Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blooms of Late Summer

By the end of August, everyone is pretty much sick of summer.  The garden is overgrown and burnt out, the fantasies of fabulous flowers and beautiful vegetables gone by the wayside.  The kids are bored and cranky, and though they won't admit it, most are itchy to get back together with school friends.   Our sandals are scuffed and our once new swimsuits are almost ready for the rag bag.  And all those fresh salads we were dreaming about back in February have lost some of their appeal.  

But late summer has its own special joys, one of them in DC being the profusion of crepe myrtle trees in bloom everywhere.  Deep red, pink, and white blooms on gracefully arching branches -- a fair competitor to the cherry blossoms and dogwoods of spring.

The leaves will be falling soon enough.  Enjoy them while you can.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Light a Candle

In the end, Hurricane Irene turned out to be a non-event for us.  No water in the basement, no loss of power, no limbs down.  The twigs and leaves scattered over the front lawn I can handle. 

People are very quick these days to blame natural disasters as some kind of message from God.  I can't quite figure out the logic behind that.  But then, when it comes to faith, there is no logic.  I can only imagine how many candles were lit to keep the weather at bay. Judging from this display at Target (which, in fact, shows just a fraction of the aisle), it is a very big business indeed.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Emergency Preparedness

Now that the Casey Anthony trial is well behind us, the Administration and Congress have stopped bickering over the debt ceiling, and we can't figure out where Qaddafi might be, the news stations have turned their 24/7 coverage to Hurricane Irene.  If I lived in the Outer Banks or in Virginia Beach or shore points north, I would be scared.  But here in DC?  It's tough to say.  We're too far inland to feel the full force of any hurricane but we've been wallopped enough by tropical storms in the past to fear the worst.  All the projections are iffy at this point.  It's going to rain tomorrow but just how hard the wind will blow and the rain will come down is anyone's guess.  Pepco is already hedging its bets by calling customers to tell them to expect power outages.  So send out your important e-mails now, folks.

But who cares about all that?  We Washingtonians may be incapable of driving in the snow but let it not be said that we don't know how to prepare.  Whatever the impending natural disaster, we know how to clean out a grocery store.  Toilet paper, milk, and bottled water.  Check.   Batteries, radios, flashlights.  Check.   Towels and mop at the ready in our sometimes leaky basement. Check.

Bring it, Irene.  We are ready.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

With Hurricane Irene headed for the East Coast, plans for the formal dedication of the new memorial honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. are in flux.  The big gala has been cancelled and the formal dedication postponed indefinitely.  But while the dream of having the formalities co-incide with the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington (where King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech) has been dashed, the dream of having an actual monument on the National Mall has been achieved.

Earlier this week, I trekked downtown to take a look for myself.  And to be honest, I can't say that it was my cup of tea.  The subtle beauty of the Vietnam War Memorial, the understated outdoor rooms of the FDR Memorial, even the graceful lines of the Jefferson:  that's what I like.  And so while I am proud that the National Park Service found a place to honor King and his message of peace, the monument itself feels too big, too crude, and too glaringly bright.  But who knows?  Perhaps with time and the weather, the stones will soften in appearance.  Or maybe it will just grow on me.  In any case, if you're visiting Washington, DC or especially if you live here, go on by and see for yourself.   And even if you don't care for the design, King's words, inscribed on the arching walls that bound the memorial, are timeless and inspiring.

 "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

East Coast Earthquake

Just when  I thought my life was too boring for words, I decided to do something blogworthy:  go down to the National Mall and take a look at the brand new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, not yet dedicated but nonetheless open to the public.  And what should happen when I got there?  As I sat down on the marble wall marking the entrance to the memorial, I felt a rumble and a wave, my only thought being "does the metro go under this?"  In a matter of minutes, I learned that we'd just experienced an earthquake, a 5.9 earthquake centered in tiny Mineral, Virginia but felt all up and down the East Coast and apparently as far west as Toronto.

There are reports of mild to moderate damage around town and a general skittishness, not surprising in a region that experienced a direct hit on 9/11 and was later terrorized by a still undetermined lunatic sending anthrax through the mail and a pair of snipers who killed more than a dozen people over several weeks.  So maybe it wasn't the big one, and maybe it was just business as usual for folks from the West Coast but personally I don't mind if the federal government and city officials want to be a bit cautious about the status of buildings, roads and bridges.  (Of course tell that to my husband whose subway ride home took almost two hours yesterday.)

