Category Archives: bicyles

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 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!