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30 DC-Related Facebook Pages you should ‘like’

27 Dec

Obviously, this list isn’t all inclusive, but it’s a good start! Any you think I missed?

  1. 365 Things to Do in DC
  2. Bitches Who Brunch
  3. Capital Bikeshare
  4. Capital Weather Gang
  5. Compassion Over Killing
  6. Cultural Tourism DC
  7. DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
  8. Downtown Silver Spring
  9. Eastern Market
  10. Express
  11. Free in DC
  12. goDCgo
  13. Going Out Gurus
  14. Greater Greater Washington
  15. The Hill is Home
  16. KidFriendly DC
  17. Metro Connection
  18. Metro Forward
  19. National Harbor
  20. The Natural Capital
  21. Prince of Petworth
  22. Secret DC
  23. Smithsonian Institution
  24. WAMU 88.5
  25. Washington.org
  26. Washington Capitals
  27. Washington City Paper
  28. Washington Nationals
  29. Washington Post
  30. Unsuck DC Metro

Shout Out: Street Sense

5 Dec

When I first encountered Street Sense vendors upon moving to DC, I was skeptical. I generally don’t like strangers talking to me, much less trying to sell me something. But then I learned more about the program and became an A #1 fan. In fact, I was quoted in their annual report (holla!).

DC has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country—Street Sense gives homeless an opportunity to earn income by selling a biweekly newspaper. Vendors pay 35 cents for each paper (to cover the cost of production) and then sell each for $1. The paper focuses on issues surrounding homelessness, and many vendors also contribute to the paper by writing articles, works of fiction, or producing artwork. On average, a vendor earns $45 a day.

I didn’t realize how incredibly ignorant I was about homelessness until I started reading Street Sense. I find the vendor profiles particularly enlightening—each person’s story and situation is different. I also really enjoy my interactions with the vendors, most of whom are very friendly and really appreciate.

Now I make sure I always have a dollar in my wallet, so that when I see a vendor I can buy a copy. It’s frustrating for me to see so many people walk right on by, not bothering to give a dollar and a few moments of their time.

Become a fan of Street Sense on Facebook, follow Street Sense on Twitter, but most important, buy Street Sense!

Eleven DC Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

9 Oct

© Fernando Revilla on Creative Commons

11. Don’t take I-66 during rush hour. I blogged about this awhile ago, but it’s worth repeating. Before coming to DC, I had no idea that roads existed that were HOV-only during certain parts of the day. Until I got a ticket on 66 the very first time I’d ever driven on it. (I’m still bitter.)

10. Do invest in a winter coat. I moved to DC from California and couldn’t justify spending a couple hundred dollars on a coat, so the first winter that I lived here I just wore the heaviest jacket I owned. A random woman on the Metro actually admonished me for not having a warmer coat. And, turns out, DC winters are a lot easier to handle when you’re not freezing your ass off.

9. Don’t get too attached. Okay, this is terribly pessimistic of me, I realize, but it’s true. I had a really difficult time when a few friends I had become super close with left the area. DC is a transient city, and friends you meet will usually move eventually. It takes time to find people who aren’t just passing through.

8. Don’t live at an AvalonBay “community.” Avalon owns a bunch of apartment buildings in the DC area, and I was mid-lease when they bought the building I lived in. They have horrible management and don’t care about their residents. I quickly moved out.

7. Don’t shop at Tysons Corner during the holidays. Okay, you can shop at Tysons during the holidays, but be prepared for some anxiety-inducing mayhem. I basically had a nervous breakdown from the crowds a couple years ago, so now I steer clear come November.

6. Do look at the Metro website on the weekend. I was used to taking the Metro on the weekdays, but it took a few mistakes before I realized that weekends are a different story. One time I had to wait over a half an hour for a train because of track maintenance. Now I check the website for delays and either leave earlier or drive.

5. Don’t tempt thieves. I was hiking at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I came back to my car and my window was broken—I had left my purse on the seat. My old roommate had the same thing happen when she parked at West Falls Church Metro and left a coin purse on the console. It’s a fine line between cautious and paranoid, but now I have no problem being the latter.

