Storm Pep

Like many DC residents, we received the robo-call from Pepco warning us of extended power outages this weekend. While I admire their proactive approach, it is somewhat amusing how they couched the message as a pep-talk for preparing for the storm.  With low expectations set, perhaps they will have a better response time and customer response than they did for winter storms, during which I hear they had notoriously bad service.

You can find us camped out on the couch this weekend, with a stack of books and magazines, and a dog who woke up with cabin fever.  She might not be able to forecast the earthquake – unlike the animals at the zoo, she slept through the earthquake on Tuesday and the aftershocks throughout the week – but she seems rather excited about the impending storm. Like Pepco, she is part of the pep rally for the storm.


Pet Worth

We find owning a dog completely worth the investment of time and money.  Our rescue – a beagle/boxer/hound mix, named Georgia – found us during a Saturday 5-K race.  After the run, we wandered over to a pet adoption event and went home with a seven-month-old pup. Within a day, she became a part of our pack and now follows us from room to room like a jingling shadow, wedges herself in between us when we sleep, and always greets us happily after we’ve left her alone during a 2-hour shopping trip or 8-hour work day.  Fortunately, she’s reached the age where’s she content to sleep all day. She’s always set her own eating times, so she doesn’t go through food quickly, but she likes her treats, and we sometimes spoil her with new news.  Five hours later, the bone is gone or the new stuffed animal already has a hole.

That said, owning a pet can be expensive.  For us, Georgia has been completely worth the costs. Fortunately, if you are considering pet ownership, Mint has the furry finances mapped out.  In DC for example, it costs an average of $140 a month.  They provide a pie chart for other types of animals as well.  What they don’t consider, in the case of our dog at least, is the savings from gym costs.  She makes sure we continue running outside, so she’s already surpassed that first 5-K.

The Washington Read

I’ve been reading up on Washington D.C., browsing blogs for interesting places, checking news sites, and searching for weekend events. The latter led me to the Washingtonian, online and in print.  It’s a great magazine for restaurant ratings and other guides for the newcomer, with lengthy profiles and features for the resident already immersed in the ways of D.C. In other words, you might find a Washingtonian reader walking down the escalator on the left or obliviously standing there, absorbed in its pages.

As the July issue explains, the true Washingtonian might not even need to read the full article to absorb the information.  The trend is the Washington Read, “by which, through a form of intellectual osmosis, a book is absorbed into the Washington atmosphere.” Even if no one has thoroughly read the book, it’s talked about enough that it becomes part of the culture. That is one of the reasons why I so glad to find a book club here.  It holds be accountable to read some of the books that I’ve been meaning to read, and it gives me a way to talk about them.


Back to School Season

The morning weather has hints toward the fall season, so it comes as no surprise that the stores greet customers with back-to-school sales.  Last weekend, Virginia offered tax-free sales.  I’m sure the savings continue this weekend, with pencils, glue, crayons, an index cards for spare change. While Target and Walmart organize their seasonal sections for this August rush, The Container Store simply opens its doors to the soon-to-be college freshman and family. On this first trip to the organizational mecca, I was mesmerized by the rows of plastic bins, flanking displays of desks and bookshelves, and unique utensils and supplies for the kitchen that no on will have or use that first year.  Appropriately, they place the trash cans in the prime retail real estate when you walk in the door, implying that if anything is essential for this time of year it’s that one item.

Life’s Tiny Joys

At least one news outlet tempers the bad news, with life’s tiny joys.  According to the author, we do it as a survival mechanism.  Sometimes we just have to appreciate the little things in order to put the world in perspective.

In Store

I’ve reached that age, just after the first college reunion, when Ikea furniture no longer feels appropriate. Five years ago, with my freshly minted degree in one hand and little money to spare in the other, the inexpensive design store contained everything that I needed to outfit a small apartment, and then sold me on how to organize it.  Best of all, it could all fit in my SUV in a smart configuration of flat-packed boxes. I repacked my Poang chair into its box for this move, and we still use it, though I’ll admit, with a real sofa in place, it’s mostly the dog who claims it as her own.

