Thanksgiving – let’s make it more than a day!

28 Nov

We rise by lifting others quote

I have so much I’m grateful for. I can’t even begin to list it all for fear of either sounding boastful or – maybe more frightening – accidentally cursing it. Suffice it to say that at night when I reflect on all my blessings, I fall asleep before I finish the list. THANK YOU.

That said, Thanksgiving drives me a bit nuts. Given its name, you’d think it’s about giving thanks. But based on the media, it tends more often to be about: A) Gorging yourself repeatedly until your pants don’t fit, B) A day off work – two if you’re lucky, C) A jumpstart on Christmas shopping, and D) NFL games.

The only thing on that list that excites me is B, so it’s not really a holiday that prompts me to do backflips – despite my attempt to cultivate gratitude in my daily life.

This year, I attempted to shift the focus in my small corner of the world. On Thanksgiving Eve, I shared this post with my Facebook friends.

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 6.08.43 AMI’ve seen your daily posts of gratitude and they’re lovely. And I know that tomorrow we’ll all reflect on what we’re thankful for and realize that we are – on the whole – abundantly fortunate.

While you’re feeling the love tomorrow, might I suggest that you consider paying it forward? Thank someone who doesn’t hear it enough; make a donation (big or small) to a cause you’re thankful exists; perform a random act of kindness for a stranger who might need a reason to be thankful.

And if you DO something, please share it. We hear enough negative stories in the news – I’d like to hear about people’s hearts growing three sizes in a day! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

So this Thanksgiving morning I woke up early to deliver on my own request. I knew exactly how I wanted to pay it forward this year…

Earlier this month I posted about Cecil –  the eternally cheerful concierge at my office. When I asked what he was doing for Thanksgiving, he replied with his usual smile, “Working!”

“You’ll be HERE on Thanksgiving? That stinks! Will you at least get some turkey when you’re done with work?” I asked.

“You can be assured I will certainly get some into my claws,” he replied. (And yes, that’s actually how he talks. He also calls us his “cherished tenants.”)

Cecil usually arrives at work sometime between 7-8am, so I wrote out an anonymous thank you card, inserted some cash for a Christmas splurge, and made it to my office at 6:45 Thanksgiving morning to give it to the night guard to relay to Cecil when he arrived. While I didn’t get to see his expression, I can only hope that this random act of kindness cheered his holiday and made it a bit more tenable to be on his feet and away from his family all day.

And I’m hoping that the 50 friends who “liked” my post all ended up taking action of their own to pay it forward. From the initial comments, it sounds like some senior citizens in Montana will be receiving care packages from a group of thoughtful nurses, a woman in Michigan was delighted to have her Thanksgiving groceries purchased by a stranger, and someone in New York has a Secret Santa taking care of them.

In the wake of the senseless killings in Paris (and so many other places), when we have governors screaming about closing our borders to refugees, these are the stories I want to hear – stories that speak to love for humanity, and a mindset of abundance and compassion. Let’s let Good get a bit more of the spotlight.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Gate A-4

16 Nov


I’ve never reposted another person’s blog post here, but in the wake of recent events, I thought this was worth sharing. We all have the ability to make the world a bit kinder. More of this, please…

Originally posted on Live & Learn:


Gate A-4 By Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be…

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Lunch Break Overload

16 Nov

I usually eat lunch at my desk, hunched over my keyboard. Bad habit, I know, but my days often don’t even hold time for bathroom breaks, so the idea of having 30 minutes of solitude to dine seems rather far-fetched. (Maybe there’s a new year’s resolution in there?) 

Friday, however, I was forced to venture outside my building to pick up food because I hadn’t brought anything from home. I was in a hurry (ten minutes between calls) so the best option was Pret-A-Manger, since they are located right below my building and have pre-made soups/sandwiches that allow me to just grab and go.

While my break to pick up food was only ten minutes, it still provided enough space to switch gears, make some observations and think about something other than work for a brief spell. Here’s where my head went…

As I walked through our building’s lobby, I saw that our concierge, Frank, had a vase of flowers bearing a sign that said, “Happy World Kindness Day, Cecil!” I stopped briefly to compliment them on the flowers. “Those are beautiful, Frank. But why do they say Cecil?”

Frank – who seems to be eternally cheerful, despite his chronic limp that makes me imagine he was mangled in an industrial accident of some sort before moving to the US – smiled and said, “Cecil is my name.”

“Then why do we call you Frank?” I asked, puzzled.

“That I do not know. Frank is my last name,” he told me.

Hmmm. For almost three years, we’ve been greeting him by his last name? And he’s cheerfully wished us – “his cherished tenants” – a wonderful day anyway? Yeesh. “I’m sorry, Cecil! From here on out, we’ll use your first name, OK?”

