Category Archives: Transportation

Eating Cold Strawberries on a Hot Summer Day

Local BerriesDear Reader:

Summer is here! Summer is here! Nature is ushering in the season with temperatures in the eighties and a haze of humidity, and I am sitting here eating my fill of cold strawberries harvested at a nearby farm and sold at our local branch of a corporate grocery chain. The juxtaposition of cool berries and hot air seems to mirror the juxtaposition of local produce sold, ironically, at a multinational chain store.

Is this ideal? Of course not. Ideal would be me rising early and biking up the road to Dole’s Orchards to pick berries grown at my neighborhood farm, paying cash to the neighbor-farmer who will reinvest in the farm and community, and biking back down the hill to my house to bake a strawberry rhubarb pie with the berries, rhubarb from my garden, and a pastry made from Maine whole wheat flour and lard from a real farm in Pennsylvania and purchased from the locally-owned, Amish-inspired store in a nearby town.

If I’ve learned one thing from my three years of blogging about localism and sustainability and community-building, it is how idealism is the beacon and how reality falls somewhere on the scale that measures between the shade of utter failure far from that beacon and the light-filled space of near-success.

Garden Boxes Summer Solstice

Take my garden boxes, for example. In my head, the ideal garden overflows with lush, green plants beginning to blossom and fruit. No pests reside here, just rich, moist garden soil, fat and happy earthworms, and the occasional bee and butterfly to pollinate and enliven the mini-ecosystem. In reality, the compost dries out much too fast because I really should have added in peat moss and vermiculite, the plants aren’t growing as fast as I wish, the eggplant and cabbages have holes in the leaves (and some leaves completely gnawed) where some tiny, marauding insect has plundered the succulent vegetation. The plants in the herb bed look yellowish. The micro greens in the greens beds are still micro-micro–too small to harvest even after a month of growth.

Peas and Zuccini

I sit outside with my coffee and contemplate the state of my garden and realize that even though it isn’t perfect, it is quite lovely and has the potential for productivity. The peas yearn upward toward the turned-on-its-side tomato cage I placed there for support. The zucchini and summer squash and cucumber plants spread wide palms to the sun. The hot-pink annuals–geranium and petunia and portulaca–burst with color in their corners next to the “black” Japanese shiso plant, the sweet potato vine, the chocolate mint in the pink & black garden box.

Wild Roses

I turn from my garden boxes and look at the wild edge. Here near a tumbled rock wall, the wild roses remind me that Nature often does a better job on her own. This year’s rosa rugosa blooms sweeten the air with their scent even as they glow against the gray backdrop of those old stones some farmer used to mark a field a hundred-fifty years ago. Earlier, there was a profusion of wild strawberries dancing at the feet of those rose princesses. Near the compost bin, a sturdy mullein thrusts out its plush, velvety leaves.

When I reach out to touch a rose, it falls apart, petals showering over my hands.

Perfection is not necessary in this world. The beauty is in the attempt, in the growth, in the trial-and-error. It is the appreciation for what is as well as the striving toward what could be.

Later this week, I will make my way to Dole’s to pick strawberries. I’ll probably drive my gas-powered automobile. Doing what is better than nothing really is better than doing nothing at all.

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!

Metro

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.

Austin-tini

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.

Days 22 & 23: Scenes from the (National) Mall

Rose in Late Afternoon

Dear Reader:

I never promised you a rose garden, but here you go anyway!

Hubby, the Teen, and I went over to the National Mall area late Friday afternoon when Hubby finished work. The weather was perfect–sunny, warm, breezy, and dry–and everyone was out enjoying the gardens and sculptures and memorials. We passed the renovations going on at the Arts & Industries building and came across part of the Folger Rose Garden.

White Roses

Some of the security guards from the museum were chatting and laughing near the garden. Tourists like us drifted along the sidewalk. People pushed baby strollers. Joggers, enjoying the dry air, trotted along the pathways beneath the trees along the Mall.

More Roses

I had to snap a picture of the Smithsonian Castle against that bright, blue sky. The strong stone and linear lines were such a contrast to the soft flowers of the rose garden.

