Saturday in Takoma

While most of today has been allocated to school projects (having finished off a research paper’s first draft, next up are three chapters in the oh-so-riveting Reference and Information Services: An Introduction textbook), I decided I needed a quick break for an hour. It’s a beautiful day outside, and while I’d opened up all of the windows and turned off the air-conditioner, that simply wasn’t going to suffice.

So, I took a quick spin around my immediate neighborhood. Strolled down to the library and picked up my reserved copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day. I had a recent encounter with one of the Canal House Cooking books and while that’s a (hopefully) forthcoming post in its own right, it made me curious to see what their big cookbook was like. From there I headed the opposite direction down the street to Trohv, which is always worth a browse but in this case I was visiting specifically to buy the new issue of Kinfolk magazine. It’s always a pleasure to read, and knowing that this issue is all about weekends makes it even better. As I entered, I stopped and snapped a quick picture of the new construction at Takoma Central to send to Charlie. Not that I know much about building projects, but it certainly feels like it’s coming along nicely and should hopefully open on schedule next spring.

On the way home, I stopped in at La Mano Coffee Bar, which opened earlier this month. Ended up leaving with a mint rooibos tea, and two hand pies; one with peach and raspberry, the other with a spiced ground beef. Ran into one of my neighbors right as I was leaving, who was walking with her adorable daughter (who was on a sassy purple scooter).

Saturday Haul

And once I got home, I put everything down and thought to myself how much I love my neighborhood on days like this. Everyone’s out walking, there are adorable shops and businesses to visit, and there was a general air of friendliness. A couple that I saw leaving Trohv as I entered was buying a snack at La Mano, and as I walked from the library to Trohv I saw two other neighbors across the street run into one another and start chatting.

Sure, it’s not the “everything is happening all the time” nature of being right in the heart of downtown, and there’s a lot to be said for living there. But there are definitely charms that exist here, too, if you take the time to look. And now, having eaten my pies (the crust was buttery and flaky and delicious, and the insides were great too), I’m going to sit out on the balcony with my textbook and my iced tea and enjoy the great weather.

A Perk of Early Morning Running

In addition to my Saturday morning running date with my buds most weekends, for the past year and a half I’ve also been running with some of them before work twice a week down on the National Mall. When I lived in Arlington it was a quick hop over to meet them and back. Now that I’m in Takoma, it’s a little bit farther and there’s a new twist where instead of going home I pop over to the gym and shower there before heading the rest of the way to work.

There are a few reasons why I do this even though it’s not necessarily that convenient. First, the company is great; I love catching up with Ben and Steve and John; we hear about each other’s weekends, chat about television shows and movies, even have the occasional political discourse. Second, having a preset time to meet means that it gets me out of the bed and exercising, something that when I’m on my own is much easier to put off and/or skip entirely.

And third?

Well, the view is occasionally spectacular.

(I keep telling myself I need to bring an actual camera with me this time of year. The mid-point of our run is down at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, and the view towards the Washington Monument with the newly-restored Reflecting Pool has been jaw-dropping as of late. Until then, this quick cameraphone shot is better than nothing.)

Storm Damage Photos

Just a couple of glimpses of what my neighborhood looks like, after Friday night’s storms… Sadly, these are somewhat typical for the area. (We were quite lucky. No power loss or damage.)

This is actually one of the less-bad examples. As you can see if you look on the right-hand side, the tree actually snapped right through the trunk. Happily, when it came crashing down it did NOT hit anyone’s house or car. (There are a lot of totaled cars in the area.) This is about three blocks away from our home.

This one happened just a block and a half down the street; the tree when it came down managed to straddled three properties; it started in what we’ll call property #3, destroyed the fence between it and property #2, and stretched across all of property #2 to even extend into the right-hand side of property #1. This tree took out power lines with it (ack) and completely blocked the driveway (and even walkway) of property #2, where Alice and Tony live. Ugh. And unlike the previous photo…

…this one wasn’t just the trunk snapping. As you can see here, the entire root system came up with it. Yikes. Still, at the end of the day, a hole in the yard and a destroyed fence is much better than a smashed house or car. (And since then, chainsaws have cut up the portions of the tree blocking the driveways to properties #1-2, so that’s good. Still no power as of this morning though.)