“That does sound like a splendid plan,” he answered, smiling.

I was still scratching my head as I walked out and saw a homeless man rattling his cup for change. I looked around and noticed that most people walked past wearing earbuds, not even hearing the coins he shook. I found myself wondering how iPhones and earbuds have changed pandhandling.

And because I’d been working on sales training at work, my mind jumped to the increasing challenge salespeople face in connecting with buyers via the phone. “Interesting,” I thought. “As technology becomes more advanced, it’s harder for both salespeople and beggars to reach their prospects. Hmmmm…”

Before leaping to the conclusion that many salespeople could be classified as salaried beggars, I found myself in Pret-A-Manger, where I grabbed a small tomato-feta soup and was out the door two minutes later. This prompted me to create a quick list of what I love about Pret-A-Manger:

  • The packaging (it’s minimal and recyclable)
  • The efficiency of the purchase (just grab and go)
  • The convenience of the location near my office
  • The fact that they control the napkin distribution and don’t offer them automatically (which I assume significantly reduces waste since most people grab fistfuls of napkins that they subsequently throw away, unused, when left to their own devices)

Do you notice what’s missing from that list of what I love about Pret-A-Manger? Um, yeah – the FOOD. Whoever determines their menu has a love affair with mayonnaise, thus ruining everything but the tomato-feta soup for me.

I momentarily got excited last year when they introduced bacon mac and cheese – until I tried it and realized it contained cauliflower lumps. WHAT? I’m not a pre-schooler who hates vegetables – please don’t sneak them into my food, screwing with the texture and ruining my go-to comfort food.

Actually, on second thought, maybe their menu planner is a mom from Ohio. I’ll keep my eyes out for new casserole options that feature CheezWhiz and condensed cream of mushroom soup as ingredients.

Without realizing it, I was back at my desk, hunched over my tomato soup, answering the phone for my next call, and amazed by how much ground my mind covered in such a short walk. Maybe there’s something to be said for stepping away from your desk…

Birthday Roadtrip: Passing Time in Asheville

11 Nov

Pisgah Forest - Near Asheville

Alan’s company requires that he submit his vacation dates for the upcoming year each January. In fact, there’s even a two hour conference call that everyone on his team attends to “battle out” any dates they’re all interested in before submitting requests to their manager.

As a result, any spontaneity to seize a TravelZoo deal is effectively squashed – and yet you better not book your vacation until you know your dates are approved or you might have to eat those airline tickets. While his firm is otherwise generous and generally a good employer, I find this approach to vacation vexing.

All of this is backstory to explain why we took a random vacation the last week of October. When Alan had submitted his dates last January, he thought it would be fun to take a trip for my birthday. (Very sweet of him.) As the date grew closer, we realized we needed to figure out what to do with the time.

I would’ve loved to go to Greece or somewhere in South America, but we went to Hawaii earlier this year so we couldn’t justify an additional long-haul flight. (Ah the joy of environmental guilt!) Instead, I suggested that we do a roadtrip and find something within an eight hour drive of DC to explore. After lots of Googling and rejected ideas, we landed on Asheville, North Carolina, as our destination.

Asheville is one of those towns that seems to show up on all the top city lists – Best Places to Retire, Healthiest Cities, Best Places to Raise a Family, etc. Granted, I’m not interested in retiring or raising children, but when a town you’ve never heard of takes the prize in a bunch of different categories, it’s time to investigate.

We planned to leave on Sunday and take our sweet time heading down the Blue Ridge, breaking the drive into two days and poking into wineries or whatever other off-road curiosities grabbed our attention. But we were both doggedly sick the week before, so we pushed our departure back a day and just made a beeline for Asheville.

(Note to self: the next time we drive down, we need to make time to detour to see the Natural Bridge, the oddly placed D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA, the stuffed skin of “Sorrel” the horse at VMI, and State Street in Bristol – where we can stand with one foot in Virginia and one in Tennessee.)

As it was, we arrived Asheville late Monday afternoon, following a truly gorgeous seven hour drive. I think Alan got sick of me pointing out every brilliant red maple along the way, which is fair since we were surrounded by rolling hills (or mountains) covered with impressive color the whole way down.

During the drive, I noticed MANY fields sporting three large crosses. On the way home, I was sufficiently curious about them to google for more information. Here’s what I learned from this website:

Those sets of crosses were all put up by the same man, Bernard Coffindaffer, a once-wealthy West Virginia businessman. He spent more than $2.5 million putting them up after a vision following open heart surgery told him to start building “crosses of mercy.” The first trio was built north of Charleston, WV, and eventually some 1,800 were planted across 29 states. Coffindaffer’s crosses are two pale blue ones and a yellow one, painted these colors to represent the colors of the sky and the light of the sun over Jerusalem. The crosses are treated with a saline solution and built to last 35 years. Coffindaffer eventually went broke, and died in October, 1993, after more than ten years of building. 