The Castle

The one thorn on this rosy scene? A group of nasty, male tourists taunting a couple teenage girls. Here’s a hint: if you can’t be polite while traveling . . . stay home!

We hurried on toward the Washington Monument, ever present in the city, thrusting up into the sky like a giant arrow.

Arrow Toward the Sky

When I first walked around the National Mall, it simply seemed a tourist attraction with all the groups milling around, taking pictures of the monuments and buildings. The next time I went through it, I had the impression of a space more like a fair ground with all the tents set up for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that took place around the Fourth of July weekend.

Softball Teams on the National Mall

Now, I think the National Mall is really, at heart, a big city park. Yes, there are lots of statues and monuments and whatnot, but it is also where softball teams get together and play (see photo above), groups of lithe athletes play Ultimate Frisbee , joggers run their regular favorite routes, families hang out on picnic blankets, couples share a bench and an ice-cream cone.

World War II Memorial

The Teen, Hubby, and I were still playing tourist, so we went looking for some more monuments and memorials in the early evening sunlight.

Women At Work In the Factory

We took our time at the World War II Memorial, a fantastic circular space with columns, pools, fountains, and some really gorgeous bas-relief friezes along the walkway leading down toward the main pool.

The WWII Memorial is dedicated to the men and women who fought and died in the war and those who supported the effort from home. The friezes show scenes indicative of these various areas of service.

War Photography

I spent a bit of time looking at these bronze bas-reliefs, but there was so much more to see.

Each star on this wall represents one-hundred soldiers who died in the war. It is beautiful and sobering.

Wall of Stars & Reflecting Pool

We continued on to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall brought on one of my mushy-moments. All those lives, all those families impacted by a war that is still so controversial.

Low Key/ High Impact

The Korean War Memorial stunned me with its larger-than-life statues of soldiers trudging through a space planted with junipers and lined with paving stones. I thought this was a fabulous design. The statues were so lifelike!

Korean War Memorial

Detail of Statue at Korean War Memorial

After so much walking, we were ready to head home. But not before we stopped to watch the ducks and geese at the pond.

Geese

And to watch the duck-like progression of a tour group on Segways.

Segway Fun

I’m thinking I could use one of these little two-wheeled vehicles as all the walking is beginning to take its toll on my feet. As much as I love walking around the city–it really is the best way to see a new place–I may have to take a couple days off to lie around by the pool and let my strained tendons heal.

So, I have just one question: How DO these city girls run around town in five-inch heels?

Day 16: Don’t Go Down The “Hollers”

And Other Words Of Wisdom From West Virginia

Shenandoah River

Dear Reader:

On Saturday morning, Hubby, the Teen, and I sprang the F-150 from the bowels of Underground Parking Lot 2 and promptly lost ourselves in the maze that is the D.C. roadway situation. You know those maze puzzles in magazines found on the racks of convenience stores? Looking at a map, that’s what you see. Instead of finding your way out with a no. 2 pencil, though, you are navigating a big red truck.

But forget the map . . . we didn’t bring one.

So what was the first stop on our trip? A convenience store somewhere over near Georgetown for a two maps (just to make sure). I was impressed by Hubby’s ability to parallel park the truck on city street between two smaller vehicles. Lucky for us, traffic was really light on Saturday morning. Soon, we were on the George Washington Parkway heading in the right direction and enjoying views of the Potomac through the trees.

Georgetown, I presume?

I was able to snap a picture of Georgetown through the window as we rolled along, heading for the highways and byways of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia on our way to Charles Town, WV.

Farm from a Window

Twenty minutes later, the city and suburban landscape gave way to farmland. Driving down I-495 didn’t seem that much different from I-295 back home. I had to snap this picture of a farm, and an hour and fifteen minutes out of the city, we crossed the Shenandoah River and saw the long, wavy, blue line of the Blue Ridge Mountains ahead of us.

Appalachian Trail Sign

Seeing this sign, I had the feeling that, if necessary, I could get out and walk all the way home to western Maine.

Golf, anyone?