Helping a Little Old Lady Across the Street

On most Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I have a fairly set routine. Drive down to the National Mall and start running around 5:50am. A mile in, I meet two or three other friends and we run four additional miles. We all head our separate ways there, and I usually run another mile and a quarter before heading off to the gym.

For some reason today, I changed the route of my last, solo mile, and ended up passing by the National Museum of the American Indian right as I hit the 6-mile point. In other words, I was almost done. And as I was heading by, I saw an older woman waving a cane at me. It took a couple of seconds for it to fully register, but then I slowed down to see what was going on. (My immediate thought was that she was lost and needed directions.)

“Excuse me,” she said, “but this cane isn’t enough today. Can you help me across the street?”

I blinked for a second or so and then, “Sure, of course.” How often do little old ladies actually ask you to help them across the street, right?

So, she took my arm and we started heading slowly across the slate sidewalk in front of the museum, and then crossing Jefferson Avenue. “My son normally drives me to work,” she said, “but he had to go in early this morning.”

“Oh, ok,” I said. “And this can be a little slick with the cold weather.”

“My legs aren’t very good,” she confided to me. “I have sickle cell and it makes it hard to walk. My doctor told me I should retire because I’m turning 70 this year but if I just sit around the house then my legs will get stiffer and then I won’t be able to walk at all.” (Later, I realized that she might have said something different than “sickle cell” but it’s what I heard then.) A minute later she said, “I’m so sorry if I ruined your run, but I’m glad you stopped. Several people just walked right past me.”

By this point we’d crossed the street and were still going strong. In the back of my head it hit me that she had wanted help for a little further than just across the street. And so we kept going, up 4th Street and all the way to Constitution Ave. She paused and said, “I’m almost there,” as if to let me go, but at that point I was in it for the long haul. I said that Constitution wasn’t an easy street to cross under the best of circumstances, and she agreed and we went a little further until she insisted that she was good and had no more streets to cross and was on her block. By this point we were just around the corner from the DC Courthouse, a third of a mile from where we’d started.

The whole time we walked there, we talked about the weather, she told me about her son’s job, and even pointed out a building he’d helped construct. She mentioned that sometimes she took the bus all the way in from Anacostia but it was too cold to wait for the line that would have taken her all the way and she’d thought she could walk the rest. And all I could think about was if it was my mother or grandmother (she reminded me so much of Grammy that it brought some tears to my eyes) and everyone had walked past either of them, how horrible I would have felt.

It made me think, how often do all of us (myself included) just hurry past someone who needs help, assuming that someone else will step in? And if she’d said, “Could you walk me to the DC Courthouse” would I have done so or would I have been more worried about the last quarter-mile of my run, or the fact that at 7am the parking meters would click on and I’d be skirting the edge of getting a ticket? I can pretend that I would have not worried about all of that. But you never know. There’s a good chance I might have kept going.

(I also like to think that if I’d initially realized how far it was, I would’ve had the good sense to just say, “Let me get my car” and run over to it and picked her up. By the time we were at Constitution I was kicking myself for not driving her over so that she wasn’t on her feet the whole way. Hindsight is 20/20.)

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I think there’s something particularly arbitrary about them and they’re just not for me. But I might make an almost-exception here. I am going to try and remember this down the line, and be more observant for those in need that I can assist. A couple minutes out of my morning is ultimately not that big a deal for me, but it can be huge for someone else.

I might not know this woman’s name, but I am going to remember her for a very long time. I’m sharing this story because hopefully, I won’t be the only one to do so.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering: I got back to my car at 7:10am, and there was not a parking ticket on the windshield. Thank you, universe.)

So Long, Freecycle

Thanks for becoming useless, Freecycle.