Here on the home front, there's little evidence of the event.  No broken glass or tchotchkes.  No hairline cracks in the walls.  The chimney is still standing.  Only when I left the house around 12:30, these photos on the wall above my computer were perfectly squared up and now?

I think I can handle it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

France à Washington

Americans have long had this love-hate relationship with the French, vacillating from one extreme to another as current events unfold.  Fortunately, the days of "freedom fries" seem to be behind us.  If anything,  American retailers seem to be tapping into the love, or perhaps the envy end, of the spectrum.   A sampling of recent sightings include:

French office supplies

Decor for the home

Beauty products

Food (and to be clear, I didn't go out looking for pictures of French wine, cheese, butter, salt, etc which are more readily available than I had imagined, nor French or Belgian restaurants which seem to have popped up everywhere ).


And some other stuff:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Comforts of Home

Hello canned black beans.  It is a pleasure to have you back in my life.  Black beans could occasionally be found in Paris but only in the dry variety, not so convenient if you decide at 6:00 that black bean burritos sound good for dinner.  When opening this can the other night, I realized another thing:  I rarely used my can opener in France.  Most canned goods had pop tops.  Now if we could just get those two conveniences on the same continent.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mapping DC

The folks at Social Studies, a site connected with the online deal site, Living Social, published this map of DC earlier in the week, stirring up controversy and laughs all over town.  You can't make a graphic like this without making errors and enemies but it was all meant in fun.  I've spent most of my time here living in the land of "White People," logged many office hours in "Nonprofits and Acronyms" (scarily accurate) and both lived and worked in that space identified as "people who watch C-Span" (which I did, of course...all day long at work!)  Personally, I am ready for the t-shirt or the poster or both.

Monday, August 15, 2011


It's hard to pigeon hole Rodman's.  It's part grocery, part gourmet foods store, part wine and beer store, part pharmacy, and then there's all manner of other stuff you really need or never knew you wanted.   The premises have been substantially expanded over the past 10 years and while you probably won't want do all your shopping here, you really haven't lived until you have taken the time to peruse its shelves.  In a nutshell, Rodman's is the one place you can count on in DC to stock both sun-dried tomatoes and ostomy supplies.  Because seriously, why make two trips when you can make one?

Apparently Rodman's has three locations but two of them are somewhere north of town in Montgomery County, so for my money, there is only one Rodman's:  on the northwest corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Ellicott Street NW.   And kudos for great customer service:  a pharmacist who took extra time when my mother when she was very ill, the fellow in the wine department who special ordered a case of Vouvray for me and then insisted on carrying it to my car, the watch repair guy who charges only about 8 bucks for a new battery.  If you haven't been by, they're open seven days a week and there's even free parking in back.  The metro's only a few blocks away but with what you're going to be lugging home, bring the car.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Seldom Seen

It's easy to tick off some of the big things that are different about life in Washington, DC from what you experience in Paris:  bigger cars, fewer bicycles, smiling people, fewer bakeries, hotter temperatures, fewer smokers.  But dozens, perhaps hundreds of little differences, lurk just below the surface.  Here, for example, are two things that you would never (or at least very rarely) see in France:

In the meat case at Giant:

 Outside a small restaurant/deli in a suburban strip shopping center (and yes, they have those in France):

Something for everyone!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Misplaced Message?

Still trying to figure out the method behind this tagger's madness. But perhaps the readers of Washington Hispanic are a better target for his message than I imagine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Family History (or Lack of It)

Our sea shipment from France arrived ten days ago, 217 parcels worth.  And then last Friday, a truck pulled up with the stuff we'd put in storage four years ago including some quite practical items like our vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, and kitchen table.  All the clothes are in the drawers, the pots and pans put away, and books shelved but there are still stacks of pictures to be hung and a lot of odds and ends covering the dining room table and the basement floor, waiting for their fates to be determined.  The lion's share of these are family mementos, photos, papers, and sentimental treasures which hold great meaning to me but little value to anyone else. 

At some point, all of this stuff will become fodder for the recycling bin, that is, if they do not crumble into a thousand little brown and yellow bits beforehand.  Already, there are gaps in my knowledge about who's who and regrettably, almost all the people who could tell me the answers have passed away.

I know well who all the characters are in the photos above.  But this couple?

