Category Archives: Outside the Box In D.C.

Day 60 and Beyond: Life After D.C.

or Welcome Home to Maine

From the U.S. Botanical Garden

Dear Reader:

I’m sure you’ve figured out that this isn’t REALLY day sixty. I’m definitely into the “beyond” portion of the title, typing from my own cozy office with a window looking out over the encroaching wild blackberry brambles, the downed pine trees rotting on the forest floor, and the still-green leaves of immature maples and oaks struggling to grow beneath the evergreen giants. No more view of the blue roof of the Nordstrom’s across the street at the Pentagon City Mall or the gothic spires of the National Cathedral poking up from the far-distant D.C. skyline or the planes circling around toward Reagan National one after the other after the other as the day closes and the sky turns first pink and then dark and the lights begin to glow in all the windows of the high-rise jungle around me.

Flower Tower

The Teen and I spent our last day in the city in a whirlwind tour of the United States Botanic Garden, a must-see for any of you who may visit the capital city in the future. The day was hot, but dry and sunny, and the plantings absolutely amazed this neophyte gardener. I loved the outdoor gardens, especially the giant wooden towers planted with different types of heat-loving plants and flowers.


Inside were tropical plants, a children’s garden,endangered plants, and an area dedicated to “useful” plants either for food or medicine. We spent a few hours browsing around in the cool, moist environment before heading over to the Museum of the American Indian to finally catch lunch at the cafe, something I didn’t want to miss on this trip.

Southwest Native Foods

The cafeteria is set up to offer foods from all the different American areas. I was tempted by the northeast section with its roast turkey and cranberry preserves, but I figured there would be time for that around Thanksgiving. Instead I went with southwestern spicy rice, an enchilada of sorts filled with roasted or sauteed squashes and onion topped with a tomato paste and cheese, and the most delicious sauteed red cabbage. I ate the entire plate, and the light vegetarian fare left enough room for a dessert of bread pudding studded with raisins.

The Teen had chicken fingers and fries.

Revived, we hiked up the hill so the Teen could visit the Library of Congress. After oggling the beautiful space for an hour or so, we strolled next door to the Supreme Court where two demonstrators stood mute with duct tape over their mouths. I’m still not sure how they expected to get their message across as they carried no signs, but it was probably something to do with freedom of speech.

(Here’s an idea: if you want to protest something, communicate somehow!)

Tired and hot,(did I mention D.C. afternoons are scorchers?)we sat beneath a shady tree in front of the Capitol Building for a few minutes, listening to a couple of security police chatting with each other, and then we chugged on down to 7th Street for a cup of iced coffee at the corner Starbucks one last time.

Moongate Garden at Sackler Gallery

We fueled up on caffein and sugar–enough mojo for a quick swing through the Castle for souvenir shopping, the Museum of African Art, and finally a super-quick breeze through the Sackler & Freer Gallery of Asian Art.

Sunset at Gravelly Point

Our last evening in D.C. we ate a picnic supper at Gravelly Point while watching the planes take off right over our heads, knowing that in less than 24 hours we’d be on one of those aircraft.

The next day and at the airport waiting for our flight, we felt the building shudder, stop for a minute or two, and then begin to shake and shiver in earnest. The television monitors were already tuned to CNN, and we soon learned about the fairly major earthquake rolling beneath Virginia, D.C., and outward. I said, “I guess D.C. is just so sad to see us leave.”

We were on the plane only an hour behind schedule.

Before sunset, we looked down on the dark green of Maine’s coastline and spotted a large crescent of pale beach and a light-green swath behind it. “I think that’s Old Orchard and Pine Point . . . and the marsh!” I said. Soon we could see Portland, South Portland, and the airstrip–an hour and a half and a world away from metropolitan Washington D.C.

Welcome home to Maine!

Pine Point

The following days found us hanging out at our usual spot on the beach at Pine Point, school shopping, and acclimating ourselves to life in the slow lane again. A day went by with a grand total of TWO cars passing my house. The skies clouded over. My allergies and asthma returned with a vengeance. Hurricane Irene hit on Sunday and knocked out our power for four days.

Welcome home to Maine.

I don’t mean to sound as bitter as a garden cucumber grown over a dry summer. I’m feeling less claustrophobic every day. I have my kitchen back. I’ve been to Marden’s and Goodwill and the Limerick Supermarket and Hannaford’s and the wonderful farm-stand near the Waterboro Public Library. I’ve checked out a couple of books. I’ve been to the yarn shop and the tea house with my friend, Sandra. On another afternoon between appointments in Biddeford, friend Donna served me a wonderful green salad with slices of roast beef and crumbled feta and dressed with olive oil and balsamic viniagrette. Heavenly!

I have bought yarn for a hat and a bag, have lugged home pickling salt and spices to try my hand at pickles with the cukes my parents gave me from their garden (not bitter), and while up visiting parents and collecting my much-missed pooch, Delilah, my dad bought me a lobster roll and my mom baked me a blueberry pie.

Welcome home to Maine. For real.

Days 52-57: The Temple of My Familiars

Library of Congress

Dear Reader:

The title of Alice Walker’s book, THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR, has been running through my head since Wednesday when I finally visited the Library of Congress, not because the Walker book has anything to do with the library (except I’m sure a copy is housed in the vast stacks) but because the building, named the Thomas Jefferson Building in 1980, feels like a temple to me. A temple of learning. A temple of collective knowledge. A temple of books.

Outside the Library

Books As Familiars

According to Wikipedia, a “familiar” is the name given to spirit helpers, often taking the guise of animals, in the practice of witchcraft or other magical practices. If I have any sort of familiars, they take quite a different form than the usual cats or owls or toads.

