Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 2008 Activity -- Ceramics

Saturday, December 13, 2008
The Art League
Alexandria, VA
Cost: $40

"Jump Start to Ceramics" was aptly named. The instructor appeared to be a bit over-caffeinated. (We each received four e-mail reminders that we had registered for class, and a voice mail reminder for good measure. Also, she began the class about 10 minutes earlier than the posted start time, and with only a handful of students there).

We know this because Amy told us. She was there when class began. Amanda had to play catch up when she arrived at 9:59. Nicole and Kathleen, on the other hand, stupidly followed MapQuest directions that had not taken all of the new road construction into account. After missing their exit and turning around after getting off at the next possible exit, they sat in traffic for an hour and a half coming back over the Wilson Bridge.

Amy and Amanda were hard at work on their "pinch pots" when Nicole and Kathleen arrived ('round 11ish). Nicole and Kathleen received a Cliffs notes version of the class from an assistant instructor and began creating their pinch pots immediately.

There were about 20 people around the clay tables happily slapping and molding their clay into platters, bowls, wine bricks, small pots, ant hills (it's in the eye of the beholder, Amanda), and ash trays (this was a nod to the clay projects of Kathleen's youth and to her excellent parenting example).

The studio space was very cool -- this was held in an annex for the Torpedo Factory. And the class was really a bargain -- the $40 covered the 2 1/2 hours of studio time and instruction, all materials, and the glazing and firing of as many pieces as we could create during our class time. (Ranged from 1-3 pieces for each of the Dilettantes.) We all selected the glaze color we wanted for each piece and will pick up our projects in 2-3 weeks when they are complete (and likely after several hundred reminder calls). Completed project photos will be posted when we receive those.

The class ended with a tour of the studio space and classrooms. We hear.

The Dilettantes headed to Rustico for lunch, beer and de-briefing. And our (now) traditional December toast to this fantastic club that has been going strong for three full years. We have lots more exciting activities planned for 2009 (as well as a supplemental Dilettante Activity or two -- )

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 2008 Activity -- Bikram Yoga

Thursday, November 20, 2008
Arrive at 5:40pm -- class from 6:00-7:30pm
11495 Sunset Hills Road Suite # 100
Reston, Virginia 20190
90-minute class -- $20 per person (plus $3 to rent a mat)

From the Reston Yoga web site: Bikram Yoga is a series of 26-postures completed in an order specifically designed to provide optimal health and longevity. Classes are 90 minutes long and are conducted in a room heated to about 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit to warm up the whole body,to work the body deep into muscles, tendons and ligaments and change/regenerate the body from the inside out. The class is designed for all levels-first-time students and experienced practitioners alike!

You pretty much need a yoga class after dealing with the traffic and trying to find this studio tucked in the back of an office park. And we also found out that they are sticklers about doors being shut the nano-second that class began. Amy arrived at 6:05 and was locked out of the building. So, she had to turn right around and fight traffic again in the other direction.

The studio itself is really nice and there were a lot of people there who looked like they did Bikram yoga about a hundred times a week. This stuff must work!

I think we all knew we were in a bit of trouble when even the initial breathing exercises were presenting a bit of a challenge. (Who can breathe in that deeply? Especially in a 110 degree room?) However, as we got into the poses and warmed up (heh) we were all doing pretty well. (Well, Nicole was, anyway. I know we weren't supposed to be watching other people, but she was in front of me and she did great.) I could see that Amanda was also able to keep up with most of the poses and stay balanced. Me? Could not really do any bending of or sitting on my that made several of the poses all but impossible.

The biggest challenge for the Dilettantes was probably the fact that there is no talking allowed in the room for the duration of the class. I don't know that we have ever shown such restraint and rule abiding as we did for these 90 minutes (especially because at one point, the instructor said something about how a pose helped your colon). (Virtual golf clap for the dilettantes.)

One area in which we shined was the Savasana pose (laying on your back and breathing). Another area was literally in shining. We, along with everyone else in the class, were dripping huge beads of sweat within about 15 minutes of the class beginning.

I don't know if we've ever been happier to have an activity end -- Bikram kicked our collective dilettante ass. The end of class was made even sweeter when we received a cold lavendar cloth from the instructor. We could have kissed her.