This week, the 2011 Ikea catalog arrived in my mailbox, so I thought it was time for a visit to the store, a walk down a perfectly curated memory lane, with updated prints and fabrics.  Now that I’ve grown up, the result was an Alice in Wonderland moment, with seemly miniaturized sofas and low beds.  The desks and wardrobes looked nice from a distance, but upon closer inspection, the seams didn’t match and the doors didn’t have the heft needed to close themselves. At this stage, I want my furniture to have some weight to it and establish itself in my life, even if that means I’ll complain when I have to move it again.

Ikea’s newest marketing campaign centers around The Life Improvement Project, thus distinguishing the home goods store from other home improvement venues.  Perhaps that’s because their products cater to a lifestyle of small apartments and start-ups.  It fits where and when it’s needed, at affordable prices that makes it possible to purchase quantities to outfit a whole room.  What it lacks is the quality and finish to make it last.  But the in-store experience still hinges on that wonderland ideal, that only appears crooked when you look up close.

The Transportation Factor

When choosing a place to live in and around DC, we carefully calculated our options of living in the city versus those of living in Northern Virginia.  Though rent was cheaper in the outskirts, the commute cost both time and money, and in the end it just wasn’t worth the difference.  That’s why I’m glad to see this study by the District’s Office of Planning and the CNT, which maps out how transportation costs impact housing budgets.

As they state in the press release, neighborhood characteristics such as proximity to jobs and access to transit vary across the region and affect household transportation costs.  The study found that average household transportation costs across the region ranged from $8,500 to as much as $25,000 per year for a typical household. Actual costs can be even lower when the neighborhood enables the residents to live without owning a car. We haven’t taken that extreme step yet, because it’s nice to be able to drive out of the city. However, now living in the district has one more argument for it.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes the story of our food.  Through four parts, he outlines four meals, starting with steer number 534, which he follows hypothetically to lunch at McDonald’s. His 11-year-old son summarizes the experience perfectly when he says the new, improved nuggets taste more like nuggets, not like chicken.  Likewise, Pollan’s gray beef patty is equally nondescript, and that’s the point.  The first section details more about the corn that goes into all of the meals we eat, mostly as sucrose or fructose sweetener.  As a result, we are eating less diverse meals than we think, and everything starts to taste the same.

Pollan balances out the lengthy introduction on corn with a narrative that follows King Corn from seed to processed meal.  In the naming and characterizing of our food, he succeeds in keeping readers’ attention and appetite for more.  Part two starts with the storybook of the Whole Foods description of its products including Rosie the chicken, dives into a chilled sea of organic lettuce, and ends with twenty thousand Rosies packed into a shed.  Though the door is opened five weeks into their lives, by then the birds can barely stand on their own two feet and don’t dare venture outside. He debates the many meanings of organic, concluding that it’s probably better for you but isn’t all you expect it to be.  For the ideal, he turns to beyond-organic and a visit to the Polyface Farm just outside of Stanton, Va.

Both Pollan and the owner of Polyface Farms, Joel Salatin, use the term beyond organic to describe the methods employed in their husbandry, but it’s more of a step back in time.  Salatin moves traditional farming methods forward, literally, through inventive portable structures and electric fences that allow him to rotate his cattle, chickens and pigs in a way that promotes effective grazing and sustainable practices.  For instance, his turkeys and grape orchards share the same acreage.  He taps into the natural cycle of the land – all 100 acres of fields and some 400 acres of forest – so that the entire operation, including the open-air slaughterhouse, is visible and transparent.

In part four, Pollan gets even closer to his food by hunting wild boar and mushrooms in California.  His hunter’s tale is almost unbelievable, as even he questions whether it was his bullet that killed the boar.  He is sickened by the hunting photos but redeemed by the meal that he makes using (almost) only ingredients that he hunted or gathered.  He calls it the perfect meal, but after taking a week to make, it is obviously something that he cannot do every day. However, the experience gives him something to strive for, even if it means that he now gathers his food on the perimeter of the grocery store.

So Pollan leaves us with a decision to make, and that is the omnivore’s dilemma – how do we know what is good to eat and what’s not?  It all depends on how we name it and what we are willing to swallow.