4. Don’t let angry residents rub off on you. It’s easy to get snippy, cut people off, give tourists dirty looks—a lot of people in DC do it, and I am certainly not casting the first stone (I won’t mention the fist fight I almost got into with a guy at the Library of Congress—not one of my finer moments). But the other day I was crossing a street with a man who went ab-so-lute-ly ballistic when a bus was blocking the crosswalk, and it made me realize there’s no reason to get so upset over minor annoyances. There’s something very satisfying about letting things go.

3. Don’t ask who the House Majority Leader is. When I moved here I knew very little about politics, and when I mentioned in front of coworkers that I didn’t know who Nancy Pelosi was, it was as if I had suddenly grown a third eye. “No Toto, we’re in California anymore.” Now I know a lot more about government and when I don’t, I fake it.

2. Don’t be too impressed. DC probably has the highest percentage of overachievers of any city in the country. People here are impressive. They speak Chinese and they have multiple degrees and they save children from burning buildings for fun on the weekends. But don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to others. (I’m still trying to take my own advice on this one.)

1. Don’t take DC for granted. When you call the DC area home, it’s easy to procrastinate about going to museums and monuments and the Kennedy Center and Rock Creek Park and Jazz in the Sculpture Garden, etc. But you probably won’t live here forever, so now’s the time to take advantage of all that DC has to offer.

Seven Helpful DC Apps

17 Sep

© Eli Duke on Creative Commons

Zipcar: The Zipcar app is super handy for those who use the service. Find and reserve available cars, update your reservation and honk the horn to find your car in a crowded parking lot.

Food Truck Tracker: Is your day incomplete until you eat food from a truck? Then this is the app for you. Find food near your current locale.

Happy Hours: So many happy hours, so little time. Get help with this handy app to find places to go and what they’re offering.

DC Metro Map: A great way to find out where you’re going without looking like a touron with the paper version of the map.

NextTrain DC Metro: This popular app tells you when the next train is coming, particularly helpful during non-rush hour times.

NPS National Mall: Use this app from the National Park Service to navigate the Mall while you get the lay of the land.

Spotcycle: Nothing’s worse than going to return your Capital Bikeshare bike only to find that the docking station is completely full. With this app, you can avoid that annoyance by checking space ahead of time.

Ten Potomac River Facts

28 Aug

The Great Falls © Jan Kronsell on Creative Commons

Known as “the nation’s river”, the Potomac runs through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and DC.

10. The Potomac is about 383 miles long.

9. About 90 percent of DC area drinking water comes from Potomac.

8. There is some fantastic local hiking along the Potomac, including the popular Billy Goat Trail in Maryland and trails in Virginia’s Great Falls Park.

7. The water quality of the river began deteriorating in the 19th century as a result of mining, agriculture and sewage. It became so polluted that President Lyndon Johnson called the river “a national disgrace” and put measures in place to return it to its former glory. It’s made substantial success since that time, but still has a long way to go.

6. Rumor has it that Abraham Lincoln would escape to higher ground on summer nights to escape the smell of the Potomac.

5. You’re not allowed to swim in the Potomac (but that’s not to say that people don’t). In 2009, six people died in the river. You will see signs posted on trails near the river stating the number of people who have died so far that year.

4. The Potomac Conservancy is a non-profit working to improve the river’s water quality.

3. Activities you can enjoy on the Potomac include flat water kayaking, whitewater kayaking, stand up paddling, sculling, canoeing and cruises.

2. About 5 million people live in the Potomac Watershed and the population is expected to grow 10 percent each decade.

1. President John Quincy Adams swam naked in the Potomac every day. One afternoon Anne Royall, one of the first female journalists, forced Adams to give her an interview by standing on his clothes and refusing to move until she got her questions answered.

Five moving tips from someone who has moved … a lot

11 Aug

How freaking cute is this photo? © mbtrama on Flickr

On any given Saturday you’ll see countless U-Hauls zig-zagging across the DC Metro area. People moving in. People moving out. Women moving in with boyfriends. Woman moving out of their boyfriends’.

