Saturday, December 17, 2011

"To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!"

Happy Holidays 2011! I hope this annual missive finds you healthy, full of joy and full of purpose.

Much in the same way that I am surprised every time I over-order in a restaurant how full I already am two bites into my main course, I am somehow, once again, astonished at how quickly the year has gone by and that it is time for the holidays again.

2011 involved a major relocation for me as I left my beloved NYC. I now reside solidly below the Mason-Dixon line in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville is a town so small it isn't in SpellCheck. It's the home of UVA so there are tons of college kids everywhere. C-Ville, as the locals abbreviate it, is pretty, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and only minutes from Shenandoah National Park. It's a great place for hiking, biking and running. While I enjoy what the outdoors in Charlottesville has to offer, it has taken some getting used to. Businesses close a lot earlier here (or rather at all) and I learned the hard (hungry?) way that if you have not made it to the restaurant by 9 PM on Sunday, then you are not getting dinner. I am also intimately familiar with the tiny airport which flies direct pretty much only to Atlanta and Charlotte and even there at infrequent intervals.

Southerners are a friendly lot and I have met a ton of nice folks, but it was difficult to say farewell to so many friends after more than a decade in New York. I had a fantastic and wonderfully well attended goodbye send-off where I was presented perhaps the most amazing cake in the history of time:
Thanks Guys! It was delicious. I miss you too.

Professionally, I am still working for Perfect Sense Digital, and my client is still Scripps Networks, parent company for FoodNetwork,, HGTV and HGTV Remodels. I split the year between working in the Scripps Knoxville, TN and Chelsea/Lower Manhattan offices. My work involves assisting the Scripps websites with tracking their online assets, and optimizing those assets as advertising inventory. All the travel is really getting to me, but it was nice to make it back to NYC periodically to ease my homesickness/culture-shock.

This summer, as most of you know (because I hit you up for money), my mom and I held a lemonade stand to raise funds for pediatric cancer near her home in Myersville, Maryland. Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation is a wonderful charity and the lemonade stand was a good time and raised money for a cause that is near to all of our hearts. Thankfully, my niece Lindy's scans remain cancer-free but there are still so many children hoping for a cure. Here's Mom and I and a couple of wonderful kids from her neighborhood who volunteered (were coerced) to help us out:
It's a really easy fund-raiser, they send you everything you need, so you might want to consider it if you are looking for something rewarding to do as a family, class or youth group and you like lemonade.

Mom is doing as well as she can in what has continued to be a hard year for her. Of course, we all still miss Dad terribly. She is keeping the menagerie up and still has two horses, two mini-horses and three golden retrievers. Recently, she sold the house in Myersville, MD and is excited to be moving all the animals to Selma, NC where she will be close enough to Raleigh, NC to attend all my niece's dance performances and birthday celebrations and to drive my sister certifiably
insane. Good luck, Lynn!

I got to see a fair amount of my extended family this year, which was great. I was hosted at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on the first Saturday in May by my cousins and aunts and uncles. We got dressed up, bet on horses and drank bourbon. It was a great time. I saw most of the Louisville clan again in July when we descended on Oak Island, NC for our annual family reunion beach trip. It is especially fun to see all my little second cousins who are growing up so fast and getting better all the time at hunting for ghost-crabs at night.

I have played a lot less Ultimate here in Charlottesville, because there is not really a women's team here for me to play with, but I did captain a summer league team, and I'm playing winter league and some pick-up. This summer, I also got the opportunity to play in the Women's Masters National Championship (30+) in Ohio with a team called Lady O from New York and
reunite with many of my friends from the old Ambush days. It was great to see everyone and play a little disc, even if we are all out of shape and Ultimate for the Elderly looks about as good as it sounds. No holiday letter from me would be complete without a soccer-style photo of me at a tournament with 18 other people you don't know:
I'm on the bottom row, second from the right.

In October I got the opportunity to spend a week in the North Carolina Outer Banks with Dave and a large group of friends from Charlottesville. The off-season beach was not crowded, we stayed in an amazing house on a steal right off the ocean and had perfect weather. It's certainly not breaking news to say that OBX is awesome, but let me go ahead and strongly recommend that as a vacation spot if you have it under consideration.

