Anyone Who’s Anyone: National Book Festival

13 Sep

One of the local events that marks fall for me is the National Book Festival when famous writers (some super duper famous and others only semi-well know) come to the Mall to talk about and read from their works. And this year it’s not one but TWO days, September 24 and 25. Yay reading!

This is the eleventh year of the festival, which is organized by the Library of Congress. Some of the better known names this year are Sarah Vowell, Toni Morrison, David McCullough, Michael Cunningham and Julianne Moore (apparently she “writes” children’s books). You can find a complete list here.

Each author gives a presentation and also does a book signing (not consecutively). There are multiple pavilions that are set up on the Mall (last year it was on the side closer to the Capitol).

If there is someone you absolutely have to hear speak, then I recommend arriving early, probably half way through the speaker before him/her. It does get to be standing room only (though people are always coming and going). Well over 100,000 people attend the event, but since it’s spread out throughout the day, the crowds are generally manageable. Same with the Metro—more crowded but not like when everyone is leaving an event at the same time.

In past years they’ve given out reusable tote bags, but don’t get too excited because, as you know, these are tight times and tote bags might not have been in the budget this year.

If you miss an author you really wanted to hear speak, not to worry! The Library of Congress posts all of the presentations to the website.

Note: George Mason University in conjunction with the City of Fairfax also has a book festival during this time (September 18-23) though with seemingly no connection to the National Book Festival. It’s called Fall for the Book and attracts some big names too (this year Stephen King and Amy Tan are speaking).

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.

Shout Out: Brush N Blush

8 Aug

My friend Mike brushing and blushing.

Last week as part of a work “retreat” I went to Blush N Brush in Georgetown. I’d put it in the same category as pottery painting places, except in this instance you select a specific painting and the instructor goes through the steps to recreate the painting. We were a private class, and so we looked at the website ahead of time and picked out what we wanted to do, but if you go to one of their regularly scheduled classes, you can check out their calendar to see which painting is being taught. (Apparently landscapes are most popular, particularly those that look similar to famous paintings, which is good to note because classes do sell out.)

The “blush” part comes in because you are encouraged to drink wine while you paint. In fact, they give you a complimentary wine glass and soon will have wine at the store to purchase. The whole atmosphere is very relaxed, and you’re encouraged to change up the painting however you want (though I tried to copy it as closely as possible).

There are paintings that take 2 hours and others that take 3; we did a 2-hour painting and, I tell ya, the time FLEW by. In fact, I wasn’t able to totally complete my painting, but perhaps I was putting too much emphasis on “blush” and not enough on “brush.” (They do offer a Finishing Touches class the first Saturday of every month for slow pokes like me.) The price for a 2-hour class is $50 and for a 3-hour class it’s $60. You might notice on the calendar that many classes are sold out; I suspect that’s a result of a recent Groupon promotion.

Okay, so mine's not EXACTLY like the original, but I tried.

I personally think Blush N Brush would be the ideal first date—you’d have an activity to focus on that would make periodic silences less awkward, but you would also be able to talk and bond over the experience. It’d also be great to go with friends or even by yourself (which, according to the instructor, isn’t uncommon).

Blush N Brush is located at 3210 Grace Street, really close to the main drag on M Street,  in a building basement. It’s a decent walk from Foggy Bottom Metro or street parking shouldn’t be too bad depending on when you go and if you’re willing to walk a few blocks.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my painting. I was hoping I’d be proud enough of it to hang it up in my house, which I’m not, but I also like it too much to throw it away. Perhaps I’ll save it for Christmas and give it to an unsuspecting family member … we’ll see!

A Day Away: Annapolis

20 Jul

© Dan Smith on Creative Commons

There’s no better place to enjoy a beautiful, summer day than Annapolis. Maryland’s capital is only about an hour away from DC, depending on where exactly you’re starting from, and is easy to get to. Here are my five favorite things to do …

Time on the water
Ideally, you’ll have a friend with a boat who can take you out on the water but, assuming that’s not an option, there are a couple alternatives. You can take a cruise (including one with a pirate theme) , take a kayak tour or rent a kayak and go out on your own. A water taxi is also an option, but they’re not cheap.

Hang out at City Dock
No visit to Annapolis is complete without a walk around City Dock, the main hub along the water with cute shops and restaurants. Make sure to check out “Ego Alley” where boaters pull up in an unspoken “mine is bigger than yours” contest.