We decided to forgo the going out after part of Dilettante Club -- you'll see why when you look at the "After" photo above.


Monday, October 20, 2008

October 2008 Activity -- Canvassing for Barack Obama

October 26, 2008
McLean, VA

Fortunately, your dilettantes are all Obama supporters, or it may have been even tougher to convince them all to participate in this decidedly DC activity. (A couple of them are uncharacteristically shy about even making phone calls -- and that's to people they know. Knocking on doors of strangers was definitely a bit of a leap outside the comfort zone.)

Dilettante Amanda was lucky enough to see Obama at his Leesburg rally on October 22nd, so now that they're BFFs, she was feeling particularly inspired about helping his campaign.

We met at the McLean Obama headquarters office at about 3:30 (although Nicole was there at 2:30, and thought we were playing some kind of cruel joke on her). We weren't, we were just running late. So she got the orientation and learned what we were going to be doing. When the rest of us got there, we went through the brief orientation, at the end of which, some overly excited volunteer put her camera practically up our nostrils to take an individual picture of each of us for posting on some wall somewhere. (We don't know what this was about, but we did feel a bit of sympathy for one of the organizers who looked like he had been dealing with that for some time.)

After the HQ briefing (I've always wanted to say that), we headed to an organizer's house in McLean to pick up our packet with all of the addresses we were to visit and learned how to fill out our paperwork based on the interactions we had.

Finally...we were off. We drove to the neighborhood in which we'd be canvassing and jumped excitedly out of the car (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha -- that's for the benefit of the one dilettante who was getting physically sick at the prospect of knocking on doors and needed to be pried out of the car with a crowbar). We all did manage to walk up to doors, and we all rotated turns so that everyone had to take the lead a few times each.

And you know what? It was pretty interesting. Most interactions were very pleasant. We spoke to a few people who were voting for the opposing candidates and would not be swayed and they were respectful. We also spoke to many Obama supporters who were very enthusiastic. A couple of these people were eligible to vote early and were not aware, so we definitely provided some great information to those houses. There were also many houses where people were not at home, so we made a note that other canvassers should visit those homes again before election day.

Only a couple of times did we get a bit of a door slam in the face, but it was really more figurative...more of a brush off and a firm closing of the door than an actual slam.

We ended the evening at Stray Cat Cafe over dinner and beers (and hot tea, ahem...) and a discussion about why Barack Obama truly is the Change We Need. Please go to for information on his position on issues that are important to you. (And definitely use the tax calculator tool -- it's great.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

September 2008 Activity -- Archery

Thursday, September 25th
Location: The Shooting Gallery, Centreville, VA
Cost: $30.25/person
Duration: 1 1/2 hours

(Cue "Dueling Banjos" here)

The drive to Bull Run Shooting Center was a little creepy thanks to the remote country roads and the eerie rainy weather.

One of your dilettantes recognized the center as a place where she had been skeet shooting in another life (when she worked for the organization that DOES NOT HATE FREEDOM).

The class was a private lesson for the four dilettantes. We met with Jim, our instructor who went over some basics about the parts of the bows and arrows, stance and how to hold the equipment.

When we were trying to determine our dominant eye, the instructor asked if anyone had ever shot a gun before (since you determine eye dominance for that, too). Amanda casually mentioned, "well, I shot an M-16 in Nam." Of course, because she's the Queen of Sarcasm, we all laughed at her obvious joke -- she was barely alive during the Vietnam Conflict...but she protested, "no, really -- when Leon and I were traveling in Vietnam, we shot M-16s". (Nice fun fact, by the way, Amanda.)

Because Amanda and Amy were cross-dominant (their dominant eye did not match their dominant hand) and because they were both wearing black, they shot together. Nicole and Kathleen, whose dominant eyes matched their dominant hands and who were both wearing orange, also shot together. The dilettantes are nothing if not (color) coordinated.

This was so much fun, because all of us were hitting the target our first time shooting. (Of course, the target was 10 yards away). But after we warmed up and the instructor continued to move the targets further down the range, our shooting actually got better. (Rock Star Amy was shooting bullseyes and she was shooting left-handed -- and she's normally right-handed.) Thet black team definitely shot with more accuracy, but the orange team was pretty consistent -- there were many satisfying "whooshes" coming from Nicole's bow as she released the arrows.