You know I love Halloween and this year I was invited to a costume party and attended as one of my favorite Sesame Street characters:
One fun Halloween costume! Two lavender fingers! Ah Ah Ah!

My big project at this moment is that I am getting ready for a trip to Rwanda. Right after Christmas I am flying to Kigali (through Brussels) to volunteer at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. I'll be there working with high-school aged orphans on their conversational English, to help them prepare to catch-up to a standard high-school curriculum and in the hopes of attending universities and being the future leaders of Rwanda. It has been 18 years since that nation was rocked by ethnic genocide, but continued instability, crippling poverty and limited international response has meant that youth continue to be at a very high risk to become orphaned. I'm excited to be returning to Africa and thrilled at the opportunity to give something back and make a meaningful contribution. I've had every conceivable vaccination and I am so inspired to meet the kids and volunteers at the village who have encountered so much. It is a pretty amazing story if you have time to check it out. I will let you know how it goes.

I hope you've also have a wonderful year. If not, heads up! You never know when you are going to stumble upon a beautiful day. Here's me and my friend Taliesin after a workout in Brooklyn's Prospect Park on a gorgeous fall day:
Happy New Year!

Stay tuned here on the blog for photos and details of my trip to Rwanda and other updates. I wish you a Happy New Year and the best of luck in 2012. Please, please let me know if you will be swinging through Charlottesville for any conceivable reason.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Novemories & Rwanda

November was busy and went by in no time. (Hence it being Mid-December before I even get to my November write up.)

For Thanksgiving, I went up to my Mom's in Myersville. She is selling that house and packing up for a new home in North Carolina. We spent a lot of the time packing and taking trips to the dump and Goodwill. It was fun to see the nieces (Kate and Lindy) and say goodbye to that house.

The previous weekend I had my first house guests in the south. (It only took me 10 months...) It was great to see the Stouts who swung through C-ville for an evening. We had a fun dinner and mini-pub crawl as well as a trip to my favorite diner for brunch the next day. Jen & Brian continue to be a shining example of people making a difference and doing meaningful work (for the Gates Foundation & US AID). I am hopeful that one of them will need an intern at some point. Check out the view at a nearby apple orchard:
Earlier in the month, I had a chance to get up to NYC for a weekend and went to a fun birthday dinner in Brooklyn:
Happy 30th Erica!

I also got the chance to go for a run on a glorious fall day in Prospect Park:
I miss the park. I haven't found anywhere that beautiful down in Virginia yet.

Thanks to everyone in NYC who swung by the bar in Brooklyn where I watched NFL all day. It was great to catch up with everyone during my 'office hours' and you almost cheered me up from another dismal Eagles loss.

My big news at this point is that after Christmas, I am going on a trip to Rwanda! I am flying in to Kigali and heading to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. I'll be volunteering there to teach English to high-school aged kids in the orphanage. I am looking forward to the trip because I know I'll learn a lot and hopefully improve conversational English for some kids who could be future leaders of Rwanda. The village is an amazing response to the orphans left after the 1994 Genocides. Check out more details on the charity here. I'm honored to volunteer for them.

I've never been to Rwanda, and it takes a fair amount of preparation. I've been getting shots for Yellow Fever, Polio, Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid and the Flu, all of which makes me cranky and sore (more evan than usual.) While I'm there, I'll take anti-malarial pills. I'm taking art supplies to donate to kids who paint in the village as art therapy.

I always enjoy travel, so I'm sure this trip will be interesting but a few points in my preparation manual stand out and make me particularly enthusiastic:

"Non-biodegradable plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda, and any found on you at the airport may be confiscated and replaced with reusable cloth bags for a small fee."

Rwanda is aware of the environmental impact of plastic bags and is taking this strong stand to get in front of the problem. I love it!

The only thing I love more is this programming announcement:
"There is one television station, Television Rwandaise (TVR), which is state-run. It airs English news at 2:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. There’s a chimpanzee show at 10:00 a.m. and an African soccer feature at noon."

My only concern at this point is how to sneak out of teaching every day at 10:00 AM. I'll let you know how that works out.

Coming soon will be the 2011 Holiday letter. To get you in the mood/up to speed here's a refresher of from last year: 2010 Happy Holidays: With a Little Old Driver So Lively and Quick...