Five Favorite Things: Finding Joy

Five Favorites

On January 1, 2020, I wrote little notes to myself, reflecting on the night I had and looking forward to the next year. I didn’t really write any resolutions, but I did challenge myself to spend this year finding joy. This year has not been easy for anyone, but finding little spots of joy has helped tremendously. So here are my five favorite things that sparked joy in my life recently.

Music. I’ve rediscovered Spotify playlists recently. As I’m working from home and not bothering anyone else, I can put on tunes and take a dance break between data entry or a FaceTime with a friend. My favorite joyful Spotify playlists right now are Feelin’ Good, the Cleaning Kit playlist, and Songs to Sing in the Shower.

YouTube. I’ve found it really difficult to laugh recently – it just doesn’t seem right. But I give myself a reprieve sometimes and it makes me feel a little better. One of the ways I do that is by watching YouTube blooper reels. Many shows post their blooper reels on YouTube (or fans put them up for everyone’s enjoyment) and I often times find them funnier than the show itself. Can 10 out of 10 recommend. Another bonus of YouTube is a British show called Taskmaster, which has been uploading an episode each week.

Plants. My love for my plant roommates is not new. They’re a core part of my adult life and seeing them grow genuinely makes me happy. At last count, I had fourteen individual plants living with me, soaking up sun, and giving me structure. Once a week or so, I spend time watering them, checking for dead leaves, and making sure they are happy. And it brings me joy.

Reading. This year in general, I’ve reached for books more frequently than in the past. Perhaps because I don’t have academic reading in the way or maybe because I’ve been spending so much time staring at a computer screen, but the ability to spend an afternoon with my nose in a paperback has been really calming. Recent reads include We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Normal People, and Things You Save in a Fire. (If you are searching for new reading material, check your local library for an Overdrive or online rental account or buy from local bookstores through Bookshop.org.)

Yoga. Sitting all day has wrecked havoc on my back. But my weekly yoga class has moved to Zoom. While I’m not a huge fan of Zoom classes, doing yoga twice a week has made my back a lot happier and given me a reason to put on a sports bra (the only type of bra I’m even considering wearing right now) and get a tiny bit sweaty. Though I may get frustrated with my class, I genuinely feel better when I get up afterwards. (If you’re interested in yoga, YouTube is a good place to start.)

Basically, it’s little things everywhere. Where are you finding joy right now?

Five Favorite Things: Museums

Five Favorites

Growing up, I was very spoiled by the quality of museums in the DC area. And many of them are free to visit (shoutout to the Smithsonian). I could learn about history, art, space, animals, you name it, all within a few walkable blocks. When I started traveling around and museums weren’t up to snuff and they charged me to visit, I was supremely disappointed. I’ve popped my head into many a museum over the years, in various places. In reflection, some of my favorites are free and some are not, and only one is in DC. Here’s my list of five favorite museums:

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

If you find yourself in Paris, ignore the instinct to wait in line to get a grainy picture of a thousand hands in front of the Mona Lisa. Unless you have all the time in the world, the Louvre is not nearly as interesting as we were led to believe in elementary school French classes. Paris is an architecturally beautiful city and one of its gems is the Musée d’Orsay. Housed in a former railway station, the Musée d’Orsay houses some of the most stunning Impressionist art. I could spend hours wandering through the pieces and people watching. Plus if you go upstairs, you get a pretty good view.

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Children’s Museum, Indianapolis

Got kids? Despite being a little older than the target demographic and lacking in a child of my own, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was visited many times during my Indiana inhabitance. The fourth oldest and the world’s largest children’s museum is home to interactive and educational fun, ranging from dinosaurs to space to a carousel, all indoors. The space also hosts rotating exhibits (I even went with my grandma to see the terra-cotta soldiers there).

Courtauld Gallery, London

Another place I visited with my grandma was the Courtauld Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art. When my mother and I visited London many years ago, we purchased the London Pass which ended up not saving us very much on anything, but led us to a smaller gallery just a few blocks from Trafalgar Square. Located in Somerset House, the gallery has a wonderful collection of paintings that includes Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, as well as ceramics from the Renaissance and Degas sculptures. It’s usually much calmer than the National Gallery down the street so you can avoid the chaos that is tourist London.

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Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC

Another gallery to avoid the crowds is my one DC gallery on this list. Part of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery is a smaller space that allows each piece to take over individual rooms, shaping the experience with the integration of the piece into the physical space. The gallery is located literal steps from the White House and, because it is part of the Smithsonian family, entry is free.

Glyptotek, Copenhagen

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen was a surprise find on a family trip to the city. The collection was built around the personal collection of the son of the founder of certain well-known beer. Though the primary focal point of the museum is sculptures, the highlight of my visit was the beauty of the collection in a stunning building. White sculptures stood out amongst crisp colorful walls; an atrium filled with plants sat at the center of the museum; the ceilings are just as stunning as the floors. And there’s a beautiful rooftop space that gives you a lovely view of Tivoli Gardens.

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** I do feel I should defend my list slightly. It’s heavy on the art galleries and lacking slightly on the quirky museums every city seems to have. Don’t get me wrong – the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Natural History are two favorites. The Air and Space Museum in Dulles is also really good, and I will never turn down a little museum that is oddly specific. But the ones on my list make me (want to) return again and again. They’re places I’ve spent hours and hours, only to leave and wish for more hours in the day.

Honey, I’m Home

Travel

It came to my attention that a friend who shall remain unnamed has lived in the DC area for a few years and never ventured down to my favorite place in the metro area: Old Town Alexandria. I was personally offended. I think Old Town is one of the coolest part of the DC area. And if you love history, hate crowds, and always want to be surprised, Old Town is the place for you.

Getting There: The excuse I was given was that Old Town was too tough to get to. Which is bull. When Metro hasn’t shut down all of the Virginia stops, you can get to Old Town easy peasy on the Yellow or Blue line and hop off at the King’s Street stop. The walk from the metro isn’t horrible and is a straight line down King Street to get to the water front, or you can hop on the free Trolley that’ll take you all the way down King. Parking isn’t ideal, but if you’re keen on a day’s adventure, there’s bike paths that lead straight there from all directions. You can also hop a riverboat from Georgetown and National Harbor.

What to Do: Old Town is filled with history: go on a ghost tour of town, visit Gatsby’s Tavern, wander the cemetaries. It’s also a quintessential walkable area. You can wander down the history cobblestone roads and see historical buildings with just a touch of cute. If you’re on the hunt for that perfect birthday gift or that not-too-touristy present to bring back home, there’s plenty of boutiques and cute shops all up and down King’s Street that are fun to just pop in and out of. Make a stop in the Torpedo Factory to peek at some local artists’ workspaces. If you’re there in the summertime, the boardwalk is filled with performers and opportunities for people watching. Plus there’s that relaxing sound of the water that just can’t be replicated by an iPhone.

What to Eat: Old Town is constantly updating their food options, with shops coming and going. I’ve got a few favorites that are consistent: for “Chicago” style pizza, go to Bugsy’s. Looking for a Marg and a couple tacos, Los Cuates is a good bet. On the hunt for a classy meal, the Chart House has good food and great views. And to round it all off, there’s nothing better than a scoop (or two) of ice cream for your wander onto the boardwalk: there’s a Ben and Jerry’s, but my personal favorite is the Cookie Dough at The Creamery – just keep an eye out for the bear in the window.

Basically, there’s so much to do in Old Town and it’s just so close to DC that you have no excuse.