My familiars are books.

Stephen King, in his book ON WRITING, speaks of writing as the only real form of magic he knows. A writer has a picture in his mind. He puts down words on paper. A reader picks up the book and voila! A picture forms in the reader’s mind. The book (or article, letter, Facebook post, text message) is the vehicle the magic uses to pass knowledge or ideas or images from one person to another without actually speaking. Writing is magic. Books, familiars.

The Great Hall

History of the Library

So how did this temple to learning come to be? The library was established in 1800 as a resource for Congress and was housed in the Capitol building. It was destroyed (burned, of course. Why is it that books, like witches or heretics, are always being burned?) by British troops in 1814. At that time, Thomas Jefferson had one of the largest, most comprehensive personal libraries in America, a collection he’d been gathering for fifty years. He offered his library to Congress, arguing for the inclusion of many types of literature, languages, and ideas that went beyond the usual legislative materials. Congress appropriated funds for the purchase of the library in 1815. The current building, constructed in the Italian Renaissance style, was finished in 1897. It now houses 144 million items!

Minerva Mosaic


Beyond the functionality of storing so much knowledge, the building itself is architecturally gorgeous and decorated with classical imagery. Take the lovely Minerva, for example. My photo does not capture the beauty of the mosaic depicting the Roman goddess, Minerva, the guardian of civilization. Click HERE to see the mosaic in all its glory. Minerva is known as the goddess of poetry, wisdom, medicine, commerce, weaving, crafts, and magic. (Wikipedia) She is often depicted with an owl (a familiar!) to symbolize wisdom.

Gets me wondering: what would our Puritan forefathers think of all this pagan symbolism in the heart of our nation? I have the feeling they’d be right here with the pitchforks and torches claiming they were ridding the Capitol of satanic forces and restoring it to Christianity. (See Salem Witch Trials). Which also leads to me wonder if it is really possible for ONE deity (even divided into three parts) to symbolize all the concepts we hold dear. Is is really so very wrong to picture Wisdom as a beautiful goddess, especially one who holds a spear in hand, ready to defend civilization?

Painted Ceiling

Library Card

It’s all well and good to peer up at the painted, vaulted ceiling and heave an admiring sigh or two (or a hundred), but what about actually using the library to, well, research something? The doors to the main reading room were tantalizingly near with a “Do Not Enter” sign standing guard. Obviously, casual, walk-in visitors to the library are not allowed entrance. We were able to climb some stairs and look down into the main reading room with its wooden reading tables, red walls, soaring rotunda ceiling and tantalizing glimpses of stacks surrounding the area. No photography allowed, though. Click HERE to see a photo on the library’s website.

Speaking with a docent, I asked “How do you get to use the library?” She explained about signing up for a reader identification card which allows you to visit the reading rooms and to request materials for study. The thought of actually sitting in that room, searching the databases, requesting materials from the stacks, and reading beneath that rotunda makes me giddy. And what must it be like to work here at the library with all its collected knowledge organized and housed and available for anyone who wishes to learn? The website says there are openings for volunteer docents, and if I were going to stay here in D.C. that is something I would seriously consider. If this is a temple to wisdom, would working here make me a priestess?

Fountain of Neptune

This day, our visiting friends (D.J. Donny Bess and Sweet Caroline who flew down from Maine) and I looked around at some of the exhibits and then headed back outside where Neptune guards from his fountain perch overlooking the East Front of the Capitol Building.

Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress

Walking across the street and looking back, I took a final look at the temple of my familiars.


Days 45-51: Over the Rainbow And Beyond

Coral Exhibit at Natural History Museum

Dear Reader:

Friends from Maine, T. and Babycakes, arrived last Monday, and we took them on a whirlwind tour of D.C. this week, trying to fit in as much of the capitol as we could. Take the tour with us from the privacy of your home. Ready? Go!

Monday Evening at the Capitol and National Mall

Capitol Building At Night

T. snapped this picture of the Capitol Building while we sat near the fountain and listened to the U.S. Navy band perform for a large group of happy listeners. We watched kids twirl in their pretty dresses–and a grown-up woman dancing, too. A guy dressed in black and sporting multiple piercings sat beside us and called home to let someone know he had made it to D.C. After awhile, we walked down the Mall toward the Washington Monument, stopping to watch a few minutes of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES playing outside while people sat on their blankets and beach chairs enjoying the open-air show. We walked on until we could glimpse the White House, and we called it a night.

Tuesday at the Natural History Museum

Eels With Pretty Patterns

It was a very colorful day at the Natural History Museum from corals to butterflies to gemstones to a rainbow over the Capitol Building in the late afternoon sun shower.

Butterfly 1

Butterfly 2

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalides

The Monarch chrysalides looked liked gemstones set with gold . . .

Gemstones and Crystals

. . . while the gemstones and crystals sparkled in every color of the rainbow.




Green and Blue

Indigo and Violet

As we walked toward the Metro, across the National Mall, a little shower sprinkled down while the sun shone, and a rainbow arched over the shining white Capitol Building. A beautiful, magical ending to the day.

Capitol Building With Rainbow

Wednesday and Thursday at the National Zoo

The Teen, Babycakes, T., and I got ourselves up early and hopped on the Metro up to the National Zoo. The shady park with its wide bricked pathways, leafy trees, pretty flowers, and lots of bamboo is a beautiful place to walk or jog or spend a day with the kids. The buildings do not open until 10 a.m., but you can still walk the grounds and see some of the animals up and about earlier in the morning.

Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN)

Out For a Morning Stroll

Charming Flamingos

Escaping the Zoo

Galapagos Turtle


Rooftop Silhouettes

There were so many wonderful animals to observe and to learn about. We really enjoyed the Bird House, the Great Cat area where the half-grown lion cubs wrestled and growled while momma lion played referee, the orangutan who swung himself across the park on the “O-Line”–a rope line that mimics the natural tree-swinging-friendly habitat of Asia. We saw zebras and a tiger and cheetas and a hairy tarantula. Snakes and prairie dogs and toucans and lizards. Ducks and . . . well, you get the picture.

Thursday Night Girl’s Night Out

After resting a bit, we hit the square for Girl’s Night Out. At the Lebanese Taverna we tried some Middle Eastern appetizers–chicken wings with a lemony-butter sauce, meatballs served with yoghurt, and hummus with pita bread.

Photo from T.

We sipped our drinks of mango juice (the Teen and Babycakes) and pomegranate champagne (T. and I). Best of all, we all had henna tattoos applied in gorgeous designs. Outside, a band played 80’s tunes, and when we were finished with our appetizers and drinks, we headed to the square to dance a little on the edge of the crowd.

The Art of Mehndi

(Henna art by Zahra of Salon Amina.

Receiving a mehndi or henna tattoo is meditative and healing, often used in rites of passage ceremonies, and is believed to be an offering of protection, love, and good fortune. The Teen and I were blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful week with our good friends from home.


Friday at the Museum of American History

We spent a good part of the day at the Museum of American History. We caught the “Time Trial of John Brown,” toured the Price of Freedom exhibition, checked out the On The Move area, an exhibition about Phyllis Diller (funny!), saw Julia Child’s kitchen, perused the Paper Engineering exhibit, looked at scientific artifacts, and even took part in the flag folding ceremony!

Revolutionary Mess Kit

After the history museum, T and Babycakes headed out on their own, while I saw the Teen home for a little R & R. We met up with Hubby at the sculpture garden for a little bit of the Friday jazz concert, and then we came home to watch Barbra Streisand in FUNNY GIRL before crashing into bed.

Nap Time

Everybody needs their beauty sleep, after all

Saturday Morning Good-Byes:

T. and Babycakes headed out of D.C. early this morning, driving off on the ten-plus hour road-trip back up north to Maine where the Teen and I will be returning soon. I’m so impressed with their adventurous spirit, and T. and I have decided that trips to Portland–and Boston!–should be regular outings in the future. I agree.

While I am looking forward to my small-town home with its lakes and the library and friends and neighbors and field and forests and farms (and my dog!), I want to keep in touch with the city side of myself, even if it is only a few times a year. There is a certain energy in the city, a sizzle of art and music and culture and business and fashion and ideas that are different from the small town life. Both places are valuable. Both places are inspiring. I can have it all, can’t I? Or at least a bit of it all?

So, Dear Reader, which are you–country mouse or city mouse? Scribble me a note and leave it . . . Outside the Box.

Day 44: Big News from D.C.’s Newseum

Front Pages Exhibit on Pennsylvania Ave.

Dear Reader:

Pop quiz for all of you Outside the Box.

1) What five fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution?
2) What are the names of the five family members of The Simpson’s?

This was one of the questions asked our tour group by a docent at the Newseum, where Hubby and I spent the better part of yesterday and today learning a great deal about journalism in all its current and past forms. If you are at all interested in “the news” and have a chance to visit D.C., I recommend this museum which is situated right on Pennsylvania Avenue just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Capitol Building.

Here’s some of what we saw.

Graffiti on Berlin Wall

Five sections of the concrete Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989. The West Berlin side was colorful with graffiti. The East Berlin side was almost bare, a visual representation of the difference between freedom and oppression.

Kazinsky's Cabin

The Unabomber’s cabin. Ted Kazinsky sent mail bombs to universities and airports in protest against industrialism. Kazinsky lived without running water or electricity inside the Montana cabin for seventeen years. His brother finally tipped off the FBI that Kazinsky might be the Unabomber they had been searching for after the Washington Post and the New York Times published his 35,000 word manifesto. The Kazinsky materials are part of an FBI exhibit at the Newseum.

Funny . . . But Not Really

David Horsey’s political cartoons. This exhibit was amusing after looking at more serious stuff like Pulitzer Prize photographs, Hurrican Katrina newspaper and television reporting, and the 1st Amendment exhibit.

Where the Action Is

View from the 6th floor terrace. Here you can see the beautiful Capitol Building, the National Gallery of Art (where the Da Vinci is located), the National Archives, and off in the distance a few more of the Smithsonian Buildings such as the M.O.A.I. and the Castle.

Pennsylvania Avenue

A great timeline exhibit is found up here telling the history of Pennsylvania Avenue. Did you know the Ku Klux Klan paraded down the avenue in 1925? In 2009, President Barack Obama walked down the same avenue during his Inaugural Parade. What a long way we’ve come. Too bad it took so long.

Blue chairs in The Food Section

The Food Section. This cafeteria is run by Wolfgang Puck, an award-winning celebrity chef. Hubby and I enjoyed an excellent lunch there yesterday.

Stick To Your Ribs

The ribs were fantastic, and the macaroni and cheese . . . what can I say? Melt in your mouth, creamy, cheesy, yummy.

Salad Plate

My salad concocted at the extensive salad bar was fresh, crisp, and satisfying with some pasta and some delicious blue cheese crumbles.

Bathroom Humor

Amusing “misquotes” highlighted in aqua tile in the ladies room.

Giant Comic Strips

No great newspaper is complete without The Funny Pages.

