Added spices such as cayenne pepper gave it an interesting bit of heat. I unashamedly went back for seconds.
Bonus New Thing – Cooking and “Camping” with Caroline:
A few days after my edible history lesson, I flew to Nashville to visit my sister, brother-in-law, my niece Caroline (2) and my nephew Andrew (8 months). If you recall, the New Things resolution was inspired in part by Caroline’s unrestrained joy over the simple new experiences she encounters every day. Her language is developing rapidly and she soaks up new turns of phrase everywhere she goes. For example, this weekend when I asked her “What are you doing?” Caroline’s response was - ”Playing with my toys,” she smiled, “Aunt Lacey, I could play with toys ALL DAY LONG.” (I’m pretty sure that is what you do, baby girl!).
Caroline loves to do anything that “big girls” do – cooking, cleaning her room, using a computer, climbing into bed unassisted, etc. She also has a definite maternal streak. When I paced the floor with Andrew at bedtime on Saturday, Caroline announced that it was her baby doll’s bedtime too. She then traced my steps, patting her baby’s bottom while alternating between singing “Bah Bah Black Sheep” and “Jingle Bells.” On Sunday morning, we baked muffins for breakfast. Caroline was delighted by her apron – “Do I get to wear THIS?!?!” As she stirred (and sampled) the batter, she shouted “I’m making breakfast for the family!”
On Sunday, I decided to orchestrate a Caroline “New Thing” by constructing a makeshift tent in the living room. In so doing, I learned that the urge to make the tent as big as possible doesn’t go away when you’re 25 years old. Caroline was eager to help, running on plump baby legs to bring me sheets and pillows. She then invited baby Andrew to join us under the tent. As he crawled towards us, Caroline urged him on using the nickname she created – “Come on Big Buddy! We are playing in the tent!”
Crouching under the blanketed canopy, I whispered to her - ”Caroline, we are camping in a tent in the middle of the woods.” I felt certain that – at not quite 2-and-a-half – Caroline was too young for this level of pretend-play. However, Caroline peered up at me and whispered back – “What’s that sound?” When I said that I didn’t know, she jumped up and exclaimed – “Its a BEAR!” I was yet again floored by her quickly developing mind. This was the newborn I held for the first time a little more than 2 years ago, and here we are today – making breakfast for the family, consoling sleepy babies, and seeking shelter from pretend bears in the woods! I can’t wait to watch Caroline – and Andrew – grow and learn and change in the coming year. They are a living lesson that – whether you are 2, 25, or 90 – every year should be filled with milestones!
A Healthy Cooking Class:
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I’m not out having New Thing adventures, I work as an attorney at a large law firm in Washington, DC. Thankfully, my firm provides its employees with a cafeteria that serves delicious and healthy food at reasonable prices. However, the fact is that because I spend breakfast, lunch, and (sadly) often dinner at the office, my kitchen has been woefully neglected in the last year. It is mid-February, and the last time I used my oven was just before Christmas when I made four dozen batches of sugar cookies with spiked egg-nog frosting. (Note: I had only intended to make two dozen, but the sugar high from testing the egg-nog frosting stirred my ambition – much to my coworkers’ delight!). Accordingly, I thought it was high time for New Thing #7 on the list – Take a Cooking Class.
So, last Thursday I entered the LivingSocial headquarters on F Street for a Healthy Cooking Class with chef Allison Sosna. Interestingly, LivingSocial’s F street location was my firm’s original offices when it opened its doors in the late 1800s. It is a beautiful building, I’m sorry I didn’t think to take pictures. Anyways, when I arrived, the kitchens were prepared with stations for about 60 people. Being one of the few persons to sign-up as a single, I was paired with a nice young man named Sarav. Sarav’s cooking skills certainly exceeded mine – at one point, he seemed legitimately worried that I would slice off a finger when cutting my onion. Thankfully, however, I survived. We made the following:
- Curried Lentil Soup – This was extremely easy to make. Once you caramelize the onions and toast the lentils, its just a matter of throwing everything in to boil. The result was very flavorful!