I recently decided to move (because Avalon Communities is a soulless and evil corporation, in my humble opinion). Moving is always stressful, but I’ve gotten good at it having moved 13 times in the span of 8 years (hence the 25 craigslist roommates). So I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned over the years.

1. Think ahead!
I visited some friends on the West Coast while they were going through a move (the move was scheduled after my tickets were already bought). The day of the move one of my friends had packed nothing … nothing! And it’s not like she was a minimalist, she had the master bedroom which included a freaking fish tank! She vastly underestimated the time it would take her to pack. So I beg of you, start packing early: You have more stuff than you think. And if you’ve hired movers, not being packed can cost you some serious time (aka cash).

In addition to packing, you want to book your movers or U-Haul wellll in advance, so you get exactly the movers you want or exactly the U-Haul size you need. This is especially true if you’re moving on the last weekend of the month (and remember, most moving companies don’t work on Sundays).

2. Packing should not be combined with discarding and/or sentimentalizing.
When you’re packing, you need to be focused on the task at hand. Ideally, you’ll have discarding unnecessary items before you started packing (see #1) but if not, now is not the time. Throw that crap in a box and deal with it later.

3. Keep several things in mind when choosing a mover.
First off, l recommend Yelp to help you decide on a moving company; you should also ask your friends or coworkers. I’m a fan of hiring a mover that charges an hourly rate. That way, I’m paying from the time they arrive to the time they’re finished. Some movers do their costing other ways, but I worry that I’m going to get screwed over that way. If you do get an hourly rate, make sure it doesn’t include travel time from their initial location.

You might also want to consider how they handle your stuff. My roommate’s mover wrapped EVERYTHING in big plastic wrap, including her mattress and couch. Mine just put my stuff directly into the truck, which worked for me because I don’t own anything super nice, but if you do, it’s something to think about.

I also recommend getting cold water bottles for your movers, they will love you for it. And don’t forget to tip!

4. Mix and match.
When I pack, I don’t worry so much about keeping desk stuff with desk stuff and kitchen stuff with kitchen stuff. Rather, I think more about weight and packing things securely. I wrap clothes around breakable stuff instead of bothering with newspaper. And for clothes that I don’t use for packing, I just drop them in a large Home Depot box, hangers and all, which makes it super easy to rearrange my new closet. (BTW, I must prefer purchasing nice, new boxes for a buck or two each from Home Depot instead of hoarding a hodge podge of boxes from work.)

5. It’s the little stuff that will lead to a nervous breakdown.
It’s always the last odds and ends that put you over the edge. You’ve moved the furniture, packed up the pots and pans, but yet the shampoo in the shower and the junk drawer in the kitchen are still there when you just can’t take it anymore. Prepare in advance by having a few bags set aside to pack this random assortment. You also might want to do the annoying cleaning chores ahead of time, like cleaning the fridge and the stove burners.

Bumper Sticker Backstory: Beach initials

21 Mar

I don’t know when or why bumper stickers with a place’s initials became a thing, but it’s quite a national phenomenon. In DC, everyone has one for the beach they go to. The closest beaches are about three hours away in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. I’ll talk more in depth about them as summer approaches but, for now, here’s a quick rundown of the initials you’ll see on someone’s car and what it says about them.

AI = Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia. Known for camping amongst wild ponies and for a lighthouse.

BB = Bethany Beach, Delaware. Known as a family beach.

CI = Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Also known for wild ponies.

DB = Dewey Beach, Delaware. Big party scene, even had its own TV show, which could have easily been mistaken for Cops.

FI = Fenwick Island, Delaware. Low key and less crowded.

OC = Ocean City, Maryland or New Jersey. Ocean City, Maryland is closer to DC, but people from New Jersey will often make the longer trip. Ocean City, MD is a huge resort town with towering condo buildings and a boardwalk that attracts people from all walks of life.

RB
= Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Perhaps one of the best known beaches on the mid-east coast, has good restaurants and a large gay population.

