When my grandparents found out we were moving closer to them and to the large family farm, they planted an extra row of tomato plants, for a total of four rows. It’s more than enough to feed the two of them and the two of us, even when you factor in the canning that will inevitably take place later this summer.  This past weekend, they fenced off a corner of their front yard for the dog pen, for our one night, once a month visit – for our indoor dog.  It’s the “if you build it, they will come” mentality.

I guess I inherited some of it when I brought back a rogue tomato plant in a pot that will be placed somewhere in the backyard.  The beginning of my garden is sure to attract visitors of its own, from the bugs that already lurk in nearby soil to the small wild animals that inhabit our neighborhood.  Since moving in, I’ve seen a deer and several squirrels, including a while squirrel that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and hints at the adventures I will have if I dare to follow it.

Weekend adventures here require a little plotting though, whether its finding and collected the soil and plants for the rest of my potted garden or mapping my way through and out of the city.  I’m always careful to check the map and traffic report before I head out, but no matter which interstate I pick, I end up on constant commotion.  Interstate 66 can quickly turn into a two-lane road – Eastbound does this just when you are comfortable with it, Westbound likes to play tricks in the early morning through something called lane control.  495 is under so much construction that the lane shifts feel like the planners ask children to draw up the designs, and they decided not to color in the lines.  395 to 95 has gone as expected with heavy volume, that can’t seem to pick one speed. However, with a garden growing and upcoming national holidays I hope to spend the coming weekends exploring the city that is my backyard and avoiding merging into any vacation traffic.


Transplants & Wishlists

The week, the Washington Post posed a question to its followers about what they would want to import to DC.  For DC transplants, the wishlists include favorite chain restaurants from other cities, and unique atmospheres and cultures from across the nation.  Of course, having just moved from South Carolina, I was most interested in what others missed from the South.

For me, good sweet tea would top the list. Sweet tea is almost nonexist in DC, except at McDonald’s, and even there its a water down version of its full-body Southern self.  I also second the call for a Sonic, where I worked after my senior year of high school, if only for the nostalgia.  On a more local level, I would love to have some South Carolina peaches right about now and all you can eat bar-b-que, with the North Carolina sweet sauce, not the vinegar kind that has crept north from Virginia.

Fortunately, DC already has all the best burger joints, even one with that name, some of which finally made their way south.  With a Chipotle and Starbucks in every neighborhood, my basic dietary needs are met, and I’m hungry to try to plethora of restaurants just beyond my doorstep.

On one final note, I haven’t missed Walmart nearly as much as I thought I would, considering my previous weekly trips there, usually on a Sunday morning to avoid the crowds.  With a Safeway down the street, I can shop for groceries when needed. I don’t have clearance tags to get excited about, but I read the weekly grocery ad like it’s the newest edition of a fashion magazine, looking to see what’s in style this week.  As a result, my grocery list and the wishlist of this DC transplant have gotten much shorter.

Where Good Ideas Come From

On my third day in the city, I walked into the DC Library branch near my apartment, filled out the form for a library card, checked out two books in person, then went home and browsed their selection of e-books. As happy as I am to live within walking distance of a library again, I am more excited that the DC Library offers e-book checkout and it seamlessly works with my Nook.  The new releases have long wait lists, but the nonfiction selection boosts shorter wait times and an equally good selection.

One of my first picks was Steven Johnson’s  Where Good Ideas Come From.  Like an earlier work, The Ghost Map, Johnson pieces together anecdotal and historical evidence to land on a theory of how ideas form, though in the previous case, he spends much more time tracing the history of the cholera epidemic.  In this new work, he examines a more general concept and in the skipping around through various disciplines he lost my interest and my train of thought.  Ironically, I found his graphical analysis of a plague in London more intriguing and more of a page-turner than his examinations of the patterns that lead to great ideas.

However, the section on urbanism, specifically how cities spawn innovations, resonated with me. According to researchers, this pattern is due to the subcultures that form in cities.  It reminded me of the DC neighborhoods that boast such strong identities.  Maps recognize them by names and residents know the personalities of places.  Johnson finds that ideas most often emerge from public spaces within these city subcultures, specifically coffeehouses, which served as the original social network.  Though I don’t need another excuse to try a new coffeehouse, I’ll definitely be on the look out for good ideas when I enter the next one.