Charles Town, West Virginia is named for George Washington’s brother who had inherited some land here and who laid out and founded the town. Charles Town is a small city with a cute and thriving Main Street filled with shops, churches, library and a courthouse. On the outskirts near the highway, a casino has recently been built, and this is where you see the strip of chain stores and fast-food restaurant franchises. Wisely, the citizens preserved the historic downtown to retain its charm and character.

Houses All In A Row

We zipped through town, me gawking out the window and wishing we could stop and explore, and soon reached farms and cornfields and finally the housing development where our friends live. The development is ten years old and built around a golf course. I have to admit, the houses are beautiful and spacious with generous, rectangular back yards and large, wooden decks for the outdoor furniture and brick patios for the barbeque grill.

Golf Cart

Hubby and A___ decided to hit a bucket of neon-yellow golf balls over on the green. I liked watching all the electric carts zipping around while grilling R_____ with questions about her life here.

We stood in the shade of a tree and discussed women’s golf-fashion (I love the little plaid skorts and the saddle-shoes) and whether or not she enjoyed living here. She said they did—though everyone commutes to work in the city on the train and works long hours, and they still don’t really know too many neighbors even after two years.

R_____ works in town, though, and said she’s met some nice people there. “They did all warn me not to accidentally drive ‘down the hollers,'” she said. “You know, those dirt tracks that lead off the road?” I nodded. “There’s lots of family clan territories down there where they’ll shoot you if they don’t know you.”

Okaaaayyyy, then.

And how easy would it be to get to town without a car? R______ said she could, if necessary, ride her bike, but the road leading in doesn’t have a breakdown lane and the drivers don’t pay much attention to what they’re doing.

Would it be better to live in town, I wondered? She said the houses in town cost about three times as much as out in the development . . . and are ten times as old. I can see how tempting it would be, if moving to this area, to buy in a development where you have a new, huge house and a nice back yard and neighbors in the same socio-economic slot as you.

The downside is, like most exurban housing developments, this one doesn’t allow retail and there are no communal gathering spots other than the golf course/clubhouse. Everyone is so tired from commuting, anyway, that all they want to do is chill in front of the big screen television on the weekend. We sat out on the deck for hours and saw only one neighbor venture out her door. It felt like a ghost town–albeit a well-manicured, nicely-landscaped, upper-middle-class ghost town. If I hadn’t been drinking and eating with friends all afternoon, I would have wondered if any real people actually lived here.

A____ and R_____ have picked out some houses for us for “when we move down here” (not that we are seriously considering it), and we took a look at them. Part of me is drawn to this kind of pretty, quiet neighborhood. I could do so much with a big, flat, sunny fenced-in back yard in a climate where the flowers are already blooming by the first week of March and the growing season extends into November. I was impressed by their neighbor’s raised garden beds with drip irrigation system (I saw cucumber plants, carrots, and feathers of asparagus gone by).

But I do wonder if I’d want to move into yet another housing development just a little too far removed from the center of town, where, let’s face it, the real community-stuff happens and you can walk to the grocery store and return your library books and grab a cup of coffee at the java hut.

I’m not even sure that I’d want to live this far from the city now that I’ve had a taste of urban living.

Spinning Wheel from upstate New York

Of course, I had to ask about R_____’s spinning wheel and was delighted when she told me it belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s great-grandmother! R_____’s great-great something grandfather was a brother to Charles Ingalls, so she and Laura shared this common ancestress. Made me itch to get back to my spinning . . . and reread the Little House books.

A___ and R____ were wonderful hosts. It was delightful to see and talk with them again. The Teen didn’t even complain too much as her new phone is keeping her in touch with her friends back home, and she was able to sit and watched movies in the air-conditioned house all afternoon. She even came outside to join us for dinner and practice her conversation skills with us “old” people. As the sun sank, we reluctantly headed back to the city after securing promises that our friends would come see us for a D.C. weekend before the end of the summer.

All in all, it was a nice trip out of the city.

Sunday, we went back to Alexandria, and I this time I remembered to bring my camera! Read about it next time, Outside the Box in D.C.

Days 9 & 10: Five Things I Do Differently In D.C.