Dear Virginia … No smiles for you

6 Feb

This past summer my purse got stolen, so I had to go to the DMV for a new license. I wasn’t stressed about the photo because I’d assumed they’d use the same one, which was—if I do say so myself—pretty good. I was tan, I’d just gotten my hair done and I did my makeup.

But, to my horror, they said I needed to retake the photo. I hadn’t washed my hair or put on makeup, but oh well. So I sit down and smile.

“Oh no, you can’t do that anymore,” the lady tells me.

“Do what?”

“Smile?”

Say whhaaaaat?

As it turns out, since 2009 Virginia’s DMV has banned smiling in photos because one day in the future they plan on having facial recognition technology. Apparently smiling screws that up. To be clear, you are allowed to turn the corners of your mouth up, but under no circumstances can you show teeth.

So I get my license, and it looks like—I kid you not—a 1920s mug shot because, in addition to no smiling, it’s in black and white. Virginia is not the only state that has a smiling ban, but Maryland and DC allow smiles, which makes Virginia’s licenses look downright depressing in comparison.

A friend of mine was recently at the DMV when a new resident learned about the policy. He turned to her and said, “What kind of people don’t let you smile?” It is a rather dismal welcome to the state.

My boyfriend moved from Maryland to Virginia a year or so ago, and he thinks the Virginia DMV is fantastic in comparison. According to him, the lines aren’t as long and the staff is much friendlier. He thinks sacrificing a smile is more than worth it.

Quick Stats: DC area universities

26 Jan

Georgetown University

Since a lot of people you’ll meet in D.C. went/are going to school in the area, I thought I’d compile some fast stats about some local universities.

American University
Type: Private Methodist
Students: About 10,000
Mascot: Eagle
Campus: The main campus is in NW on Massachusetts Avenue.
Know for: Strong programs for international relations and political science. NPR station WAMU broadcasts from American’s campus.
Athletics: Decent men’s basketball team.
Fun Fact: 144 countries are represented in the student body. (For comparison’s sake, GW has students from about 130 countries and is almost three times larger.)

Catholic University
Type: Private Catholic
Students: About 6,700
Mascot: Cardinal
Campus: Three miles north of the Capitol in NE.
Known for: Um … er … being Catholic?
Athletics: Not known for anything really. They do have an ultimate Frisbee team though.
Fun Fact: The university is under censure by the American Associate of University Professors for firing a professor for his views on birth control.

George Mason
Type: Public
Students: About 30,000
Mascot: Patriots (changed from the “Gunston” in 2008)
Campus: Fairfax, VA
Known for: A commuter school (an image the university is trying to change). In my opinion, this university is often overlooked among the other DC area schools.
Athletics: Pretty good men’s basketball team.
Fun Fact: Named for a lesser-known founding father from Virginia.

George Washington (aka GW)
Type: Private
Students: About 25,000 (aka the largest in the district)
Mascot: George, the Colonial
Campus: Main campus is in Foggy Bottom
Known for: If you take an informal poll of people in DC, as I did, of what they think of when they hear “GW”, the answer will be—with surprising consistency—“snotty rich kids.” It’s one of the most expensive universities in the country, so I guess it makes sense. But I do know many down-to-earth GW alums!
Athletics: Decent basketball team. No football team. Wonderful athletic center.
Fun Fact: Jackie Kennedy graduated from GW.

Georgetown
Type: Private Jesuit
Students: About 15,000
Mascot: Jack the Bulldog (students are called Hoyas)
Campus: In Georgetown
Know for: Expensive and hard to get into (about 19 percent acceptance rate for undergrads). It’s almost as expensive as GW, and it’s harder to get into. Has strong international affairs program.
Athletics: Traditionally good at basketball. Pretty good at rowing and lacrosse.
Fun Facts: Oldest Catholic university in the U.S. Bill Clinton is an alumn.

Howard
Type: Private
Students: About 10,500
Mascot: Bison
Campus: Northwest DC
Know for: A Historically Black University. Homecoming is a huge event.
Athletics: Not known for any sports in particular. Decent at basketball.
Fun Facts: Established shortly after the Civil War and named after war hero General Oliver O. Howard. Zora Neale Hurston started the university’s daily newspaper, The Hilltop.

