Friday, September 30, 2011

Jumping for Joy

If you found yourself on New York Avenue over the past few months, you might have done a double take after seeing these colorful ladies in action.  They're the work of French artist Niki de Saint Phalle whose whimsical sculptures make the Stravinsky Fountain near Paris's Pompidou Centre so memorable.  On a gray day (as many of them have been lately), these zaftig but nimble souls from Saint Phalle's "Nana" series certainly cheered the streetscape.  If you want to see them for yourself, act quickly.  The installation, part of the neighboring National Museum of Women in the Arts New York Avenue Sculpture Project, runs only through the end of October.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Fall is in the air here....the leaves are just starting to turn and the insane heat is over (although the humidity is another story).  While orange, red, and yellow are the traditional fall colors, sometimes Mother Nature has something different up her sleeve.  I don't know the proper name for these wild berries but I love the fact that they're all shades of purple and blue, all on one vine.  Stay tuned for more seasonal shots.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Say What?

What feels different about being back in town after four years away? Major renovations to all the schools in our neighborhood for one, and a new public library where there used to be just a hole in the ground for two. The selection of Greek yogurts and hummus flavors have exploded in the supermarket. And my street now has restricted parking, for reasons I can't comprehend. We never had a problem with all day parkers from outside the neighborhood. Well it's a privilege that costs a modest amount annually and now allows me to all day park in front of houses closer to the Metro.

But the thing that has probably changed the most is my awareness to the unstated assumptions about language and popular culture.  Reading the newspaper isn't just about the vocabulary; you also have to get the shorthand that takes the place of the full back story.  The headlines are minefields of double entendres, metaphors, and colloquial expressions.  And doing a crossword puzzle requires that you have a certain level of knowledge when it comes to history, literature, film, and especially in America, sports. 

Here are just a few of the tidbits that have caught my eye in recent days.  Do you have others to add to the list?

"Shoe leather could prove key in 3-way N.Va. race"

" teams at summer camp in a three month long color war"

"Report cards won't be as easy as A, B, C, now"

"Office Pollyannas:  The pursuit of unhappiness"

"Caps gain veteran savvy between the pipes"


Friday, September 23, 2011

Parking Lot Pics

It feels rather pathetic to me the number of posts that revolve around the supermarket.  And yet while I wait to hear about news on the employment front (which, by the way, is looking fairly promising), my horizons otherwise these days have been fairly limited.  But you take inspiration where you find it, right?

Most dogs like nothing better than sitting in the front seat of the car.  I mean, who wouldn't want to ride with one's head out the window?  This dog was waiting patiently in the parking lot for its owner to return.  The sight just cracked me up.  All this dog needed was a crossword puzzle or the sound of NPR from the car radio to complete the portrait of the long suffering companion.

If you followed my Paris blog, you know how much I adore Smart cars.  They've made their appearance on the American scene (to some pretty scathing reviews about their driving performance) and yet to me, still seem a bit out of place.  The Smart is like no other car when it comes to parallel parking (a skill you must have if you live in DC) thus its appearance in this suburban supermarket parking lot is somewhat incongruous. What's more, that gold car next to it is probably considered a compact, small by American standards.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the Newstand

Call me a cheap date but I find the covers of the magazines in the supermarket endlessly amusing.  It's best not to peek inside because the articles themselves are never as interesting as the teaser headlines suggest.  What caught my eye in this display was the ramen noodle cookbook.  Having eaten my share of ramen noodles in my student days, I can't say that there is anything very fun about them.  After all, if you are going to dress up ramen noodles, you might as well cook for real.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Capital Sight

I moved to Washington straight out of college and spent my first five years here, both living and working on Capitol Hill.  The thrill of working as a congressional staffer wore thin after awhile, the crazy hours, the ridiculous pace, the never ending stream of mail from irate constituents, the struggle to keep up with intricacies of amendments to legislation I couldn't begin to master but which required quick judgments on whether I should tell my boss to vote yes or no.  But one thing always made my heart stop:  the sight of the U.S. Capitol, particularly at night.when its lit dome seemed to glow against the sky, both weighty and somehow graceful, awesome in its symbolism as a beacon of democracy.

The majesty of the Capitol and the monuments still thrill me, particularly when I can share the sight with visitors from out of town.  And while the grass on the Mall can look a bit ratty, perhaps not sufficiently dressed to suit the Capitol's grandeur, the nice thing is that they actually let you sit on that grass. It's the people's grass after all and you can bring a picnic or your frisbee and no one will chase you away.