Johnson’s book would be the perfect afternoon read in a city coffeehouse, and it is less daunting than the 232 pages that it logs on the Nook.  A third of these pages are notes and historical evidence.  If you are reading it in DC, check out the ink to the Apps for Democracy, an innovative competition that spawned 47 entries in a month and provides neat tools for tourists or city dwellers. Then if you’ve got an affinity for maps, check out The Ghost Map, and let this page-turner take you back to 19th-Century London, where coffeehouses bred more than just good ideas.

Exploring the Unnatural

826DC storefront

The Museum of Unnatural History - an open door into the creative genius of 826DC.

Rather than spend an overcast Sunday afternoon at one of the Smithsonian Museums, I ventured in a different direction toward the Museum of Unnatural History in Columbia Heights.  This museum, as it calls itself, is no bigger than my living room, but creatively arranged to showcase the imagination of author Dave Eggers and the 826DC branch.  The retail store fronts the writing center and sparks the interests of adults and children.

Among the curiosities are posters of the splendiforous and unimaginable and a species ID chart, as well as cleverly re-labeled household items, like Primordial Soup cans, Sabertooth Dental Floss the size of rope, and dry socks, literally.  For a few dollars, you can walk away with an artifact, including the missing link in a jar.  Amazingly, the chain links aren’t even rusty.  Everything is well designed, down to the t-shirts and onesies, as well as  the fictional creature skeleton in the middle of the room.

Though not located at 826, the Museum of Unnatural History opens to a friendly plaza, where children took a break from the summer heat in the interactive fountain.  Across the street are plenty of restaurants and larger retailers, including a Target, Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond.  However, if you are looking for something beyond the ordinary Columbia Heights stops, this unique space should not be missed.   If you aren’t in the area, you can visit the online store at

Sleeping Late on Weekends

Georgetown does not wake up early.  Almost all of the shops on M street open their doors at 10 a.m., even on Saturday.  When the tourists and locals rise with the sun, you’ll find them jogging over the brick sidewalks, walking dogs on long, languid leashes, or lining up for the few storefronts that open in the early hours.  The ques form for coffee from Dean and Deluca, for services from the DMV, and of course, for cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes.   However, it’s important to note that even this modern icon of old street doesn’t open until 10 a.m.

A Few of the Good Guides

Since moving to DC, my GPS has navigated me through the north parking lot of the Pentagon and directed me to turn onto a restricted residential road that truly reminded me of the topsy-turvy mountainous roads that I grew up around.  At several curves, I questioned whether I was going the wrong direction on a one-way street, since no one else seemed to be traveling in the same direction.  My only consolation were the no parking signs that faced my way.

On several different occasions, the starting point on my GPS map has been in the middle of the Potomac River, as if to tell me that I’m drowning rather than lost.  It usually puts me back on dry land and on a road in a matter of minutes, but in the meantime I’ve turned to other sources to find my way around DC, particularly to local events.  These are a few of the good guides that have worked so far:

  • DCist – a news blog documenting the nation’s capital and all of its quirks
  • DC Event Junkie – a blog devoted to events with a nightlife insider’s perspective
  • DC365 – an exploration of the places only locals know about
  • Metro(poetry)lis – an intimate look at life in the district from a dear friend



Farming From Home

My husband and I both come families with large farms.  He calls us the second generation off of the farm though. Our parents moved away from the family farm for college and raised us far enough away that we don’t know the technical aspects of the process, but with frequent visits so that we have first-hand knowledge of the products. Now that we live in the city, we appreciate this proximity to farmland, and this past weekend, I traveled to the family pig pickin’, an annual reunion where where the older generation welcomes the younger ones.  The outdoor event doesn’t require any open doors, since renters occupy the old farmhouse, so they bring everything in – a small hog, smoked long hours, a portable plastic out-house, and plenty of drinks in rolling coolers. In addition to eating delicious food, we spend the afternoon spurring over the best college teams and catching up with family and friends.

Our host greeted new visitors with a big “Welcome to the Country,” and I was amazed at how many of the younger kids had never been to a farm before.  The explored the corn that was tall enough to be just above eye level and questioned what kind of wildlife could be found lurking in the swamp toward the back of the property.  On the drive out, we saw two deer grazing on the sprouting peanut plants.