Flowers in the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden

Dear Reader:

Riding home from the American History Museum yesterday, I began to think about what sort of things I do differently here in the city versus at home in the country. It hit me, then, the truth in a statement my good friend, Sandi, made before we left Maine.

“No matter where you are,” Sandi said, “your life is going to be pretty much the same because you are still the same person.”

Wise words! Sandi’s philosophy lines up quite nicely with that of Confucius who wrote, “No matter where you go, there you are.” It’s so true. I do find I am still me here in D.C. I’m reading my books, drinking my coffee, and thinking my oh-so-deep thoughts (she says, self-mockingly).

There are, however, a few things that I’m doing differently.

Ironing Board

# 1: Ironing. I haven’t done this much of it since Hubby quit teaching ten years ago and no longer had to wear dress shirts to work. When I was a kid, my mom taught me the proper order for ironing men’s shirts. Collar, yokes, cuffs, arms, side, back, side. The smell of damp, hot cotton steaming beneath the iron brought back some good memories. I didn’t like ironing at age 11 or 12. Now 43, I discover I rather enjoy it. Go figure.

By the way, engineers wear jeans and tee-shirts, while teachers wear shirts and ties. Why is it that teachers have to dress like executives and get the same amount of schooling as executives but do not get paid like executives?

And can anyone tell me why this program is giving me a spelling error underline for the word “men’s.” Isn’t that the proper plural possessive? It’s bugging this English major. Thanks.

Dishwasher

#2: Using A Dishwasher. When moving into various apartments over the years, Hubby and I never made a dishwasher a priority. In fact, only our Westbrook, Maine apartment had a dishwasher. When it was time to move into our new house, I nixed the idea of a dishwasher and opted for an extra cupboard instead. I figured I’d save some electricity. As a housewife, I had plenty of time to wash the dishes by hand. Now I find out that using a dishwasher MAY be more sustainable (click HERE for a sampling of what seems to be a consensus). I don’t know. Pre-scrubbing before putting the dirty dishes into the machine, I really think I might as well wash the darn things. Anyway, the water here doesn’t get very hot from the tap, the Teen’s summer job is to clean the dishes, and so we’ve been using the apartment’s washer.

Water Filter

#3: Filtering the Water. If the water from the tap doesn’t get hot, it must get cold, right? Wrong. It is tepid. Always. And yucky. After a few days lugging home bottles of water, I bought this Britta water filter pitcher. It only holds about five cups, which is about what I put in the coffee pot every morning, but it is easy to refill and the water is so much better after being filtered and refrigerated. It may even be healthier. I will say this for my community back home–we have the most excellent, clean, good-tasting water.

Metro Smartrip Card

#4: Using Public Transportation. This is a big one. I haven’t driven a car in ten days, and I’m not missing it one tiny bit. NOT ONE TINY BIT! There is nothing easier than popping over to the Metro station and getting around the city. Granted, it is summer and not a frigid day in January or a pouring wet day in March, but being able to read while getting across town? It is easy with the Metro’s Smartrip cards. You just press this up against a reader on the turnstiles (they are called turnstiles, but they slide in and out now, not turn) and voila! Hop on the train to Chinatown or Woodley Park or wherever. The trains here run on electricity, and 70% of the electricity in D.C. is generated by coal, according to a Greenpeace volunteer with whom I chatted in Adams Morgan the other day. So, this mode of transport isn’t perfectly sustainable. However, you can move many more people with a train than in individual automobiles burning precious oil, sending carbon into the atmosphere, and enriching Middle Eastern countries. Public transportation is a little bit tougher to figure in rural areas, but it is definitely a no-brainer in the city.

My makeup "collection."

#5: Makeup. I confess, since moving to the country and giving up work outside the home, I’ve let myself go in the cosmetics department. It just doesn’t seem necessary to put the on the “face” before going to the Limerick Supermarket for a quick run to the popcorn aisle. I always wear lipstick, feel quite naked without it, but now I’m lining my eyes with a navy pencil, picking just the right coordinating color from the palette of eyeshadow I picked up at the Dollar Store in Sanford, and even–gasp–spreading a light, SPF-15 foundation all over my face!