When I first heard about Freecycle years ago, it was fairly brilliant,  a way to offer up things that you don’t need, so that instead of throwing them away someone else will come and take them off your hands. No payments, just giving things away to someone else who wants them. Over the years I’ve given a lot away on Freecycle.

For the past few years, though, the DC-area Freecycle groups have become slightly… well, draconian. They were splintered into lots of smaller groups, which made sense. But suddenly they started demanding that people prove that they were in that small geographical focus, something I always found silly because does it really matter if I live on one side of a town line or the other if I’m going to keep things from being thrown away? This is an area with enough communities and towns all up alongside one another it’s not like I’m in Topeka signing up for things in Chicago. I had to actually fight to get onto the group where my office is; it’s easier for me to have people pick up things here, based on location and hours, than where my home is.

Today, the group for where my office is located sent out a note saying the following:

The Freecycle Networkâ„¢ made a structure change from groups serving large geographic areas to local groups serving local communities several years ago. This “local focus” helps us create a close-knit, local giving community of neighbors helping neighbors that makes a real impact.

In an effort to maintain our local focus, we need to reserve membership in this group for folks who live in McLean, Vienna, Great Falls, and Merrifield.  Local charities are welcomed (and encouraged) to join. Working here isn’t enough to qualify, you *need* to live here.

If you don’t live within the community we serve, we need to ask you to unsubscribe from this Freecycle list and join the Freecycle group where you live. This will ensure that you are participating with your neighbors, and building community there. Over the next several weeks, we moderators will be doing a clean up, and in the process, might actually take care of this for you.

It’s nice to see this local group go completely opposite against this statement from Freecycle’s “About” page: “The Freecycle Network is open to all communities and to all individuals who want to participate.” In an area where the majority of people work and live in different areas, this message is loud and clear. “We don’t want you. Throw away things rather than try to give them to us.”

Well done, Freecycle. Every time I see a landfill from now on, I’ll think of you.

Force of July

Yikes. Is the holiday almost over? It’s a little startling how fast a three-day-weekend can whip by even with that extra full day available.

The temperature started rising in the area on Saturday, so I knocked out my run early in the morning even though I was flying solo for a change. (I did run into Teresa on the trail, though, which was a pleasant surprise.) After cleaning up and lying down for about an hour, I pulled myself back together and went to check out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival down on the National Mall. It’s running through today, but I knew that this was probably the best weather I’d get.

Finally broke out the camera again and took a lot of pictures… most of which I hate. Well, hate is a strong word. But it’s frustrating when you take photos that you think turned out really well, get home, and discover that what you thought you took and what you actually took are two quite different things indeed. Most of them are already relegated to the trash bin. A few were deemed all right, at least.

Strike a Pose

On the bright side, it was a nice time overall. I watched a Laotian cooking demonstration and a Malaysian dance troupe in the “Pacific Asian Americans” section, then headed over to the “Mexico” section where I received a traditional blessing and watched a bunch of artisans create some gorgeous tapestries, baskets, and fake flowers.

Below is the woman was creating the flowers, but doing so out of old corn husks. Just great stuff, and with the help of an interpreter she was chatting away with people who came by to see her works. (Click here for a picture of some of the flowers.)

Husk Artist

Afterwards I’d decided that I’d leave via the L’Enfant Plaza metro instead of Smithsonian (I knew that station would be a disaster area) and on my way over, stopped in the African Art Museum. It’s been several years since I last visited and I forgot how much I like it. Not only is it well-curated (and with ever-changing exhibits) but it was also almost completely empty. I wandered around at my own pace, and it was a perfect way to cool down from the heat and and enjoy my time there.

Yesterday was pretty quiet; Charlie’s home but with came back sick, so there wasn’t much going on like we’d hoped.  On the bright side, after six months of planning to do so, I finally hauled everything out of the cabinets under the bar area of my kitchen, as well as the mountain of stuff that needed to go in there, and re-arranged it all. I suddenly have counter space again—such a relief!—and everything is put away and easily usable once more.

I was hoping to get my carpets shampooed today (fun fun fun) but considering I’ve yet to get off my butt today I doubt that’s going to happen. But it’s been a mostly relaxing (but surprisingly unsocial) weekend, and for that I’m glad.