We shot about five or six rounds -- three arrows each time. With the exception of about three errant arrows (say that ten times fast), everything hit the target...and most of the arrows were in the colors.

After, we had dinner and drinks at Sweetwater Tavern in Centreville to celebrate our Robin Hood and Eros-like prowess. (And P.S. Yes, we are totally "zany" in our arrow-through-the-head picture above. We are some wild and crazy dilettantes.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

August 2008 Activity -- Palm Reading

Sunday, August 3rd, 2:00pm-3:00pm
Amy's House -- Arlington, Virginia
Cost: $42.50/person for a one-hour class on how to read palms and then a ten-minute session for each person to get her palm read.

We decided to have brunch at the Four P's before the activity, and then went back to Amy's house house to meet the palm reader and learn the art? skill? technique? of palm reading. Her (so-on-target-it's-scary) assessment of each of us is below:

Has wispy lines -- a combination of fire and lots of water. She has small hands and is "very steamy." She is someone who will erupt if somebody hurts her feelings or the feelings of someone she loves. Because of the prominent water lines, she adapts well to situations and "chooses her container" to fit into. Can be compared to a little girl who chases a butterfly...her attention can easily move from one thing to another. She is either very punctual or very late -- has time issues. Makes a conscious effort to be on time, save money, etc. Is afraid of being flaky. She is comforted by home and where her stuff is -- not a big adventurer. Her long fingers indicate that she wants to make a connection, her thumbs are rigid -- meaning that she is good at establishing boundaries. She is successful, innovative --an artist -- which is her life's purpose.

Amy: Has fire and earth, well-rounded hands. Lots of energy, she is a human Google with lots of information. She's the "hub of the wheel" and her friends look to her for information -- she is pretty close to a super computer in this regard. She likes a lot of detail; has a good gut instinct; is a good communicator and is good at helping people. Based on a spot that recently appeared on Amy's hand, the palm reader noted, "when you're pregnant, you don't get to be as big and bold in expressing yourself sexually." (This caused all dilettantes to die laughing as Amy's OB-GYN put a moratorium on all sexual activity for the last third of her pregnancy.) She has great, entrepreneur's thumbs that are just flexible enough...indicating that she knows how to set boundaries. She likes to make connections and is creative, but needs to start using her creativity and innovation -- has a need to invent and not follow.

Amanda: Success is her highest-ranking print. (Blah, blah, blah -- she graduated from Wharton...whatever.) She's extremely flexible, easy going...also has prominent water lines and a lot of air. Has long fingers and lightly etched lines. Her feelings are close to the surface and she feels very deeply but she fights feeling this deeply and that hurts. Also has a lot of healing lines. There is lead in her zone of creativity (from a pencil incident in home ec class when she was young, it is still hard to talk about), which may have stifled some of this creativity. Her strongest line is her time-money line. Her life is connected to the ability to communicate and use words, though she is not using this as much as she could. She needs to find a way to bring creativity in (we helpfully suggested she could give her next presentation for her consulting gig through the magical beauty of rhythmic gymnastics). She is good at understanding others' boundaries, but needs to create better boundaries for herself. She also has a strong sense of intuition (but she knew I was going to write that).

Kathleen: Airhands. Strongest prints are the thumb and index finger, which indicate a successful leader. She likes to be around successful people, but may not want to be the ultimate leader -- would be happy to be a VP (hear that, Obama?). She's good at asking questions and would be a good reporter or a good person to teach other people to do things. She establishes boundaries, but is willing to bend. She is tough on herself (indicated by the fact that she insisted on re-taking her picture for this post, because in the first one her arms looked too fat) and is good at making things happen. Her strong line of clairvoyance allows her to sometimes skip the learning curve. She needs to trust herself and recognize that she deserves what she is going to get. She is a gifted healer with the ability to heal others, but is maybe not using that. She is a writer...a blogger who likes to tell her story. She has a strong "philosopher" line and is strong and silent -- needs to "go back to her cave" to rejuvenate after being around people.