The Portland Press Herald

The front page of the Portland Press Herald from Portland, Maine.


The set of This Week with Christiane Amanpour on ABC. Since we watch “This Week” religiously every Sunday morning, Hubby and I were hoping to spot one of our favorite journalists on our Sunday visit. We got to the Newseum just before 10 pm, just as taping ended.

Ms. Amanpour and Me

Ms. Amanpour was right outside the studio when we got there. She graciously shook my hand and agreed to have her picture taken. I told her how thrilled I was to meet her and said, “I also saw you on Gilmore Girls.” She laughed and said, “That was fun.”

I am always impressed with Amanpour’s ability to ask just the right probing questions when she interviews politicians and the way she keeps the Round Table discussions running smoothly every Sunday (not always so easy to do, I imagine, with so many different personalities weighing in with their journalistic insights). Meeting her in person was amazing. Totally made my day.

Twisted Satellite Receiver

The twisted satellite receiver from the top of one of the Twin Towers in New York City against the backdrop of front pages from around the world reporting on the horrible story. This is found in the 9/11 Gallery.

There was so much more to see–Pulitzer Prize photographs, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, examples of newspapers from way back to the beginning of the printing press, important historical front pages, short films about topics such as sports reporting, bias, and race issues in journalism. The tickets we bought were good for two days, but really it would take at least a week to see and learn everything.

Reporting from Washington D.C, this is Shelley Burbank for Outside the Box.

(Answers–Question 1: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom of Petition. Question 2: Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie.)

Days 42-44: The Color Pink

February Socks Finally Finished

Dear Reader:

As the summer begins its inevitable wind-down, I find myself winding down as well. My feet hurt from hours of walking through museums, parks, and monuments. My brain is overwhelmed with information, my senses are overloaded, and my creativity’s flow has ebbed to a trickle. I’m clumsier. I bump into people in crowded subway trains. I say the wrong thing. I can’t get my umbrella closed on the bus and someone yells at me. The self-deprecating remark made to the grumpy cashier at the bookstore earns me a snide comment. I want to curl up with a cup of tea and a book, stay in bed for the day, and catch my breath.

We all have these times of slowing down, hibernating, or simply laying low for awhile. Knitting is one of my favorite slow-day things. What can be better than some soft yarn, a soothing color, repetition, and the gentle click of the needles as you wind and slip and knit and purl your way to something beautiful?

Pretty in Pink Lacey Socks

One of my goals for this year was to knit one pair of socks per month. These are my February socks, so you can surmise how well I’m doing with this resolution. I found this pattern in the Lion Brand JUST SOCKS book. It is the “Chevron Lace Socks” pattern on page 51, and is supposedly for experienced knitters . . . which I’m not. However, when I read over the pattern, I didn’t think it was particularly difficult, and really I had no problem following it. The only caution I would give is this: don’t drop a stitch. With all the yarn-overs, it really would take an experienced knitter to be able to rework the dropped loop into the pattern.

I used a soft “baby” yarn made of acrylic in hopes that it would wear better than the wool socks I’ve made in the past. I love natural fiber, but this was fun to work with. It has a pretty sheen to it. The pattern called for size 4 double-pointed needles, and because the gauge piece turned out too large, I went down to a size 3. The socks still came out a bit on the saggy side, so when I do these again, I will maybe try a size 2 needle.

Local Virginia Wine

In the spirit of localism, I decided to try a local Virginia wine. This Rapidan River Raspberry was on the less expensive side, a grape wine with raspberry flavor and slight carbonation. It is vinted and bottled by Prince Michel Vineyard in Leon, Virginia. Virginians have been making wine since Jamestown. In fact, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed an article in 1619 saying that every householder should plant 10 grape vines per year in order to promote wine making. I found this information in an article by Alexis K. Brown called Thomas Jefferson and the History of Wine in Virginia. Always knew I liked Jefferson.

The beverage was reminiscent of Boone’s Strawberry Hill wine which, if you were a college girl in the late 1980’s, you are probably familiar with. Poured into a glass with a couple of ice-cubes, it was refreshing enough for patio-sitting and conversation with Hubby. Next time, though, I may splurge a little and go for a more expensive, serious bottle. Their Prince Michel 2008 Barrel Select Chardonnay sounds heavenly.

Then again, the Rapidan River Chocolate–yes, chocolate wine!–at $12.99 might just be too interesting to pass up.

Capital On Monday

While the economic outlook doesn’t look particularly rosy for the foreseeable future, at least Congress was able to get it together enough to pass the debt-ceiling legislation with an imperative to do even more in the coming months. Like I wrote in response one of my more conservative friend’s Facebook post this morning, I’m beginning to feel about the economy and politics the way I feel about the “impending dooms” of peak oil, energy depletion, global warming, and terrorist threat. I believe they are impending, but that the problems are like huge trains speeding toward a cliff, too fast and too heavy to stop completely, especially as we do not seem to have the will or the cohesiveness to make tough decisions and tougher implementations. The best thing, in my opinion, is to go as local as possible, as soon as possible.

What that means for you, I don’t know. As for me, I’m gonna keep knitting and learning how to spin fiber into yarn and maybe start saving seeds and definitely start collecting old-fashioned “know-how” books–not just for me but for whoever has need of that information in the future. Positive action, even small things like this, is better than no action at all.

How have some of you, my dear readers, transitioned to a more local way of living? Feel free to leave a comment and share you ideas and inspirations. You may just trigger similar inspiration in others. We need to collaborate, not compete. Compromise, not cat-fight. Thanks again for reading, and in the spirit of February . . .

Artwork by "The Teen"

{{Heart}} Love ya.