(Oh, as for the title of the post? It’s utterly silly but it’s one of my favorite “government superhero team” names, from Suicide Squad back in the ’80s. Led by, if I remember correctly, Major Victory.)

Warm Pre-Summer Nights (and Other Things)

Last night I finally finished my Artomatic installation for this year. I’ve been around 95% of the way done for a week and a half; my wall was painted, my lights were installed, my photographs were hung, my business card holder and guest book holder were both attached to the wall. Happily, the last piece of the puzzle showed up yesterday—yellow vinyl lettering for my name—so I placed it last night (along with labels for the photographs themselves) and it went up with no problems.

I wasn’t smart enough to bring my camera with me, but I did snap a quick photo with my cell phone, enough to give an idea of the finished product. (I suppose I should’ve turned on the lights and taken off the yellow registration card on the left-hand side, but oh well.)

Artomatic Setup

Afterwards, I took the metro back over to L’Enfant Plaza (there was a Nationals Game next door to Artomatic so getting parking there just wasn’t going to happen) and I just kept marvelling at what a beautiful night it was. I can’t remember the last time I’ve walked around DC at night where it wasn’t a busy city street; just a stroll through the monuments, or around the Mall, that sort of thing. It’s so beautiful and peaceful then, and you really feel like you have the whole place to yourself. I need to make time to do just that over the summer.

But more importantly, walking back down the street, looking at the Capitol up ahead, I remember thinking how great it was to still find myself in a real “work in progress” stage of my life. My photography is still in its early stages but it’s been really uplifting to feel like I’m learning. I’m still finding new things I enjoy to do, or rediscovering old forgotten ones. Over the past few days I’ve gotten some really nice e-mails regarding reviews I’ve written. It’s like, yeah, it’s starting to fall into place.

In unrelated news, I had my first allergy serum shot this morning. So far there has been no mutation into some sort of supervillain. Very disappointing. But it did give me time to read 80-odd pages in John Kessel’s The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories, and I’m enjoying the anthology so far. I’ll almost certainly finish it and several other books on my trip up to Indiana, PA this weekend for a family reunion. This reunion closes out two months of craziness when it has come to my weekends. I have almost nothing on the calendar for June and I’m making a concerted effort to keep it that way. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be really nice to see a lot of the extended family this weekend, but I’m going to be happy once it’s over and I’m home and getting to focus on little things, or doing nothing at all.

Isn’t that what warm pre-summer nights are for, after all?

My First Inauguration

"Closer to the Promised Land"

We moved to the DC area in 1974, but this was actually my first inauguration that I’ve attended in person. My first time I could vote in a presidential election wasn’t until 1992, and I was away at university by the time inauguration rolled around. I was back in the area for the 1996 election, but the idea of going downtown for the event just didn’t grab me. (And by that point in time I was also working full time in retail management. I suspect I was actually on the clock that day.) For 2000 and 2004, I wasn’t in any sort of celebratory mood.

But yes, this was the first time I went down there. And sure, it was pretty darn cold out, and even with multiple layers on I was feeling awfully cold towards the end of Barack Obama’s speech. (All that standing still.) But it was a great event to be at, in no small part because of the crowd. First, it was the most polite and well-mannered crowd I’ve ever seen of that size*, and that’s no small feat. But it was more than just politeness, though, it was the joy and happiness that was just exuding off of so many people.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. I walked 7.25 miles when it was all said and done, I took some nice pictures, I heard an excellent speech, and I am absolutely tuckered out. Will I head back downtown in 2013? We shall see. Who knows what four years will bring?

* — Well, except for the messy pigs. Seriously, just walking back across the Mall, I picked up no less than three discarded plastic bottles and put them in recycle bins that were under 10 feet away, and some pieces of trash as well. Come on, people. I had been joking with a co-worker last week who was a volunteer today, about how one of her job duties apparently was to, “Get people excited about recycling.” Little did I know how necessary that was. Yeesh.