Monday, June 09, 2008

July 2008 Activity -- Craft Grab-Bag

July 5, 2008
Amy's house -- Arlington, VA

1. Maximum cost $25-30
2. Can be completed in 1-2 hours
3. Does not require any materials other than what comes with the box/kit/etc (e.g., no glue guns) unless you bring these yourself. You CAN supply a frame or pillow if appropriate (I'm assuming all of our crafts will be suitable for framing).
4. Bonus points for holiday (4th of July or otherwise) or religious themed items
5. Extra bonus points if the craft can be completed with a cocktail or beer* in one hand.

We will exchange the crafts when we get to Amy's (through some complicated process like grabbing names out of a hat), so no one will do the craft they brought.

Please note the hilarity of this activity. None of us are "crafters" (and frankly, I cannot even type that word without rolling my eyes). However, due to Amy's "condition" (*she will complete her craft with an O'Doul's in one hand), most physical activities are going to be impossible for the next few months, so we're trying to find things in which all of us can participate.


Craft Grab Bag -- What We Learned:

1) Nicole likes to craft pantsless
2) Amanda will likely be struck by lightning, based on her adding the pipe cleaner/champagne grapes appendage to her marshmallow Jesus, Mary and Joseph craft (not to mention deliberately gluing in the baby Jesus upside-down)
3) Hook rug tools are clearly impossible to figure out. Hand knotting is where it's at. Especially when the crafter has an apparent acid flashback during the knotting.
4) If one Jesus, Mary and Joseph marshmallow Christmas ornament kit is good...12 are fantastic
5) There was no possible way we could live up to the "Schirmer's Kentucky Home" craft

June 2008 Activity -- Evening at the National Press Club (with speaker Helen Thomas)

An Evening with Helen Thomas
June 26, 2008
The National Press Club
Cost: $45

The invitation read, "Helen Thomas shares her insights about the presidential campaign and stories from her career as a White House Correspondent."

We were so excited to see legend Helen Thomas speak, that we almost excused the ONE HOUR DELAY in this program getting started. However, as the host of the event finally approached the podium, she told us that Helen was in the ICU and could not be there and that Kathleen Matthews would be speaking instead.

Kathleen Matthews is very accomplished, but she is no Helen Thomas. So, it was kind of hard to not be really, really disappointed. Kathleen talked about some of her most memorable experiences as a reporter and anchor in this area, shilled for Marriott numerous times and then got on some tangent about potting and repotting and a big global pot (snicker). Also, we found out that her hubby, Hardball's Chris Matthews, mows their yard himself. (Kind of a physics feat, considering his tremendous melon.) (Why am I so mean?) (Because it's funny.) (Is the reader even needed for this discussion?) (No, not really.)

After the question and answer session, where we learned that Kathleen has a Facebook page, we headed over to Butterfield 9 for dinner and drinks. Our waiter seemed none too pleased that we were ordering small plates. However, once we had bread and a delightful blended arugula amuse bouche, we were all pretty happy we did order small.

Overall, an anti-climatic night...but always fun, thanks to the dilettantes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

May 2008 Activity -- Drum Circle

Drum Circle
Leesburg, VA
Friday, May 9th, 7:00-8:30
Cost: $15
(Option of joining the Open Drum Circle after class from 8:30-10:00 for $5)

Amy found this on Craigslist and it stated that "all percussion instruments are welcome and that extra drums may be available, but only on a first-come first-served basis."

Walking into Esoterica, we were directed past a lot of incense and witchcraft paraphernalia to a loft area above the store via a narrow and rickety staircase. The loft area was dim and there was (what looked and smelled like) pot burning in a dish in the center of a table. We immediately wished we had brought some cool ranch Doritos confirmed that it was NOT pot or anything potentially harmful to pregnant Amy.

There were five or six guys that regularly participate in this Drum Circle and every single one of them was amazingly nice and welcoming. (We did feel a little like we were invading a very intimate gathering. Probably because we were.) These guys told us about the different instruments they played and knew the history of many different types of drums.

We did a lot of meditation exercises while beating on our drums in the very dimly lit room -- including one where we closed our eyes and tried to follow our animal spirit guides. We were happy enough to go along with this until they then wanted everybody to share what they "saw". I mean, at this point do you let them know you were replaying last night's "Biggest Loser" in your head or do you make up something about your spirit guide being a wolf and leading you away from danger? (I believe we went with secret option "C" and claimed it was too personal an experience to share.)

