A happy Ash Wednesday to all the Catholics out there, and to everyone else, God help you. I'm just kidding. For the most part.
Today, as many of you know, marks the official beginning of the 40 days and 40 nights of Lent, a season when pious Catholics try to be better at religion in general, and if they're anything like me fail miserably. It is also a season when we all try to give something up in order to suffer and become better human beings because of it.
The beginning of Lent also usually falls soon after President's Day, which doesn't mean much for most people, but for me and my college friends and others we've roped in along the way, President's Day marks our annual reunion weekend. We've made this happen every year since graduating in 2000, gathering in Boston, New York City and South Carolina to name a few.
This year my friends did some excellent research and decided it might be fun to rent a house near a winery in the Northern Neck of Virginia. This area of the world is not easy to describe because it's not quite near, well...anything, and when people asked me where I was going I proudly answered "to a WINERY" and was done with it.
The result of all this was that the first two days we were there were a lovely mix of traipsing around visiting historical sites and exploring local culture, like the seafood restaurant The Happy Clam. We also saw a lot of bald eagles, which was great, because as much as I've resented J making me look for birds in the past, seeing those majestic creatures close up was pretty amazing (sadly J had a lot of work to do this weekend and couldn't come with us).
Basically, we had a very presidential trip, which was a first for us and, of course, very pertinent to the holiday weekend.
At night we'd come home to our gorgeous, spacious house on the Rappahannock and Andy would make us a fire and we'd gather around having a few margaritas or some wine, playing games, and then eventually would drift off to sleep.
The first two nights that's what happened.
On the third day we decided to visit Robert E. Lee's birthplace. It's called Stratford Hall Plantation, and is owned by a collective of 43 women, for some reason that no one explained to us. We may have bolstered the courage to ask (a nice older woman with a dressed in colonial garb led us on a tour) but see, on the third day we decided it was time to finally visit the winery, Ingleside. I know you probably think it's crazy that we waited so long to visit, but honestly, we were too busy learning.
So what happened is that we were kind of antsy when we got to Stratford Hall. Really antsy. We forced Bill to tell the kindly docent that we'd have to be leaving early as "we had an appointment." It was ok, because at that point, we'd really had our fill of historic facts - or at least I had. And the thing is, some of the facts were more like suggestions. Both at Washington's and Lee's birthplaces, we were told by staff members that many of the artifacts weren't actually historic artifacts, but recreations, so by the end of all that touring, we'd wizened up and were ready to drink some actual wine.
Naturally, when we got to the winery, we were elated and opted for the more advanced tasting and were able to try some of the reserve wines, which were delicious. We stuck around after the tasting for the tour, during which we were allowed to bring our glasses of wine (that we purchased after the tasting, because you can't just stop at a tasting) and declared it the VERY BEST TOUR we'd been on. All that they had on those other tours were fake cookies on recreations of historic dinner plates, after all.
Here's where it gets a little hard to remember. We were drinking the wine, and having a very good, but somewhat civilized time, and then the next thing I knew we had (ok, mostly it was me, but I was backed up on this, believe me) invited a couple who worked at the winery back to the house to help us drink the roughly 12 million bottles of Ingleside wine we'd just purchased. We got back home, made our fire, ate about 10 blocks of cheese and lots of chips and salsa, our guests came over, we drank the wine and all of a sudden were in the throes of a massive dance party (you can watch a video, taken by Cathy, of a particularly awesome part of that dance party here on YouTube).
Once again, President's Day weekend was a raucous success, and once again, the reunion has prepared me for Lent. I woke up today feeling ready for a little self-restraint as well as a little productivity - this year for Lent I've opted to try and check my email only a couple times a day and walk the dog frequently. It's a good time to try and become a better human being. And if you're into it, think about God or spirituality or even just the general idea of human connectivity, you know, all of us on this Earth together. I don't know, maybe I'm being a bit lofty, but spending such a fantastic weekend with my friends made me think about how nice life can be, and it doesn't hurt that the temperatures have gone up recently down here in North Carolina even though it's only February, reminding us that spring is coming soon.