Day 41: Art’s The Bomb

At Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory

Torpedo Factory

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. –From Isaiah II, King James Bible

Dear Reader:

You’ve heard about turning swords into plowshares. But what about turning a torpedo factory into an art center?

This is exactly what the city of Alexandra, Virginia did with its old torpedo factory sitting on the Old Town waterfront. Built in 1918, just after the first World War, the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station produced Mark XIV and Mark III torpedoes until 1945 when WWII ended. The building was used as storage for Smithsonian artifacts, government documents, and military films and records until 1969. President of the Alexandria Art League, Marion Van Landingham, suggested the space be turned into art studios, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center was born.

Artist Studios in Torpedo Factory Art Center

The Torpedo Factory Art Center now has 82 artist studios with 165 juried artists creating, talking about, and selling their work. Visitors stroll along the space, peeking through the windows to watch the artists at work, stepping into the open studios to look at and purchase art or even chat with the painter, sculptor, printmaker, or fiber artist at work there.

More Studio Space

The Mom-‘Rent and I found our way to this amazing space on Sunday morning, the day we planned to spend shopping in Old Town Alexandria. I had heard about the Torpedo Factory, but it wasn’t until we’ve strolled down to the waterfront and over to a gazebo that I realized the large building behind us WAS the art center. Entering the bright red, painted doors, we were very impressed by the space, the bright studios, the concept of working artist studios being open to public view. There are gallery spaces here, as well as an art school where people of all ages and interests can take classes.

Some of the artists had placed “no photography” signs on their windows, so I decided not to take pictures of individual studios. However, the volunteer at the information desk said to go ahead and snap a photo of the general space. We saw everything from pretty, traditional watercolors to bright modern oil paintings to giant metal sculptures to belts and purses at a fiber artist’s studio. We gaped at large paper mache sculptures of animals. We ooohed over some delightful handmade prints. We talked to a couple artists and complimented them on their work.

I decided I HAD to bring the Teen back here as she is a budding artist, so we contented ourselves with the first floor and then headed back out to the shops on King St. and a few of the side-streets where we found some delightful little places.

Outside Bittersweets

We had begun our morning with a good, hot breakfast at the Bittersweet Cafe. This is a homey little place with a couple long, wooden farm tables, wooden counters with stools at the front windows, and tall cafe tables and chairs along the sides. The Sunday Brunch menu included scrambled eggs, a choice of omelets, breakfast burritos, and breakfast sandwiches ordered at the counter and brought to your table by a server. The coffee at the beverage bar was hot and delicious . . . and they had soy milk, always a plus in my book.

Good, Hot Coffee

After breakfast and the Torpedo Factory Art Center, we veered off onto Union St. and found The Christmas Attic where we spent a good hour and a half browsing cards and gifts and collectables and ornaments, not just Christmas stuff but all kinds of lovely things. The space was charming with old floor boards and narrow staircases leading up to the second story.

Bicycle Shop

I loved these little side streets. I snapped a picture of this bicycle shop on a narrow, little street near the waterfront off Union. A couple of the older streets are still paved in cobblestones, and the houses retain their historic charm and beauty with painted doors and shutters and crooked windows looking out onto the street.

Cobblestone Street near Waterfront

There were disturbing posters and an information board calling for community action to prevent a large Old Town waterfront development. I hope the citizens of Alexandria will decide to fight to preserve the historic character of that part of town. As lovely and comfortable as highrise apartment buildings and hotels may be, some things are best left as they are . . .

Cobblestones Up Close

Leaving Union, we headed back up King and stopped into Decorium Gift and Home, a quirky and elegant and whimsical (with just a touch of frou-frou) home decor shop that meets every grown-up girl’s fantasy with its gorgeous upholstered furniture, painted armoirs, framed prints, glittery costume jewelry, children’s room furnishings, sparkly chandeliers, and much more.

Blue Chandelier at Decorium

The saleslady was gracious enough to let me snap a quick picture, saying, “Just pretend you are buying something.” Was that a gentle jab? Probably, but that’s okay. I thought about picking up a sweet, fabric-covered journal, but with all this online blogging, I just haven’t been hand-writing enough to justify the purchase. I may have to go back for the chunky, glittery ring with the fake stones or the precious green-print fabric slippers before the end of my stay, however. If I lived in Alexandria and had the cash, I’d take advantage of their interior design company, d2.

Maybe someday I’ll write a bestselling book and be able to afford to patronize beautiful, locally-owned shops like this one. Until then, I’ll look and report and buy a little something now and then. It’s the best I can do for now.

Decorium Doorfront

The Dad-‘Rent and Hubby decided to forgo the Metro and instead hopped on the bikes to zip down to meet us. After buying bottled water from a street vendor, we decided to take a walking tour of some of the history Old Town Buildings, starting with the Alexandria Visitor’s Center situated in the Ramsay House, Alexandria’s oldest house built by William Ramsay, a friend of George Washington.

Visitor's Center

Next, we headed over to Fairfax to the Carlyle House, built by Scottish merchant, John Carlyle, for his bride. The Carlyle House has a pretty park and holds outdoor concerts and events open to the public. Might have to check that out before the end of our stay.

Carlyle House

We were anxious to find the Yeaton-Fairfax House on Cameron St. because my mother’s maiden name is Yeaton. We were told we were lucky to have the 2010 Alexandria Visitor’s Guide because this house is no longer included on the walking tour. The house is privately owned, and the inhabitants were fed up with tourists knocking on the door and asking, “Can we just take a peek around the house a little bit?”