SPF is good, especially since I’m walking in bright, southern sunlight to the grocery store or to the Metro or all around the National Mall, and I admit that I look better in photos. However, I’m not sure if all this personal grooming is really “me” anymore. I’ve grown to like the woman who slaps a little lipstick on her mouth, sticks her hair in a ponytail, and heads off to the public library to volunteer. Or tromps out to the garden boxes in her beat-up “croc-a-likes” with the broken straps. Or pulls on a pair of wrinkled shorts and a tee-shirt to go biking with a friend.

That person is still here. So is the more citified me. I realize it is okay to be both because deep inside, wherever I go, there I am. Thanks Confucius and Sandi, for the reminders.

Tomorrow: Off to Celebrate the 4th of July in front of the Capitol Building!

Day 6: Room With A View or Two

Crystal City Artwork

Dear Reader:

It was a beautiful, sunny, dry, breezy day in the D.C. area. We were getting a little burned-out on museums, so I spent a good part of the morning enjoying the view from my balcony and researching bicycle safety tips for riding in the city traffic, looking at the numerous bike trails around the area, and seeing if I could ride those trails to the medical office for my allergy shots.

The best bike safety information came from an article on BicycleSafe.com entitled “How to Not Get Hit by Cars” by Michael Bluejay. The key is to ride a little bit more to the left than usual. On a bike, you worry that someone is going to hit you from behind, but that rarely happens. Drivers behind you can see you. The danger comes from cars entering the road from side streets or drivers parked on the side of the road opening their doors into your path.

Artwork Down Under

Riding in the city may be a little bit more dangerous than I’d like, but there are pay-offs, too. You can see so much more from a bicycle than you can from a car. Take this artwork, for example. We were taking a slightly different route from the Crystal City neighborhood to Pentagon City when we saw these gorgeous murals hung beneath an overpass. If I had been in a car, I could not have stopped, admired, and photographed this cool sight.

photo copied from Bike Arlington website

Arlington, along with other bike-progressive cities, has begun to mark lanes with “shared-lane markings” or “sharrows.” These markings show cyclists where they should be riding in the lane and also alert motorists that bicyclists can share lanes with the autos. These also encourage cyclists to stay on the streets and off the sidewalks . . . also riding on sidewalks is allowed.

I didn’t want to spend my whole day online, so after a few productive hours of research, I wrote up yesterday’s blog post and hit the gym. There were teenagers hanging out by the pool yesterday, a fact that may cheer up the Teen, who is missing her friends. I’m missing my friends and family, too, homesickness being one of the few negative aspects of travel.

Looking toward D.C.

We cheered ourselves up with a nice dinner and some drinks out on the balcony where a pink and deep purple sunset provided a backdrop to the massive National Cathedral in the far distance. As darkness fell, a shower of lights popped over the cathedral. I blinked, wondering if I’d imagined it. A few seconds later, another puffball of sparkly light exploded above the building.

Sometimes the simplest things give the greatest pleasure. We watched the fireworks, chatted about our visit in D.C. so far, and called it a day. I had the best night’s sleep in over a week. Maybe slowing down, whether in a small town or a fast-paced city, is the best way to experience the world around us.

Days 3 & 4: Biking, BBQ, and Some Pretty Cool Sculpture

Hirshhorn Museum Outdoor Sculpture Garden

Reminder: Click on underlined words to access links for more information, articles, photos, videos, and more.

Dear Reader:

Sunday morning, hubby and I hit the bike trail. I had my first experience with city biking, traveling partly on sidewalks (I’m thinking this is not good form, though people do it) and partly on the city streets where there are marked bike lanes in the middle of the road. D.C. is a very bike-friendly city with its many trails, marked bike routes, and a Capital Bikeshare program.

All around the city you’ll see bright red bicycles lined up in a cheery, earth-friendly row, waiting for members (you can get one day, five-day, one month, or one-year memberships for prices ranging from $5 to $75) to hop on and ride to another station where the bike can be dropped off. The beauty of this is that the rider doesn’t have to cart the machine all around the city. Just take it, use it, drop it off at a station closest to your destination. The first thirty minutes of each ride are free, the second thirty minutes are a buck-fifty, and so on.