- Evoo Poached Mahi Mahi with Quinoa Salard, Yogurt Parsley and Cucumber Relish – Prior to this class, I’d thought “poaching” something sounded complicated and multi-stepped. Again, however, it was fairly easy to accomplish. I don’t much care for quinoa, but the yogurt relish was delicious – it made me want to learn to make tzatziki sauce!
- Sweet Potato Crumble with Whipped Yogurt, Toasted Almonds – This was certainly the highlight of the meal. I love sweet potatoes, and when topped with honey and almonds and a crumble for crunch? Yum! I may reuse this recipe when I tackle New Thing #4 – Throw a Dinner Party.
For full recipes, click here. Once the burners were off, I munched on my newly-made meal as the chef Allison Sosna made extended introductions with the attendees. I had the opportunity to speak with her briefly about her wonderful organization - MicroGreens - which “works with schools and non-profit organizations to educate children and low-income families about how to make healthy choices based on a government-supplemented food budget.” Enhancing nutrition in blighted populations is a laudable goal and an issue that I became interested in during my law school days. I’ll be interested in tracking MicroGreen’s accomplishments in this regard.
Bonus New Thing – a Bar with a CAUSE: On Friday night, a friend and I visited a bar that deserves an honorable mention in this week’s New Things post. We enjoyed some libations at CAUSE, a self-proclaimed “philanthropub” that donates 100% of its proceeds to one of 4 philanthropic causes – at the patron’s election.
In keeping with the nutrition-based theme of the week, I chose to donate to Martha’s Table, another organization that feeds and clothes impoverished families and operates a daycare and summer school program. CAUSE has a nice vibe and is located in the vibrant U Street neighborhood, so if you live in the area – I suggest you check it out!
Bonus New Thing - Vietnamese New Year Celebration:
Finally, in yet another surprise New Thing, on Sunday a few friends invited me to an Vietnamese Lunar New Year Celebration. The event was located at the Eden Center in Falls Church – a 120-store shopping center comprised of a wide array of Vietnamese restaurants, grocery stores, and bakeries. The shopping center features a clock tower that is an exact replica of one that stands in downtown Siagon. Apparently, the Eden Center serves as a focal point for the Vietnamese community that moved to the Washington, DC metro region after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
This Sunday, the parking lot was packed with Vietnamese families – including small children who delighted at throwing firecrackers at the feet of passerby. A troupe of colorful “dragons” danced among the crowd. We watched the festivities as we toured the restaurants – sampling Pho, Bahn Mi, pork buns, fried bananas and Banh Cam (sesame balls). When I ordered Vietnamese coffee, I was handed a small glass of sweetened condensed milk, a thermos of hot water, and some unknown metal contraption. Likely noting my surprised face, the waiter asked “do you know what you’re doing?” Thankfully, there was an expert at the table to offer some assistance. The result was delicious and far from anything Starbucks could make. However, my efforts to be adventurous by ordering “pork skin” Bahn Mi was less successful. The meat was stringy and chewy - reminiscent of eating pork-flavored rubber bands on bread. My cohorts offered several bites of each of their sandwiches however, which were wonderful.
As we ate, my friends and I watched as one of the dragon-dancers entered each establishment and ceremoniously “ate” fruit and/or red envelopes that it was given. Some post-event research revealed that the “dragon” was actually a “Lan” – a cross between a dragon and a lion that serves as a symbol of strength in Vietnamese culture and which is believed to drive away evil spirits. I also learned that, on the first day of Tet (the traditional name for the Vietnamese New Year), elders give children red envelopes containing money; this is supposed to bring the elder’s good luck. In sum, the event was an interesting, informative, and tasty experience. Had I done my research beforehand, however, I may have made an offering to the hungry dancing Lan – I could always use some good luck in the coming year!