University of Maryland, College Park
Type: Public
Students: About 38,000
Mascot: Terrapins (aka Terps)
Campus: College Park
Known for: Athletics and, unfortunately, for student riots related to athletic events.
Athletics: Good at basketball but their coach won’t recruit players that won’t stay all four years. Occasionally have a good football team. Pretty good at lacrosse.
Fun Facts: Jim Henson and Larry David are two notable alumni. Featured in the film St. Elmo’s Fire.

*        *        *

Honorable Mentions
While not DC area universities, many students move to the region from these schools after graduating, so I think they’re worth including.

University of Virginia
Type: Public
Students: About 20,000
Mascot: Cavalier
Campus: Charlottesville, VA
Known for: An excellent and competitive public university. About 90 percent of those admitted finished in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Athletics: Good at lacrosse, rowing, baseball and soccer. Some soccer players have gone pro.
Fun Fact: Founded by Thomas Jefferson, UVA is the only U.S. university to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Virginia Tech
Type: Public
Students: About 31,000
Mascot: HokieBird (students are known as Hokies)
Campus: Blacksburg (in the middle of nowhere)
Known for: Agriculture and engineering. The tragic 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
Athletics: Good football team.
Fun Facts: VT created the world’s third fastest supercomputer in 2003. Maintains a corps of cadets.

Tysons Corner: A Survival Guide

11 Dec

This bird's eye view gives you some idea of how big Tysons Corner is. Clearly it wasn't taken during the holidays because there's plenty of parking.

There’s no shortage of malls in the DC area, but Tysons Corner in McLean, Virginia (seven miles west of DC) is the biggest and baddest of them all. In fact, it’s the country’s sixth largest mall. It’s therefore a magnet for holiday shoppers and so, if you decide to go anytime from now through the end of January, you need to be physically, mentally and emotionally prepared.

Wear good shoes. I’m not joking. The place is huge with over 300 stores. There’s even three freaking food courts! I suggest taking a look at the map and making a plan of action before you go—the last thing you want is to be criss-crossing all over the place.

Know where to park. At other times of year I recommend parking in the structure near the movie theater on the third floor. During the holiday season, however, I suggest the structure by Lord & Taylor. It’s probably the most inconvenient, but it’s consequently the least full. If you drive into the mall from Leesburg Pike, it will be the first structure you see on your left. Note: There’s currently no Metro stop near Tysons. If you want to take public transportation, you’ll need to exit at West Falls Church (Orange Line) and take the 3T bus.

Go off hours if possible. Saturday afternoon a few weeks before Christmas? I don’t advice it. Stores are open until 9:30, so you have plenty of time to go after rush hour if you work during the week.

Know where to eat. The best food court is on the top floor where the movie theaters are. If you want a more substantial meal, there are plenty of chain restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen and Gordon Biersch scattered across the mall.

Look for escalators. There are surprisingly few escalators from the first floor to the second (and only one to the third floor, which is much smaller) so when you do see one, take note. There are also a few elevators but you’ll have to cram in between strollers to use them.

Don’t go to the movie theater. Again, this just applies to the holiday season. I guess if you’re already in the mall and you’re planning on seeing a movie that isn’t very popular, than it would be okay. No other exceptions though. Go to Ballston Mall if you live in Virginia. That place is always dead.

Watch out for the train. I’m not kidding. There’s a train for kids on the top floor. It drives around and around in circles and it does not stop for pedestrians.

Know the difference between Tysons Corner and Tysons Galleria. Tysons Galleria is a smaller, snootier mall down the street from Tysons Corner. It’s got stores like Cartier, Chanel and Versace. Though the two malls are close, they are in no way within walking distance from one another.

Be patient. Give yourself plenty of time and just accept the fact that you’ll probably have trouble finding parking, get assaulted by someone’s shopping bags and wait in long lines. That way, if it’s not that bad, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. But it probably will be that bad, seriously.

Interesting Tidbit: The Tysons Corner Santa Clause makes $30,000. He works five weeks a year.

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