If you're feeling fed up with the gridlock that's marked congressional politics of late, I understand.  Thankfully, somehow the squabbling within never diminishes the grandeur of the building itself. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Product Placement

Thanks to living in a neighborhood with many conveniences (one being proximity to public transportation) and owning a hybrid car, I don't spend a lot of time at the pump.  On one of my rare trips to the gas station the other day, I noticed this ad with the headline "The Price of Gas" positioned above the pump.  Shall we take a closer look?

Since you probably can't read the copy at the bottom of this ad for Amtrak, I'll help out.  It says:  "Avoiding the high price of gasoline (not to mention traffic, tolls, and construction) is as easy as hopping on the Northeast Regional."  Don't you find it kind of surprising that this gas company is accepting what amounts to an anti-driving ad?  Kind of like having an ad for Weight Watchers in an ice cream parlor, if you ask me.  Unfortunately, given the high price of Amtrak tickets and excellent mileage on my car, I think I could drive to New York for a lot less than taking the train.  Which is too bad on so many levels.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Remembrance of Things Past

You could say that the downtown area of Washington is lacking in soul and for the most part, you'd be right.  Block after block of stone and glass coupled with a relatively low height restrictions combine to make an uninspired streetscape.  All those office buildings are functional for their tenants but not so interesting for someone out for a stroll. 

Every now and then, though, you might happen upon a scene like this, a relic of a time, perhaps at the end of the 19th century when this block was all stately town homes with interesting architectural details.  Some times it's the result of a stubborn home owner, refusing to give way to the developers, despite the completely changed character of the neighborhood.  It's a scene that can bring to mind the children's classic, The Little House, although happily this building is in much better shape than the main character in that book was at the height of urban development.

I'm pretty sure that no one lives here anymore.  Still, it's fun to imagine what life might have been like behind those doors.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I couldn't bring myself to write something in advance about the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks -- in part because I felt that I had nothing to say that hadn't been said a thousand times before and a thousand times better by others and in part because the news late last week of "credible but unconfirmed" information about possible attacks on New York and Washington sent my heart to racing once again.

I didn't know anyone who died in the attack on the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center, or in that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania so I wasn't seared by a personal loss of someone I loved.  But hearing the news and watching it all unfold on TV from my office that day, just four blocks from the White House, was downright scary.  I didn't know where my husband, who spent a good part of most days on Capitol Hill, might be and our babysitter wasn't answering the phone at home, meaning she and my two year old were somewhere out and about.  There were reports of a car bomb in front of the State Department, fires at Bolling Air Force base; all of it seemed both surreal and oddly credible.  I called my mom and asked her to pick up my daughter at school if I didn't make it home and then I set off on foot, walking the five miles home, too afraid to get on the metro.   My walk took me past the elementary school where kids were being released as parents could pick them up.  And when we approached our house, I saw that my husband and younger child had made it home safe and sound.

But nothing felt safe and sound, not for a long time, as we waited for the other shoe to drop.  Every plane that roared by filled me with dread.  Every scare made me panic.  Then there were the anthrax attacks and just as the region was starting to recover, we were again terrorized by a deranged sniper.  And in the face of all this, there was nothing to do but just get on with it.  Go to work, go to school, do the grocery shopping, mow the lawn, and hug your kids, and hold tight to your spouse.

Ten years later, I could write about the mess we've made in Iraq and Afghanistan, the international goodwill we squandered, the xenophobia stirred up by the war on terror, the heroism of first responders, the poise of the victims' families.  But you can read the newspapers, listen to the radio or TV, attend a memorial service to be reminded of all that and more.  For my part, I am trying just to remember that being afraid is wasted energy and that the time to offer up our best selves -- to family, community, nation, and self -- is right now.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Restaurant Nora

Chez Panisse has been getting all the hype these days, celebrating its 40th birthday and being feted for its emphasis on local foods and sustainable agriculture.  But listen up folks...America's first certified organic restaurant is not in California but right here in DC.  

Restaurant Nora is hands down my favorite special occasion restaurant in DC.  It's been the setting for countless celebrations, over the past 20 something years, some intimate, some larger and a bit more rowdy, and it never disappoints.  The menu changes daily, taking advantage of what's in season and what organic farmers in the mid Atlantic have to offer.