If you want to use a bike for a longer ride, it makes more sense to rent one for the day from one of the many rental companies. You might even want to take a bike tour to see some of the historic sites. For example, Bike and Roll offers seven different bike tours as well as an option to create a custom experience.

Park in Crystal City near the bike path

Since hubby stashed our bikes in the back of the F-150, all we had to do on Sunday morning was free my cycle from the truck bed and take off. Passing by the Crystal City Water Park, we hung a left to access the 18-mile Mt. Vernon Trail. This paved, two-lane trail is a favorite with locals and tourists, especially on Sunday morning. Bikers and joggers were out in full force enjoying the breezy, warm day.

Gravelly Point

A few minutes into our ride, we found Gravelly Point. This is a good picnic spot, especially for families with young children, as the planes leaving Reagan International Airport take off directly overhead. The area is park-like with its wide swaths of grass and the trees and shrubbery lining the river where you can watch the boats and kayaks out in the water.

Trestle on Mt. Vernon Trail

We watched a couple of planes take off and then launched ourselves down the path along the Potomac. Soon the path was shaded with trees. Every so often you’d hear “Left!” or the cheerful “ding-ding” of a bicycle bell indicating that someone was about to pass you. This happened alot, since the traffic was quite heavy. Hubby and I passed many a jogger, and I am now longing for a bell of my own.

I was captivated by the squares of light falling through the rusty trestle bridge we passed under and made a note to stop and take a picture on the way back. Hubby was too far ahead of me, so I had to pedal like crazy to catch up. We crossed the Potomac and ended up at the Jefferson Memorial where we parked the bikes for a few minutes and explored the site.

Jefferson Memorial

We wanted to hit the National Capital BBQ Battle, so we headed back to the apartment to grab the Teen who was, amazingly, showered and dressed and blown-dry and made-up and ready to go. Trekking across the Mall, we saw the Hirshhorn Museum, the Smithsonian’s museum of contemporary art and sculpture. The sculpture garden called to us with its pool and plantings and intriguing installations.

I should have taken notes on the names of the pieces and their creators. Unfortunately, I am becoming as technology-dependent as the rest of the world and assumed I could easily find a list of pics and info online at home. Um, wrong. Note to self: Buy notebook today and carry it everywhere!

Thought this sculpture of a coat was cool. The Hirshhorn has art programs for teens, I discovered while searching online for the information I was too lazy to write down. Check out this short video created by some of the kids in the program. You’ll see the coat sculpture in a whole different way.

I wonder if I can get the Teen to sign up for a workshop in the Artlab?

Willem de Kooning "Seated Woman on a Bench"

Having a little bit of fun with sculpture.

Much as I would have liked to continue to explore the garden (I have a feeling this is going to be one of my favorite spots in D.C.), we were lured by the call of ribs and other culinary delights. Off we went in search of the BBQ Battle. A block or so over from the Mall, on 12th St. near the Old Post Office, we found an entrance to the BBQ.

Clock tower of Old Post Office

The BBQ has raised over 1.2 million dollars in the past for the Boys & Girls Clubs of D.C. We handed over our $12 apiece and took a look around. The BBQ was like our Maine community festivals–Strawberry or Apple or Lobster Fest–with vendors set up in booths, entertainment on various stages, food and drink for sale, and samples to try. Unlike our rural Maine festivals, this one was crowded with people of all races, nationalities, styles of dress, languages. Fascinating to watch the astounding variety of people!

People at the BBQ

It’s quite a jump from Willem de Kooning to Lego, but the day’s theme seemed to be sculpture, high-brow to low-brow. The kids were getting a kick out of sticking their heads in the shark’s jaws.

Lego sculpture

Everyone seemed to be lined up at the Safeway Sampling Tent, so we queued up for what ended up being the longest line EVER! Okay, not ever, but it took us a good two hours to finally get up to the sampling area. I tried to remember the kids in Haiti from the IMAX movie the day before, the kids who were lined up with buckets waiting for clean water to drink. Instead of griping, I decided to watch people instead.

