I’m back!

30 Jun

Kangaroo on beach

So it’s been a couple years now since I’ve updated this blog. I got busy and then moved to Perth, Australia, for a year to coach synchronized swimming (as you do). But I’ve been surprised by the amount of feedback I continue to get from people who find the blog useful. I’ve just recently returned to the area and have decided to start things up again. First off, I’ve noticed some changes since I’ve been gone:

  • 495 Express Lanes. These had just opened up as I was leaving but I never used them and, I confess, they kind of scare me. My first day back driving on 495 I accidentally got in one of the express lanes and, I swear to you, I could not figure out how to escape. I kept waiting for an exit I knew … turns out they have different names (whoops).
  • The Mall. It’s so green! When I left they were in the process of sectioning off areas, giving the grass time to recover, and it’s clearly worked. Hooray!
  • Silver Line. Well, okay, it’s not quite ready, but almost! I’m really curious to see if/how it changes Tyson’s Corner area, which is already unbearably crowded.
  • National Gallery of Art, East Wing. I was pretty devastated to learn that the East Wing exhibits are closed for three years, but I’m assuming 99.9% of you don’t find this to be as catastrophic as I do, so I’ll resist transcribing the long diatribe that’s in my head.
  • Nando’s. So it turns out that this chain was actually in D.C. before I left, but I didn’t know about it, so I’m going to consider this a change. In Perth, the only chain restaurant I liked/could afford was Nando’s (which started in South Africa), and it turns out that the D.C. area is the only place in the U.S. where you can find it. I was driving with my friend when we passed the one on Wisconsin and I scared the crap out of her with my scream of joy.

And then there are some things that are exactly the same:

  • Tourists. Still annoying. Though I begrudgingly admit that they’ve been good about standing on the right of Metro escalators. Was there a public awareness campaign or something?
  • The City. Still beautiful, especially at night. I’ve never lost that feeling of awe when seeing  the monuments lit up … It’s good to be back.

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.

A Quintessential DC Fall

3 Oct

Hosting a pumpkin carving party is a great way to start turning coworkers and acquaintances into friends.

With so many fun DC area events centered around fall, it’s just a shame that there’s only one month to take advantage of them.

Pumpkin Patches
People in DC, especially those with kids, love their pumpkin patches. And what’s not to love? Pumpkins, cider, corn mazes, hay rides, etc.

Cox Farms in Centreville, VA, is the most popular, so be prepared for crowds, especially if you go on a weekend. Also, they say that a pumpkin is included with the cost of admission, but it’ll be one that’s too small to carve, and those that are bigger are generally overpriced, so I suggest buying them elsewhere.

Other festivals include, but are not limited to Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, MD, Sharp’s at Waterford Farm in Howard County, MD, and Burke’s Nursery and Garden Centre in Burke, VA.

Enjoy Fall Colors
Many people head to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to enjoy fall colors. Hiking Old Rag is one of the most popular activities; it takes roughly four and six hours and reveals some gorgeous views. Make note, however, that it can get extremely crowded, so I suggest setting your alarm clock and heading there early. Last fall I had to wait in a line for 45 minutes (that’s not a typo) at the top of the trail to go through a narrow portion. Also, have some cash to pay a nominal parking fee. For those less active-inclined, cruising Skyline Drive is a nice alternative.

A closer and less crowded option is Brookside Botanical Gardens in Wheaton, MD. It’s gorgeous, peaceful and free. And, of course, there’s always the National Arboretum, which is a great place to explore by bike.

Scary Stuff
Nearby amusement parks create a shoulder season by offering Halloween-themed events. Six Flags in Maryland has Fright Fest and King’s Dominion in Virginia promotes its Halloween Haunt.

The National Zoo has its annual Boo at the Zoo, which is a trick-or-treating event. It costs $30 for non-FONZ members.

There’s plenty of haunted houses, hayrides and trails throughout the region. A couple options include Markoff’s Haunted Forest in Poolesville, MD, and Bennett’s Curse in Jessup, MD.

Celebrating Halloween
DC’s Halloween bar hop called Nightmare on M Street is really popular. A true rooky mistake is to go to M Street in Georgetown for this event, as it’s actually in Dupont. And be ready for some serious crowds and long lines at the bars.

Professionals in the City will also be hosting it’s annual Halloween party, Mayhem and Madness, at K Street Lounge.

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.

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).

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