Yeaton-Fairfax House

I guess the owners must have really been discouraged, because when we found the house, a For Sale sign was posted at the front entrance.

Front Door of Yeaton-Fairfax House

There appeared to be a wonderful, shady, and extensive garden attached to the home. The house was built by a Scottish merchant William Yeaton in 1799. Yeaton also designed and erected the Washington family tomb at Mt. Vernon. Later, Thomas, the Ninth Lord Fairfax, bought and lived in the home.

Gated Garden at Yeaton-Fairfax House

For anyone interested, the property is listed for $5,995,000.

We moved on to a wonderful talk by a charming volunteer docent at Christ Church where George Washington and his family and servants attended services. We sat in the Washington pew where U.S. Presidents and heads-of-state such as Churchill have sat. So much history everywhere in this city!

Christ Church

After the walking tour, we revived ourselves with a frozen custard (I had a blueberry acai frozen fat-free yogurt), Mom-‘Rent and I visited a couple more shops, and then we took the Metro home while the guys headed back along the bike trail. Once again, Old Town was a delightful and charming place to spend a Sunday.

Day 40: Some “Catch-Up” With Those Fries

Dinner at the Austin Grill

Dear Reader:

With about three weeks left to go on our great Outside the Box in D.C. adventure, I’m beginning to wind down from my hyper-touristing. With the ‘Rents in town this past week, I got a little behind on my blog posts, so today is all about the Catch-Up.

July 23–Sustainability Symposium at NMAI

Sustainability Festival Pamphlet With Corn & Squash

Back on July 23, Hubby, the Teen, and I attended the Living Earth Festival at the Museum of the American Indian. I was determined to get to the “Creating a Climate of Change” symposium, where Jeremy Rifkin, a business consultant to multinational corporations, heads of state in the E.U., and other global entities, spoke on issues near and dear to my heart: global warming, peak oil, sustainability, localization, renewable energy resources and technology. Although he painted a grim picture, he also outlined a pathway to move forward. For me, it was almost a relief to hear someone “in the know” about world and business affairs affirming what I’ve been reading and learning about for the past three or four years. Peak oil is not a myth . . . it’s a reality we have already crested. Sustainable, renewable energy is not just for “greenies” and environmentalist hippie throwbacks to the 60’s and 70’s . . . it’s the wave of the future, if we are to have a future.

Symposium Poster

Heads of state are listening. From Rifkin’s website:

Mr. Rifkin is the principle architect of the European Union’s Third Industrial Revolution long-term economic sustainability plan to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change. The Third Industrial Revolution was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007 and is now being implemented by various agencies within the European Commission as well as in the 27 member-states.

Granted, this is his own website, and self-promotion should be looked at with a skeptical eye. However, if you are interested in learning about what Rifkin thinks we need to do in order to survive in a low-carbon energy world, check out the NMAI blog post.

Beautiful, Living Earth

The two speakers following Rifkin were also knowledgeable and insightful. Gregory Cajete spoke passionately about the indigenous perspective on global climate change, comparing the indigenous communities to canaries in a coal mine–they feel the effects first. Melissa K. Nelson then spoke about the importance of re-indigenizing our food supply, talking about such issues as food sovereignty, the negative health impacts of our modern diet, and urging a return to slow, local foods.

After the symposium, we strolled outside to listen to some music by Native performers. The concert opened with a blessing performance by the Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team. This may have been the most powerful student performance I’ve ever seen in my life. The emotion rolling off these young people through their strong voices was palpable in the air. When they finished, the group went to the side, and, crying, threw their arms around each other forming a tight ball of support and celebration. I strongly encourage you to click on the link above and see what I mean.

Plateros T-shirt

Later we heard the Plateros, a young blues rock band whose lead guitarist, Levi Platero, along with his brother/drummer Douglas and bass guitarist, Bronson Begay, seriously rocks with the sound of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

I went home from the festival thoroughly inspired. Thanks MOAI for putting on this important event!

July 24–Dance DC Festival Downtown Battleground

Graffiti Artists

Hubby and I visited the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery on July 24 and luckily ran into the Downtown Battleground event outside between 7th and 9th Streets. It was hotter than Hades out there on the wide sidewalk, but we were thrilled to join a large crowd listening to drumming and watching some very talented African-style dancers. I don’t know how those young ladies kept going in that sweltering heat!

Dancers at Dowtown Battleground

The graffiti artists were hard at work with their spray cans on large pink “wall” set up for the event. These artists were up high on metal ladders, scooching down to the bottom of the “canvas”, and all over the spaces in between creating some very jazzy, bright, cool art.

Orange Image

Detail from Painting

American History Museum

These Boots Were Made For Leading

I already wrote about the visit with the ‘Rents to the American History Museum in my previous post, but time and theme did not permit me to add these boots to my Great D.C. Shoe Scavenger Hunt. Take a look at George Washington’s boots in the The Price of Freedom: Americans At War exhibit.

Chinese Lady's Shoe

I also found this bound-foot shoe tucked away in the Transportation exhibit. I won’t tell you exactly where. When you visit D.C. you’ll have to scavenge this one out on your own!


Waiting for the Train

Of course, we wouldn’t get anywhere without the Metro, man’s finest invention, IMO.

Typical Metro Station

All of the underground Metro stations look almost exactly alike, which I find reassuring. You find a Metro post, take an escalator down to the platform, and you know exactly what to expect . . . except for the passengers, of course. People always add the spice of variety.