After drumming and meditating and being in the moment for about an hour or so, we had the option to join in a much larger drum circle that anyone can join in on Friday nights at the store. We opted for dinner and drinks at Lightfoot Restaurant instead (our animal spirit guides led us there).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

April 2008 Activity -- Facial Yoga

Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Face-Val-U facial yoga class
Spa at Mandarin Oriental Hotel
1330 Maryland Avenue, SW DC
Cost: $35 per person

For the second time in Dilettante history, we had a guest dilettante. Amanda's friend from Indonesia (and former member of the Indonesian Parliament -- seriously), Tanti. (Ergo, she will be heretofore known as, "Dilettanti.")

At the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Spa, we were taken into the gym area where we met our instructor, Val. She wasn't big on the warm fuzzies and just jumped right into the class, which was pretty cool. We all sat on Swiss balls facing a mirror for the duration of the class, so that we could watch our posture and our faces as we learned to isolate and work each facial muscle.

Her non-sugar-coated assessment of each of us:

Amanda "Mean Munchkin" Lonsdale: Sounds like she represents the lollipop guild when trying to talk with her tongue in the roof of her mouth (a strengthening exercise). Also, she never smiles and is apparently a total pessimist based on the lengthy "Can't never could" lecture she received after she said that she could not do one of the exercises.

Dilettanti: Has small eyes and bags underneath them. (Which probably has nothing to do with the fact that she's Asian and had recently flown in from Indonesia.)

Kathleen "Crow's Feet" Canedo: Pretty self-explanatory -- although I do prefer "laugh lines" and sue me if I don't worry too much about these and actually kind of like my face advertising that I like to laugh

Nicole "Jowls" Bono: Needs to work on her jawline so that she does not develop flappy jowls down the road. (The dilettante consensus was that Nicole should introduce herself to her new Ashburn neighbors as "Jowls Bono" so they don't mess with her.

Amy "Droopy" Schirmer: Has to open her eyes much bigger and wider so the upper lids don't droop.

We went through many facial exercises that came with theatrics such as pretending we were snooty toots, talking like we were from West Virginia and South Carolina, and rubbing balls on our faces (hee hee -- she said "rubbing balls on our faces.")

She also taught us how to do some everyday things more elegantly. These tips included how to drink properly from a glass and through a straw and how to walk in a more feminine and sexy way (and repeatedly commended Amanda on her superior butt action -- which, combined with her lollipop guild voice probably makes for some interesting encounters for her husband). All of these things help work muscles and improve posture. She mentioned that walking properly would get a lot of construction workers to take notice...funny -- we always thought that a pulse was all that was required.

The hour class stretched into an hour and a half because she was having such a good time. We wrapped up by slapping ourselves silly all over our bodies.

So, some good tips that we can probably implement just by being more aware of them. But also a lot of tips that I cannot see anyone spending a considerable amount of time is just to short and botox is just too available.

March 2008 Activity -- Photo Safari

March 30, 2008
Photo Safari -- Afternoon Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin
3:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Cost: $54/person
This photo safari promised photography instruction during the peak of the cherry blossoms. We were to meet in the late afternoon to take advantage of the late afternoon sun at the FDR Memorial and then to move with the sun behind us along the Tidal Basin toward the Jefferson Memorial.

We met for lunch before the activity -- at Cafe du Parc next to the Willard Hotel. With one preggo, one sickie, and one open-house-haver-that-day, it was a much drier dilettante meal than usual. We made up for it in cheese. Prolly some of the best onion soup, ever. There was a bit of a lengthy discussion about things that should not go in (certain body parts) that was pretty hilarious. We had such a nice, lesiurely lunch (er, dejeuner) that we lost all track of time (er, merde!). So we hailed a cab -- which was all but slowed to a stop for the short drive over to the FDR Memorial -- Cherry Blossoms and Cherry Blossom Traffic were in full bloom. Amanda called the instructor from the cab to let him know we were we got there about 15 minutes late, only to see that everyone else in our class had schmancy cameras with huge lenses. The four of us with our point-and-shoot numbers felt a little red-faced at first, but our instructor assured us that he could teach us to take better pictures even with those cameras.