Fascinating, right? In the pre-google days, I would’ve seen them, said, “Why are there three crosses?” And Alan would’ve said, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit?” And I would’ve said, “There would only be two crosses then because ghosts don’t need crosses. Duh.” And Alan would’ve gotten annoyed with me. And we never would’ve known about Bernard Coffindaffer, who should be famous on the basis of his last name alone.

Anyway, I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow of what we did and just share a couple of the highlights:

  • Sierra Nevada Brewery – tours book up two months in advance, but it’s still a great place to chill by a fire pit or play cornhole with a brew in hand if the weather is nice
  • Waterfalls – lots of great hiking, pretty views and waterfalls 20 minutes south of the city; we followed signs to Looking Glass Falls and ended up driving the Blue Ridge Parkway after
  • The Biltmore – yeah, it’s touristy (hell, it’s the reason Asheville is even on the map) and it’s pricey, but it’s definitely worth it; where else will you see a 250+ room home AND get a wine tasting that samples 20 different pours?

We returned to DC on Friday. Having been surrounded by beautiful color for the entire week, we were somewhat numb to it as we drove north. Without the constant narration of the foliage to distract us, the drive passed more slowly. To liven it up, I turned to Alan and asked, “Who was your favorite elementary school teacher and why?”

Without moving his eyes off the road or considering the question, he said, “I’m not really interested in answering that right now.”

I’m not used to people opting out of my activities, so I was momentarily stunned. “What the hell kind of response is that?” I asked. “You’re ‘not interested in answering?'”

“That’s right,” he responded, not bothering to elaborate, though I could see the corners of his mouth twitching as if he were proud of himself.

“It’s not like you have anything better to do,” I pushed him. “I’m just trying to find ways to pass the time.”

He considered that for a long minute, then said, “Well, the time is passing whether or not we discuss our favorite teachers. It’s what time does.”

For some reason, I couldn’t stop laughing. And he was right – the time managed to pass just fine on its own. Just like the previous year had. And the year before that.

A good reminder on my birthday.

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A tourist in my own city

15 Oct

We’re having an amazing fall (read: 70 degrees and sunny) in DC, so I’ve been taking advantage of the weather by playing tourist. For my nerdy self, that means one thing: WALKING TOURS.

Last weekend I tagged onto a walking tour of Embassy Row, which felt a bit lazy since the starting point was a ten minute walk from my place. While it may sound dumb to take a walking tour of your own neighborhood, I wanted to do it because whenever I have visitors, I find myself making up stories in response to their questions. I thought it might be helpful to equip myself with a few facts for a change.

And man was I ever equipped! I learned a ton. Here are just two highlights to tease you into attending your own tour:

  • Embassy Row was originally called Millionaires’ Row and was where “new money” built their homes – and it became Embassy Row after the crash of the stock market, when many residents were forced to sell their homes (and foreign countries were the only entities flush with cash to purchase them).
  • Westinghouse lived here when the whole AC/DC battle was going on with Edison and he spent $1m of his own money to defend a guy on death row in NY to try to prevent the electric chair (with his current) making its debut (and generating some pretty horrible PR for his cause). It goes without saying that his house was pretty fantastic.

Excited from all that I learned on that tour, this weekend I signed up for a walking tour of Georgetown. Unfortunately, the guide had an artificially boisterous delivery style and over-the-top vocal projection, so listening to him made me cringe. I felt like a legitimate tourist as he yelled history at us on the otherwise quiet streets of Georgetown, so about halfway through the tour, when the group turned left, I turned right and walked home.

If I’m being fair, the guide was only part of the reason I bailed. My feet were hurting because I’d already walked seven miles that day because I’d stumbled upon something called “Do the Loop,” which was an art event in which several museums and galleries in upper Northwest opened their doors at no charge for the day. I used this as an excuse to check out the Kreeger Museum up on Foxhall Road, and I was impressed with the collection, which included many Picassos, Monets, Renoirs – and even a small Calder mobile.

As fantastic as the collection was, I was actually slightly more intrigued by the museum building itself, which had originally been designed and built as the private residence for the Kreegers (president of GEICO back in the day) – with the stipulation by the architect (Philip Johnson) that they leave it as a museum one day. Imagine living in a home designed to one day become a museum? It was fun to roam around and imagine decorating it for entertainment back in the 70s.

So… not much pith in this post, but if you find yourself in DC and looking for something to do, perhaps this will give you some ideas. And if you have an obnoxious tour guide, hopefully you’ll feel fine turning right when he goes left. Because he deserves it.


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