From Holocaust Museum to Harry Potter Deathly Hallows

Holocaust Museum

On Saturday, the ‘Rents, Hubby, the Teen and I visited the Holocaust Museum off 15th Street. We were unable to get passes to the permanent exhibit (will have to do so before the end of my stay), but we had an excellent tour guide that ushered us through the Propaganda exhibit with all the old Nazi political posters, pamphlets, recordings, and timelines showing Hitler’s rise to power and the eventual horror of the Holocaust.

From National Holocaust Museum Website

Please go to see this important exhibit if you are able to get to D.C. Otherwise, click on the link and visit the museum online.

I was reminded how we have to be vigilant when watching one-sided news stations, when looking at legislation that blocks freedom of speech, press, and assembly in the name of safety (anybody thinking about the Patriot Act anymore?), and when reading blogs and other pieces of “journalism” . . . even this one! Check things out for yourself. Read. Think for yourself. It is so important–crucial–in a democracy.

3-D for Harry Potter

It might seem a bit of a jump to go from the Holocaust to Harry Potter, but when you think about it, there are some similar themes in the Hogwarts Saga. The “Dark Lord” wants to rid the magical community of “mud-bloods” and eventually takes over education and the press, uses torture and kidnapping to terrorize regular magical citizens into allowing his evil takeover of the government, and creates an “us against them” mentality in order to accomplish his ultimate desire for ultimate power.

We caught the movie on the Imax screen at the Museum of Natural History. The first floor of the museum was a madhouse before the show. A hot Saturday afternoon in the Dinosaur Exhibit? Don’t recommend it unless you are also one of the two thousand other families with small children under the age of eight trying to find something for the kiddos to do on a blistering hot pre-dinnertime afternoon. {{Shudder}}

(As an alternative, I’d suggest the hotel swimming pool. Take the kids out of school in the fall for a day at the museum instead. You’ll thank me.)

Like Neanderthals hiding from a predatory beast, we hid out in the Fossil Cafe for a half an hour and then gratefully entered the dim calm of the theater.

Dinner at Austin Grill

Outside Dining at Austin Grill

After the show, Hubby and I wanted to share our favorite D.C. restaurant (so far) with the ‘Rents and the Teen, so we trotted up 7th St. to E St. and the Austin Grill. This is a franchise, but so really good. The service is attentive, the Tex-Mex is delicious, and the prices are reasonable.


The Austin-tini wasn’t bad, either. Think Cosmopolitan, in pink.

Chalupa Salad

Everyone ordered burgers except for me. I had the Chalupa Taco Salad with Grilled Chicken. It comes in a deep-fried tortilla bowl with sour cream, tangy vinaigrette dressing, and guacamole–yummy!

And that is the “catch-up.” Yesterday, we browsed around in Alexandra again, and I’ll post some pics of new, fabulous finds–just wait until you hear about the Torpedo Factory!–over there in quaint Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I absolutely love the place!

If I ever had to move . . . well, no need to think about that now since we are already here, Outside the Box In D.C.

Day 35: The Tea Party Solution?

Liberty Tree

At the Museum of American History, a representation of the Liberty Tree, a gathering spot for the Sons of Liberty in Boston (the original Tea Party) where they tarred and feathered tax collectors, hung tax collectors in effigy, and held protests and demonstrations against the ruling British government.

Dear Reader:

Here’s some good news. A couple savvy freshman “Tea Party” Republicans have a solution to the debt crisis they have unleashed on our stymied country. Prayer.

From this morning’s WASHINGTON POST: “Outside the House chamber, Boehner summoned members of the holdout GOP South Carolina delegation to his second-floor office just off the Capitol Rotunda. But he appeared to make little headway and, within minutes, freshman Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan left the meeting, saying they were heading to a nearby chapel to pray for their leaders.”

Boy, I feel better, don’t you?

Outside the History Museum

The ‘Rents and I spent the better part of yesterday at the Museum of American History where we saw a demonstration of how people washed their clothes prior to the invention of washing machines, participated in an interactive, theatrical performance about the abolitionist martyr, John Brown, and browsed the Revolutionary and Civil War exhibits.

"John Brown"

John Brown was an abolitionist so convinced of the immorality of slavery that he resorted to violence and extremism, planning a raid on the Harper’s Ferry, Virginia arsenal in order to arm a slave uprising. Such an uprising would have led to the death of both slave and slaveholder. Slavery was a heinous institution in a country which supposedly valued personal freedom above all things. John Brown was, of course, morally right. He was courageous, taking bold action while others went about the business of trying to end slavery using less violent means. But what about his methods? Is violence justified? Do we believe throwing society into chaos is the one and only way to make things better?

The uprising failed, John Brown was captured, and then he was hung, a martyr of the abolitionist cause. The South refused to yield to Northern pressure, and in the end, massive and tragic violence ensued in the struggle to abolish slavery once and for all in the United States of America. The Civil War claimed 620,000 American lives. The South was ravaged. Resources were wasted. If we had it to do all over again, would we not try to find a peaceful way to bring about the end of slavery? Better yet, wouldn’t we sit down with our Founding Fathers and insist on freedom for ALL right from the very beginning?

Washboard In Tub

The temperature is rising back into the 100’s today in D.C., and I imagine tempers are heating up to dangerous levels on Capitol Hill as some lawmakers seem unwilling to put aside extreme positions in order to prevent possible financial chaos in a country already struggling with unemployment, rising prices, and uncertainty about the future. If we aren’t careful, those Depression Era washboards and tubs might be our future.

Our founding fathers built this country on compromise. In fact, when the Constitutional Convention came together in Philadelphia in 1787, a conflict between large and small states almost derailed the entire process. The “Great Compromise” was adopted, saving the Constitution.

So why is compromise suddenly a dirty word?