The instructor, E. David Luria was funny and cool and had some great tips including:
1. Hold the camera correctly (holding with two hands makes for a steadier camera and a better picture)
2. Get CLOSE! (don't think you need everything in a shot -- focus on what's important and move in)
3. Mind the composition (place the elements of the photograph in a way that makes the photograph interesting.
4. Determine the best angle and time of day for shooting.
5. Keep your verticals as straight as possible.

Ansel Adams Lonsdale took to this activity like (insert funny analogy here). Once our instructor assured her that she was not SOL due to dead batteries (yes, Ansel -- they do sell camera batteries in DC -- a place known to attract a camera-toting tourist or two), she was on fire. She was a bit show-offy, what with her black and whites and sepia tones and all, but the woman can take a picture. Amy cornered the market on the composition aspect of things...pointing to the perfect shot of a kindly gentleman bent over and giving us a full moon. Nicole was great at getting close to her subjects and even got down on the ground for a couple of shots like a true pro.

We all decided that we took away some great advice as to how to take better pictures and we also learned about the features on our cameras and how they could help us do that.

Very worthwhile class with the bonus of getting to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. The favorite photos that each of us took are shown above and below this posting.


Friday, January 04, 2008

February 2008 Activity -- Fencing

Saturday, February 16, 1:00-3:00pm
Cost: $135 for private group lesson for four
Fairfax Fencers Health Club, LLC
4433 Brookfield Corporate Drive, Suite J
Chantilly, Virginia 20151

We all met at the Fairfax Fencers Club -- located in an office park in Chantilly. Our instructor (and president of the club), Tom, had decorated the entire club with movie posters, tapestries, swords and a million other fencing-related effects.

Tom provided some history of fencing and the different types of weapons -- sabre, epee and foil -- and passed some of his swords around for us to hold and look at.

Wearing our lames and masks, we took our place on the strip and were introduced to the "en garde" stance, parries 4, 6, 7 and 8, and footwork. We learned to salute, the ballestra, the (running one) advance/retreat, extend, thrust, lunge, recover, and riposte.

We went through some drills. One in particular was quite hilarious -- we had to full at full speed and try to hit a tiny circle with the tips of our foils. We were approximately 0 for 72 with that.

Then, we fenced against each other. Dilettantes Kathleen and Nicole were up first, followed by Amanda and Amy. The videos we took during these duels really helped us study and improve our form will never see the light of day.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

January 2008 Activity -- Self-Defense

Self-defense (aka "Rape Escape")
North Brentwood Community Center
Brentwood, MD

Kicking a 260-lb man across the room sure can be exhilarating. And according to our instructor, Kevin, we better all know how to do this, pronto. Our class began with a rehash of the very sobering statistics about attacks on women, causing us to shift uncomfortably in our standard issue elementary school chairs, silently praying for the arrival of Nick, the "bad guy", who was holding up the start of class.

About 10 minutes later, the pleasantries were finished and we got down to the business of learning the techniques that will hopefully save our lives in the case of an attack. The moves were generally pretty simple, although some were a bit counterintuitive. We mused to each other that we weren't 100% sure we would be able to recall (much less execute) them in case of attack. We did learn a couple of valuable things that we will definitely recall:

1. The ground is your friend
2. Create a barrier between you and the attacker
3. Kick like hell

Nicole and Kathleen were the only dilettantes to come out of the class unscathed. Amy managed to pinch a nerve in her back getting up off the mat after disabling the "bad guy", and then break a nail down to the quick while practicing other moves. Amanda is happy to report that she has no symptoms of a MRSA infection, despite sustaining severe scrapes from the velcro on the "bad guy's" suit. Kathleen managed to remain injury free by wearing a completely padded suit (see photo), which was forced upon her by the instructor who must've heard about her previous adventures on a Segway (see June 2006).*

Scrapes aside, the class was probably one of the most valuable experiences the Dilettantes have experienced. We walked away from it a little more freaked out about our chances of being attacked, but confident that we would be able to channel our inner bad-ass if it did. Oh, and we got certificates to prove it.

*Just kidding! Kathleen wasn't able to join the class due to (mental) illness. If you want to mug one of us, it should be her.