We filled ourselves on samples of watermelon and mango, lamb ribs and chili dogs and bbq turkey, potato and ceasar salads, and countless tiny cups of lemonade, tea, and soft drinks. My favorite was a Sobe Goji Pear Yerba Mate drink. Yerba Mate is a South American beverage that is supposed to help with weight-loss, energy, and focus. I don’t know if the Sobe drink can do all that for you, but it sure did taste yummy!

Oscar Meyer Weinermobile

There’s just something fun about the Weinermobile which has been around (in various incarnations, of course) for about as long as automobiles. Click HERE to view a YouTube video about the history of the Weinermobile.

Love Seed Mama Jump

Finally we wandered down to the far end of the BBQ and the blues stage and caught the first set of a great Delaware band, Love Seed Mama Jump. These guys could rock! Click HERE to sample their version of John Denver’s “Country Road.” The bongo drums were unique, and I think I caught a bit of Celtic flare in the music, though the Teen thinks I’m crazy.

All in all, I’m glad we went to the festival. It’s the sort of thing that the locals do, I think, and we saw a great variety of people just hangin’ out and enjoying themselves on a nice summer Sunday afternoon. The money raised will help some kids get into after school programs and summer camps, and I may have discovered a new band to follow. Next time, though, we would skip the sampling tent and head over to “Retaurant Row” to buy some finger-lickin’ spicy ribs or one of the gigantic turkey legs we saw some people gnawing upon.

After three days of sightseeing and walking and Metro-ing, we went home for some much-needed hydration and sleep. Hubby went to work Monday morning, and the Teen and I decided that Mondays should be housekeeping day since we pretty much needed some quiet and home time. I hit the gym in the morning.

Later, I walked over to the Harris Teeter for some provisions. I haven’t driven a car since Wednesday, and I love living in a walkable community. With a mall right across the street and the Pentagon Row shops just around the corner, I could live comfortably without leaving my city block, even if I didn’t have a bicycle.

This is a planned development, quite new and one of several of Arlington, Virginia’s urban villages. According to Wikipedia, a Metro stop spurred development of this area which was once an open field and some industrial buildings. With its green spaces, park, tree-lined sidewalks, center square, and public transportation, this development provides healthy, happy urban living.

If you can afford it.

The apartment we are staying in costs about $3000 a month. Average rental costs for a two-bedroom in the D.C. area (according to ApartmentRatings.com) is about $1500 a month for 2011. I keep wondering, where do all the retail and restaurant workers live?

Today I’m heading over to Crystal City, the urban village next door, in order to check out the farmer’s market. Check in tomorrow for pics and commentary!

Quick Post: Car EN-V!

Dear Reader:

This is just a quick post in between the Dumpster Diving Parts One and Two. For a few months now I’ve been yearning for a car. Not just any car. I want a compact, fuel efficient, easily parked vehicle. In contemplating the future of driving, I’ve often thought that someday we won’t even have to drive our cars–they will drive us. It seemed to me that with the satellites, GPS technologies, and the advent of cars that can parallel park for you, it would only be a short step to all vehicles on the road being hooked into a computerized “net” that would guide the car over the road, avoiding accidents, conserving fuel, and allowing the “driver” to basically sit back and enjoy the ride. It would be like taking the train . . . only in your own personal bubble.

So, today I ran across this article about a car-in-the-making, designed by GM for the Chinese market. May I introduce the EN-V. The small size and weird shape was enough to intrigue me, but as I read further in the article, I discovered that I’m not the only one imagining little cars being manipulated around the roadways by computer. The article reads, Apart from its diminutive size and light weight — 880 pounds including the passengers — the vehicle would offer drivers the option of “autonomous driving:” letting the car drive itself via an elaborate system of GPS systems, digital maps, roadway and vehicle sensors, cameras and other devices.

Will we ever really see something like this in our American cities? Or out here on the rural by-ways where we can never hope to have access to trains and mono-rails? Without the threat of accidents, the safety issue would be moot (until the computer glitches, I suppose.) What do you think? Is this something you would ride around in, say, around 2020? Click HERE for some photos at the official GM EN-V site.