Don’t all sides have a point here? If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, if we don’t get our debt under control, and if we don’t begin the difficult process of moving over to a sustainable way of life, we might have nothing left to do but pray.

Day 32-34: Nationals Anthem

At the Ballpark

Dear Reader:

Last night we took in a ballgame at Nationals Park where we cheered for the home team as they played against the Florida Marlins.

Sun-drenched Ballpark

My parents (a.k.a. The ‘Rents) flew in from Portland yesterday afternoon, and since the temperature outside had finally dipped and drier air was finally cooling our sweaty brows, we figured a night out at the ballgame would be the perfect start to their D.C. vacation.

Cool Cap

Hubby bought me and the Teen hats for $5 from one of the many vendors selling gear and tickets on the walkway between the Navy Yard Metro stop and the official ticket booth. The ‘Rents were happy to see another BoSox fan standing in line for a ticket. (This year’s Boston-Hat-Du-Jour is brown. What’s up with that?)

Ticket Office

I was glad for my bright red Nationals cap when we got to our $10 nosebleed seats high above the right field line. The setting sun blazed into our faces, but a nice breeze was blowing off the Potomac behind us so we weren’t too sweltery.


We saw a couple of home run hits–two for the Marlins (unfortunately) and one for the Nationals in the fifth inning which raised hopes for a comeback.

The franchise knows how to put on a good show, encouraging fans to dance or jump around or wave hats. Of course everyone stood up during the Seventh Inning Stretch and sang a rousing version of “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” where we “root, root, root for the Nationals…”

As for food, the Teen enjoyed a “dawg” and a soda and spent most of the time texting with friends back home. At least she wasn’t in front of the computer or watching television teen dramas on cable. Hubby had a few beers with his friend from work. Later, we saw some cool outdoor seating areas with comfy couches, tables, and big-screen tv’s showing the game. I thought, “If I lived here, it would be fun to head over to the ballpark after work on a weeknight, meet up with friends, have some snacks and drinks, and watch the game.”

View of the Potomac behind the Stadium

Another highlight was the “Presidents Race.” The Nationals have a few mascots–an eagle, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt. The Presidents raced around the outfield, and it looked like Teddy was gonna win. But George tackled him from behind, falling down himself, leaving good ol’ Tom to win the race.

Click HERE to see a video of the mascots.

The home team ended up losing 11-2, but it was a fun night out. The sun went down, the air cooled still more, and everyone just seemed to relax and enjoy being outside enjoying America’s pastime. The sunset was brilliant!

Sunset Over The Stadium

Days 27-30: Now About This Heat . . .

High Noon At The Capitol

Dear Reader:

Wouldn’t you know it! Just when the Teen and I are finally recuperated enough to resume our touristing, the weatherman says the temps are going to be in the 100’s and everyone is encouraged to stay indoors.

I thought yesterday was hot–90’s and humid. I spent the bulk of the day whipping out a short story which ended up being “I Never Was That Fond of Kafka” and cracking myself up reading it aloud to the Teen who cracked up right along with me, so I knew it was funny.

Or maybe she was merely humoring me because she wanted the laptop.

“Are you almost done with the computer?”

“Yup. Just a minute. I need to fix this one . . . sentence.”

“You’ve had it all morning!”

“I know. But I wrote a STORY (said with great emphasis) in FIVE HOURS. That never happens.”

(It doesn’t. This is supersonic speed for me. I wonder if all this blogging is making me faster? Or maybe the story just sucks. Who knows. Who cares? It was fun and I had nothing better to do all morning, stuck inside in the heat with a bad foot.)

Five minutes later:

“Mo-o-o-m . . . I need that laptop. It’s two o’clock! When did you get up?” All suspicious.

“Seven. You know, I let you have this thing all the time. I just want to post it up on my Faceook wall and then you can have it.”

“Hurry up!”

When I finally relinquished the machine (which has become our lifeline to the outside world and especially our friends at home who we miss like crazy!), I decided I’d better get to the gym and work off some calories. Just outside the gym windows, I could see a few kids splashing in the pool. The skinny lifeguard looked wilted beneath her umbrella, her face nothing more than a giant pair of sunglasses and a down-turned mouth, poor thing.

I did the whole weight-lifting routine and then pedaled for an hour on the recumbent bike machine (still trying to baby my stupid foot), working up a decent sweat but only burning off a couple-hundred calories. With dread, I stepped onto the doctor-type scale “helpfully” planted in the gym. I slid the top weight thingy over . . . and over.

Yup. I’ve gained another two pounds this week for a total of four since I’ve been here. Time to cut out the tortilla chips and nightly glass(es!) of chardonnay. I think biking and walking were helping to keep things in check, but now there’s this heat.

Both the Teen and I are getting fat and stir-crazy. I tried to talk her into doing a test-walk over in the air-conditioned mall next door, but she’s like, “Noooo-way. Too embarrassing.” Apparently walking with your mom in a museum is okay but not in the mall.

“What? Moms and daughter shop together all the time.”

“No they don’t.”

“Of course they do.”

Of course, you know I couldn’t win that argument. We settled for walking to Starbucks instead. Over a couple venti iced mocha lattes over in the square (we went out at 6:30 when the temps still felt to be hovering in the mid-eighties) we vowed to get out of the apartment and do something today no matter what. Museums, once you get into them, are kept at ice-cold air-conditioned temperatures, and we are itching to hit the National Museum of American Art. We should be okay . . .

Check in tomorrow and see if we melted!


Is the earth getting warmer? NASA says yes. Click HERE.

Or is it? FoxNews says something different. Click HERE.

Either way, it’s pretty darn hot out right now. Keep hydrated, everyone!