The photo came out of a box with memorabilia from my paternal grandmother's family but there's no indication as to who this duo might be.  The only markings on the back are the photographer's name and address.  And even that is a puzzle.  The photo was taken in Emmendingen in southern Germany although the rest of the relatives came from the north.   A lady with a far away look in her eyes, her husband (I'm guessing) who sports a half smirk -- their names and stories are forever lost to me.  And I guess that's how it's going to go for the rest of us.  Even so, I can't bear to part with them...just yet.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Home Grown Tomatoes

My life seems to have turned into an endless succession of unpacking, rearranging, filing, taking out the trash and the recycling, waiting on service calls, errands, and driving all over kingdom come.  More than once, I've said to myself, "this is not the life I signed up for."  I keep reminding myself that it's only temporary, eventually things will settle into a sense of normalcy, that my house will no longer look like a bomb went off inside, that there will be pictures hung on the wall, that I will no longer be driving up Rockville Pike or down U.S. 1, and children will be back into a routine involving people their own age.  It's not that I'm missing my life in France so much as I am missing the life of regular hours, a place for everything and everything in its place, and when there is time to enjoy the many gifts DC has to offer.

It's not all doom and gloom.  Among the things I have been enjoying is the summer's bounty of tomatoes.  We arrived back in town far too late to plant our own but fortunately there are plenty of farm stands around with baskets of red and green and zebra striped beauties in every shape and size.  For all Parisian open-air markets had to offer, a decent tomato was never to be found.  Now I'm reveling in BLT, salads, and sometimes just a simple slice with a smidge of salt.  Mmmmm.

Songwriter Guy Clark sure had it right:  "Only two things that money can't buy.  That's true love and homegrown tomatoes."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

This Does Not Compute

I'll never understand this.  Would someone's brand loyalty dictate spending 10 cents more per gallon when these two stations are right next to each other?  Not across the street.  Not before or after the light.  I don't get it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Clipping Coupons

Although I've been fortunate in my life to have never worried where my next meal was coming from or whether I'd have enough money to pay the rent,  I still know how to pinch a penny.  After all, if I don't over pay for groceries or clothes, there's more left over for fun things like travel, theater tickets, and a really nice dinner out.

I used to be pretty good at scouring the weekly grocery circulars, menu planning around the loss leaders, and maximizing my savings with manufacturer's coupons.  All that went out the window when we went to France where there were rarely promotions in the supermarket and the coupons were mostly for stuff I didn't want to buy anyway.  But now that we're back, I'm having a hard time getting back into the groove.  For starters, I have no idea what anything is supposed to cost anymore.  Is $3.99 a gallon a good price to pay for milk?  It's hard to know when you've gotten used to 2.75 euros for two liters.  (The math for the currency and volume conversions kind of breaks my brain.)  What does a steak go for?  A pound of zucchini?  A half gallon of ice cream?  What should I buy in the full service market and what's worth a trip to Trader Joe's or even Costco (which we recently joined to get some major savings on a new TV)?  And just how much time do I want to spend grocery shopping anyway?!!

So for the moment, I'm taking things slowly, one meal at a time.  Come to think of it, our grill comes out of storage on Friday and we could do burgers.  Excuse me while I go cross check the prices on ground beef.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Only in America

Only in America would you find:

A parking lot of oversized cars (full disclosure:  I used to drive a mini van but those days are now behind me).

A bible and the Book of Mormon in the top drawer of your hotel nightstand.

Presidential Chia pets.  

A grocery aisle marked "peanut butter."


Monday, August 1, 2011

The Greatest Nation on Earth

At the height of the Vietnam War, my dad, who normally abhorred the thought of bumper stickers, proudly affixed one to his car that read "Peace is patriotic."  And that's how he and my mom raised us:  proud to be Americans.   And yet, it wasn't a jingoistic kind of a patriotism -- it was a spirit of pride mingled with the duty to work for peace and justice, a notion that we, as a nation, could always do better.  

I am still proud to be an American (despite the national circus that has played out on Capitol Hill recently) but I sure wish our leaders would stop referring to the U.S. as "the greatest nation on earth."  The phrase is all arrogance and no ambition.  The World Health Organization ranked our health system 37th in the world, behind all of Western Europe and places like Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica.  When it comes to education, the U.S. ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.  So go ahead, well up with tears when you say the pledge of allegiance or sing the national anthem, point to our can-do spirit and moments of courage and resolve, or advances in science, technology, and medicine.  But "greatest"?  That's one word best left out of our national rhetoric.