May 6, 2008

Pursuit of community

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , at 12:02 am by Lauren

I’ve always felt that one of the major disadvantages of living in a large city is the potential to lose a sense of community. People don’t interact with neighbors because they’re too busy or suspicious of others’ intentions – or they’re just not sure how.

Get involved!

But last year in Washington, DC, I took part in a possible antidote to the lack of community: Learn-a-Palooza. The idea is this: we all have something to learn from others, and we all have something to teach others. So why not pool our community’s resources in a day of workshops – a sort of celebration of our individual and communal strengths. This year’s Learn-A-Palooza is on Saturday, May 10 in Washington, DC. It’s not too late to sign up to teach, and if you just want to listen and learn, check out the list of free workshops and show up on Saturday!

Here’s Learn-A-Palooza’s official blurb:

Have you ever wanted to learn how to play African drums, change a bike tire, or fry a turkey? On May 10th, you’ll have a chance to do this all and more — for free!

Learn-a-Palooza DC is a first-of-its-kind community organized event happening on Saturday, May 10th, 2008. All day businesses, homes, and community centers in Adams Morgan, U St, Dupont, Columbia Heights, and Foggy Bottom and more will open their doors to hold short “workshops” on every topic under the sun — from “Intro to Mindfulness Meditation,” to “Beat the Sugar Blues,” to “Get Out of a Speeding Ticket,” to “Intro to Capoeira” to “Survival Skills Turkish Beginners,” to “Understanding Your Camera,” plus pool, knitting, juggling, and more.
OFFER a workshop — in your own space or someone else’s. Sign up at:

TAKE a workshop. Find the full class schedule at:

My experience with Learn-A-Palooza 2007

I taught two classes last year. I had just started out with Pampered Chef, and I wanted an opportunity to practice my cooking shows and to broaden my contact base. Since Learn-A-Palooza is free to participate in, I thought it would be a great chance to get the word out to an entirely different audience than I’d normally find.

The only venue I found with a kitchen was Clay Johnson’s house. Clay turned out to be one of the powerhouses behind Learn-A-Palooza, and I was very impressed with his activism. Basically the story he told was this: he had just started dating Rosalyn Lemieux and in trying to show his best side started outlining this idea about bringing the community together. Together the two of them fleshed out the idea, and she basically called him on it, “Let’s do this.” And the amazing thing is, they did. And he said they set it up so that the community organized it – signing up for classes, offering space for classes, etc. Now, that’s a very simplified (and biased, and hopefully properly remembered) version of the story, and I’m sure it doesn’t give credit to many other people who were involved in making the first ever Learn-A-Palooza a success. But what hit home for me is that they went beyond just making a change and actually did something. We need more people like that – we need to be like that.

I taught two classes – one with brunch recipes and one with appetizers. The brunch class had 8-10 participants, and we made pull-apart cinnamon muffins and a ham and cheese braid. Then we all munched! In between I had to go home, wash all my cookware, and cart it all back. For appetizers, I think something like 25 people crammed into Clay’s living room. (I was amazed.) It was quite an experience for me, and the first thing I did was cut my finger on the artichoke can when I was opening it. My hand wouldn’t stop bleeding, so I (somewhat aggressively) solicited volunteers from the audience to do my work for me. Those excellent sports helped make asiago crisps, spinach & artichoke dip, and Tex Mex chicken melts. Towards the end somebody saved the day with some spray that stopped the bleeding, but the work had pretty much been done by the community itself! We all snacked and chatted, and I was really pleased that I’d come out and braved teaching a class.

I also hung out for two of Clay’s classes (since they were also in the “venue” of his living room). So I learned three tricks to get someone to buy you a drink and learned some tips on frying a turkey. Some of you are saying, “Oh so that’s where you learned that trick with the water.” Genius trick. Let me know if you need me to “show” it to you when I get back to the States.

Why I wish I were in DC right now

Last year, I was bound and determined that I’d have our house as a venue this year. I thought it would be fun to teach a few classes but also give others a space to teach in. Plus we need to get people to Brookland and Brookland to the people! (Most of the classes take place in the Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan areas, but last year some classes were also near GW and at Dance Place in Brookland.)

I’m having fun thinking about what I would teach if I were in DC this year for Learn-A-Palooza. Let’s see. Maybe The Ins and Outs of Language Exchange Partnerships. Or here’s a good one: How to Pack Light and Pack Smart. Possibly even When in Paris, Order a Drink as the Parisians Do. Next year I hope I’ll have the know-how to teach Fostering a Litter of Kittens. Know what you would teach? If you’re in DC, sign up and do it!

And if I weren’t teaching, I’d be learning how to juggle, sharing ideas about using improv in teaching (one of my favorite classroom activities, but also great for trainings!), hearing more about eating local food, and getting tips on framing a canvas. The hardest thing is just deciding which workshops to attend!

I hope I’ve convinced you of how great an endeavor Learn-A-Palooza is! Leave me a note if you’re planning to go! Or drop in afterwards and share about your experience! I’m certainly sorry to be missing it this year.



  1. Come to Capitol Hill in DC if you want to experience an organic sense of community. Our little village within this city is the friendliest, most connected neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.

  2. Lauren said,

    Thanks for the comment, Reya. I really like Capitol Hill, and my husband and I looked at houses there before settling on a place in more-in-our-price-range Brookland. We had some nice neighbors in Brookland too, but we weren’t even there a year before this new job whisked us off to Paris. But my favorite part about living in Brookland is that I was more or less in the neighborhood of the school I taught in, which contributed to my involvement in the school community.

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