As much as I support area farmer’s markets, I also think its important for the next generation to see how they food is grown, and not just inherit the mentality that we need to eat local.  Some of the produce at our neighborhood farmer’s market travels more than an hour to get here, probably more if they get stuck in traffic, and the prices often reflect that expense.  In recent weeks, strawberries have been going for $6 a pint, an astronomical amount when compared to the chain grocery store next door, which had a quart priced at $2.50 this week.  Arguably, those strawberries traveled a lot further to get to my table, and they probably won’t have the same fresh-picked taste, but I have trouble paying so much just for a taste of summer.  I definitely want to find a pick-your own farm, where I can take in the full experience, rather than pay the mark-up of the city farmer’s market.

I also plan to embrace the farm from home idea in my own small way through pots of herbs and vegetables and still support the neighborhood farmer’s market, which in addition to the seasonal produce has an excellent selection of pastries and frozen treats, as well as fully cooked meals that I could never reproduce in my own kitchen.  Check out this list of locations in the district to find one near you.

Hiking Mountains from the Metro

The Woodley Park metro station has 234 moving steps to the exit.  I didn’t count them as I rode the steep incline toward the daylight.  I looked up the trivial fact later, on a trip advisor website, curious to see how deep a descent I had taken as I burrowed under the city in an effort to reach the National Zoo.  The zoological park resides between two metro stops, but its name only occurs on one: the Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan stop. Obviously, several other attractions reside here as well, but it’s the zoo that draws the crowds and their strollers on a weekend morning.  Ironically, because of the long escalator ride out of this metro stop, visitors would be better served to take the next stop at Cleveland Park, resulting in a downhill jaunt to this family-friendly, free destination, rather than the half-mile uphill walk from Woodley Park.

The pedestrian entrance to the National Zoo unfolds onto Connecticut Ave. with two large lion statues guarding the double gates.  Similar statutes appear throughout this area, often flanking bridges, and guarantee a close up, non-moving view of the animals visitors come here to see.  The zoo itself tries to be lush and exotic from the entrance, with large trees overlooking benches and thick stands of bamboo lining the Asian exhibit.  From that point to the end of the main trail, everything goes downhill, literally and figuratively.

At the opening hour, most of the animals still are still asleep or slow to come out to play. Some of the birds perched on the trees in their individual enclosures, studying their first visitors of the day, and their colorful plumage makes them easy to spot.  Thanks to their large size and larger habitat, the elephants are visible from the upper part of the Asian trail as well. The elephant house is closed for renovations, and another nearby trail is under construction to build a new home for the seals and sea lions.

Fortunately, one of the animals, the orangutan, came to me, directly crossing above my path through a series of crisscrossing cables. Additional ape species can be seen in what the zoo calls the Think Tank, urging visitors to think about our evolution and what this distant cousins are capable of.

The big cats are next are the main path, and the park provides an indoor reptile discovery center complete with outdoor alligator viewing.  Lemur island is tucked away so well that I missed the sign, but the outdoor prairie dog exhibit stands directly on the path, and the raised bed of dirt cannot be missed.  However, the only heads I saw popping over the edge were the small children trying to catch a glimpse of something they had only seen on TV before.

The end of the trail turns further downhill and turns into a hands on petting zoo, gift shop and restaurant area, and the best way out for pedestrians is the same way you come in. According to the map, Olmstead Walk is a .8 mile walk, but it feels longer going back uphill.  Luckily, the return trip to the Woodley Park metro station is downhill, even on the lengthy escalators, which had stopped working as they are prone to do.  By then,  I had felt like I had climbed mountains to see a small piece of other countries and enjoyed it most when the animals walked to me.

Finding a Way

I didn’t expect to find myself living in Washington D.C., but at the same time that the small Southern city that I previously lived in decided to uproot our small garden to install new water pipes, I had an opportunity for career growth that was enough to uproot our family and make the move to a large city.  Now I’m finding my way around a new neighborhood, incorporating alternate modes of transportation into my daily routine, and exploring a new part of the city each week.  This blog will chronicle those adventures for fresh and seasoned residents, alike.

This wayfinding, in the experience of choosing a path in an urban environment, usually starts with the Metro, bus or rail, and often turns into long treks through the city streets, with frequent stops at interesting shops, restaurants, events and exhibits. I can already attribute much of the successful travels to the ease of use of the public transit system here, and to the Metro map design of Lance Wyman.  Interestingly, he is currently revisiting and revising that design to extend to additional stations, as explained in this Washington Post article.  I can’t wait to see the design and where the new routes lead.