 Take a tour
I highly recommend taking the Naval Academy hour-long tour. Just go to the visitor center to sign up. When my friends and I were taking the tour, we walked by a student who muttered “welcome to hell.” Yikes!

Last summer I had the interesting and (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience partaking in a “haunted pub crawl.” If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other walking tours to choose from.

Eat
I’m particularly fond of eating brunch in Annapolis. My most favorite place is Boatyard Bar & Grill. It’s not near City Dock so you have to either take a short drive or a longish walk, but to me it’s worth it.

My boyfriend is obsessed with The Big Cheese which has amazing sandwiches, and used to be in “Market Place” before all the local places got kicked out when there was drama that I won’t get into now. It’s still close by though. People also really like Chick & Ruth’s Delly.  It’s good but really crowded.

Drink
Going out in Annapolis has a totally different feel compared to going to bars in DC. Jeans and T-shirts are the norm, anything fancier than that and you’ll stick out. I’m partial to the back bar at Pusser’s, which is right on the water, but it’s easy to hop around to different bars because there are plenty of options in the City Dock area. Of course, make sure you have a designated driver if you’re planning on coming home to DC at the end of the night.

Insider’s Tip: There is plenty of street parking in Annapolis if you’re willing to a) look for it, b) walk a few blocks and c) parallel park. There’s also metered parking at City Dock, but if you manage to get a spot, make sure to play the lottery that day too.

The whole ball of wax … and then some

12 Jul

Presidents! Lots of them!

How many boyfriends would spend a Saturday night taking pictures of their girlfriend standing next to life-size wax figures of all 44 presidents? At least one! God bless him.

I geek out on presidents and so when I found out about the new exhibit at Madame Tussauds featuring a figure of every single one, I knew I had to go. I got a Groupon, got busy, and it eventually expired. I called and asked if it could be extended to which the cheery sounding English chap replied, “Absolutely not!” But lucky for me I buy a large cheese pizza for $5.99 every Monday evening for dinner from Jerry’s Subs & Pizza, because it was there that I saw a buy-one-get-one free coupon, and my mission was back on.

Madame Tussauds is at the corner of 10th and F Street in Northwest—just a pleasant skip from Metro Center. It’s open 365 days a year from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays.

Previous to hearing about the presidents exhibit, I had been a little weirded out by the wax museum, but it turns out there’s nothing to be afraid of. Madame Tussauds is, in fact, a very well done museum. I will say that some of the figures are better than others. Several of the female figures in particular seemed to be not quite right. But overall, they looked pretty darn accurate to me.

A wax version of Britney Spears doing her thang.

If you’re going to go, you really need to cheese it up, or else you shouldn’t have bothered because that’s the whole point. If you don’t have at least five silly photos of yourself interacting with the wax people by the time you leave, then I’d deem your visit a failure. And make sure you watch the short video about how they make the figures—it’s interesting.

I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable crowd. I can get overwhelmed, but I found the number of people manageable. What was weird though was that it always seemed like there were more people in the room than there actually were. That sounds dumb, but it really is a strange feeling when you’re there.

Tickets cost TWENTY-ONE DOLLARS. I know, pricey. But you really don’t need to ever pay full price. Besides the Jerry’s deal, you can get 15% off by booking online and Goldstar.com currently has tickets for $10 if you buy them at least one day in advance.

There were plenty of other figures besides the presidents but, to be honest, they didn’t interest me much. Though I have to admit, seeing George Clooney did put my heart a bit aflutter.

Off the Tourist Track: Science Museum

8 Jul

In summer the area’s popular museums swell with people to the point where virtually all enjoyment is lost. You shuffle along, waiting to take a peek at an exhibit before being elbowed out of the way by tourists wearing matching tie-dye T-shirts. But you don’t have to forgo museums until February, you just need to look beyond the Smithsonian.

The Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences, for instance, is perfect for a summer visit. Opened in 2004, the museum is at 525 E Street, NW, and it’s really, really small. But the exhibits, though a bit depressing (infectious disease and global warming are two topics explored) are really well done. And they have interactive components … my favorite!

I visited a couple Saturdays ago and I only saw five other visitors during the hour I was there. The highlight of the visit, for me, was learning about the future of energy-saving light bulbs from a docent. That may not sound very exciting but the volunteer had a well-planned display table and, because it wasn’t busy, he was able to spend a lot of time with my boyfriend and me.

After our visit we went to an early dinner and then to a movie at E-Street Cinema. I must say, it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday!

The Science Museum is open 10 to 5 every day except Tuesdays (when it’s closed). Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

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