When we went back last night for a somewhat belated birthday dinner, I was pleased to see that the dining room is still the soothing mix of dark wood, white tablecloths, and beautiful quilts.  And while I rarely order steak, the grass fed skirt steak with panzanella, spinach, and green beans was unbelievably good.  Paired with a red wine from Nora's son's Washington state winery, it was a little bit of heaven, a fair match for any of the fine dining we experienced in Paris.

Thank you Nora.  We'll definitely be back.

Restaurant Nora
2132 Florida Avenue NW (just west of Dupont Circle)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What's In A Name?

One summer a zillion years ago when I was perhaps 6 or 7 and my sister was 4 or 5, we were playing school with another friend.  And why not?  It was summer vacation -- the only time of year when you would play school.   At any rate, my sister, who had yet to go to real school, was playing the teacher and one of her "pupils" asked, "may I go to the rest room?"  Her response?  "Yes, but you can only take a nap for 10 minutes."  Because after all, what would you do in the rest room but rest?

Fast forward 40 plus years to this summer when we were entertaining some European visitors, who, while being fluent English speakers, were rather confused about what to call the room with the toilet.  The lavatory?  Too old fashioned.  The toilets?  Too blunt for a nation founded on Puritan ideals.  The wash room?  Perhaps if you are Canadian. 

So the rest room it is.  But take your naps elswhere.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Julia's Kitchen

I love my iPhone but the camera leaves a lot to be desired.

The Smithsonian museums are sometimes referred to as the nation's attic.  Fair enough if your attic includes the Hope Diamond, the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner, and thousands of other objects and documents.  There's no admission so what are you waiting for?  What's better is that the design of the exhibits is almost uniformly well done.  This is an attic with no dust, no must, and something for every interest. 

Over the weekend, my older child and I made a visit to the National Museum of American History and almost immediately gravitated to Julia Child's kitchen, donated in its entirety by the great chef when she retired from Cambridge, Massachusetts back to her home state of California just a few years before she passed away.  The pots and pans, hung on a pegboard, were donated to another institution which has since folded and the whole mess has been recreated at the Smithsonian.  Although you can't step past the glass, it's easy to imagine her washing dishes at the sink, chopping up a storm, and sitting down at that long table for a delicious meal.  In addition to the kitchen itself, the exhibit describes the major milestones in her cooking career and documents her impact on American food ways and educational television.  Plus there are a lot of great video clips, many from her various shows as well as interviews conducted in 2001.
I can't imagine anyone who could resist Child's good humor and enthusiasm for food, but the videos and physical objects all mean so much more to me now that I've spent time in Paris, the spot where she first began to cook in earnest.  There are the pots from Dehillerin, her diploma from Le Cordon Bleu, and photos of her apartment, stuck under the rafters on rue de l"Universite.  Thankfully you don't have to be in Paris to love good cooking.   Just visiting the exhibit inspired me to get out her cookbook again and start dreaming up menus. what should we have for dinner tonight? 

Monday, September 5, 2011


Technically, Bruce Variety is not in DC (it's in Bethesda) but it's one store that's definitely worth the drive across the line.  It's a bit of a throwback to the old five and dime, the kind of place where you can find office and party supplies, notions and fabric cut by the yard, anything your 9 year old might need for a diorama, socks and underwear, tupperware and household cleaners, and the list goes on. 

Some of my enthusiasm for Bruce Variety is nostalgic because it reminds me of Horton's, the general store of my childhood, lacking only the soda fountain and crabby women in blue smocks.  These days, folks are more likely to shop at Target or Michael's or any number of other big box stores.  Me, I prefer the more personal if somewhat more dusty merchandise and erratic inventory that Bruce Variety offers. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer's Bounty

It used to be that you needed a crowd to enjoy a watermelon.  But someone finally figured out that a small watermelon might be just the ticket for those of us who don't have plans to invite the neighborhood over for dinner.  And kudos to the genius in the marketing department who decided to christen these "personal" watermelons.  It's still a lot for one person; in fact, it's just about perfect for a family of four.

It may be September 1 but it's technically still summer.  So get out there and get you a watermelon, personal or family sized depending upon your mood.  That is some crisp, sweet summer deliciousness.  And by all mean, eat it outside and see just how far you can spit those seeds.