A Spot in the Shade

20130529-204811.jpg

It’s curtains – for the apartment, not for the blog, although you might have wondered if this blog was done for after going silent for a month. I have been consumed by other projects, or more precisely by 12 yards of home decor fabric and 12 yards of lining. Having never sewn anything of this size before (or sewn anything to completion), I decided to take on the task of sewing four curtains for our front windows. We couldn’t find a design that we both loved in the ready-made aisle, so we ventured into the fabric stores in search of the perfect print. It came in the form of Waverly Solar Flair.

So I set up the sewing machine that I received for Christmas a couple of years ago, got reacquainted with the instruction book, and set off making a test curtain sized for the dog. Confident that I could craft a lined curtain with fairly straight lines, I took two months of weekends to cut the panels (using the kitchen floor tiles as a measuring tool), hem them, stitch them together, and finish them with a rod pocket at the top.

The detailed instructions are available at Sew Many Ways, and the results are now framing our front windows. The dog already appreciates them more than the blinds that used to block her view, though she would rather stare at the rabbits on the other side of the glass than the curtains that we admire.

20130529-204941.jpg

Advertisements

Meeting the Mountains

Blue Ridge Parkway

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway

It might seem as though we’ve fallen off the face of the Earth since moving to Asheville, but the opposite is closer to the truth.  We’ve become more attached to it – spending weekends exploring the wrinkles of its surface through the mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge and taking time at least once a week to taste the local food that defines this place.

Our favorite hilly hikes start from the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  From here you can walk North or South.  I say walk because even when I start out at a run, I need to walk at least one of the hills.  The further we go, the higher the hills climb, so I’ve quickly learned that a hill only seems daunting until you encounter the next one.  We’ve repeatedly renamed the “Big Hill,” as we venture further along the trail.

Graveyard Fields sign

Sign leading into Graveyard Fields

For a less strenuous climb, but an equally challenging foot terrain with several substantial creeks, I recommend Graveyard Fields.  We found this spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, although several other overlooks tempted us along the way.  The parking lot here filled with cars, for a good reason: it’s a great family hike, suitable for young children or the furry ones in your pack.  Georgia loves the chance to sniff along the flat terrain while keeping us within her sight, and the waterfall at the end of the out-and-back trail made us human hikers happy. It was much cooler here than the surrounding area, so pack for a chilly atmosphere and the possibility of plunging into the water.

For those looking for a wider hiking path, we recommend a trip to the North Carolina Arboretum. Within a week of moving here, we became members, swayed by the parking fee ($8 a car, but free for members) and the foliage.  The gravelled roads traverse the entire 434 acres, with 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. Each is clearly marked for bikers, though some are designated foot-traffic only. Leashed dogs are welcome and a common site on weekends, and the trails lead into the surrounding areas, including a loop around Lake Powhatan.

After all this hiking, we definitely worked up an appetite, so here’s the short list of our favorite fare so far:

  • Homegrown does slow food right quick. Their sandwiches can’t be beat, and their ingredients are local and fresh.  And with sweet tea for just a $1, it can easily rival more common fast food restaurants that boast this same special. The dining area extends the homey feel, with several rooms and an outdoor porch to choose from.
  • Corner Kitchen is another hometown option, with an everlasting line of customers extending out the front door of the 1890s house in Biltmore Village. The flanking shops provide plenty of distraction during the wait, and the food is worth it.
  • Downtown can do no wrong when it comes to restaurants. From oversized burritos at Mamacita’s to sushi at Wasabi, we’ve found something for every taste.  Of course, there’s also the more well-known Tupelo Honey Cafe which draws its crowds with the tempting biscuits, honey, and jam, and the equally packed neighbor Mayfel’s, which is a great stop for a burger.

The Great Indoors

20121226-162648.jpg

We become homebodies this time of year, taking a break from the walks to and from work and the weekend hikes to spend time with family and friends. Of course, the after Christmas storm in the Washington DC metro-area contributed to this indoor inclination. Even the dog barely ventures outside, but when she does, she’s wearing her Lands End pet squall jacket that appeared under the tree just in time. In the morning slush, she gave a pitiful look that might translate into doggie-boots next year. For now, the coat is enough of a super hero, a cape that makes her conquer her fear of cold rain.

Our other recent adventures have included a night-time trek through Zoo Lights, where the entire stretch of the main path of the zoo becomes a bright display of wrapped trees and timed effects. The trail ends at its normal kid-friendly petting zoo, where the barn animals contently start through the slated gates of their stalls. They are the only animals on display at this time of day, but the admission remains free, so it’s a nice holiday diversion from the lights of the city. The zoo strategically opens some indoor exhibits to provide stops for warmth and nourishment, and one of the favorite stops for our party of six came in the unexpected display of lego trains and buildings, most of which the men already owned at one age or another. Some of which remain on display in my apartment today.

Our shopping excursions took us through the territory of Bass Pro Shop in Hanover County, Virginia, so we couldn’t resist a quick diversion to the great outdoor store. Again, our attention centered on a side attraction, this time in the form of a giant salt-water aquarium that serves as the bar backdrop in the adjoining Islamorda restaurant. We enjoyed Sunday brunch while staring at species of fish, some of which we have at home in a smaller form in our own 40-gallon tank.

A Persimmon in the City

Persimmons on the sidewalk

We stumbled upon these gems the other afternoon which walking through the streets of Georgetown – persimmons fallen fresh from the tree.  I’m accustomed to finding these tree fruits on the farm, still attached to the tree, because those that fall to the ground are eaten by the cattle before we can find them.  Even then, we have to be careful about when we harvest them.  Persimmons play trick or treat in the fall, completely bitter until they are sweetened by a frost.  It’s unseasonably warm in the district this year, so I don’t dare taste one yet.  Instead, I keep waiting for that first frost, that chill that will turn everything to gold.

The Art of Looking Up

These perfect end-of-summer weekends require outdoor activities, so this weekend we made a return trip to the National Cathedral (its doors are wide open on Sundays) and signed up for a gargoyle tour.  The tour started on the seventh floor, itself replete with views of the city from all angles and nearby framed and labeled images so you can identify common sights.  From the small auditorium, we learned the difference between a gargoyle and grotesque, identified the architectural details we would need to know outside, and viewed several of the 112 gargoyles from their most advantageous angles.

View from the 7th Story

The gargoyles appear on three of the four sides of the Cathedral, the newer sides.  They date from the fundraising stage, where patrons of a certain amount could commission a gargoyle, and several commissioned pairs – such as the good and evil grandsons.  Others depict typically businessmen, from the lawyer to the dentist.  The politician is present, as is the elephant and donkey.  Others immortalize the real-live stone carvers in caricatures, and one gable remains a blank slate, or stone in this case, still in block form as a memorial to the one person who died during construction of the structure.  The elaborate carvings range from the traditional dragons and mythical creatures to the common lizard, snake, and frog.  The scariest shows a skeletal creature being devoured by a serpent, its coils visible from the underside.   The cutest takes the shape of a dog, modeled after its real-life counterpart and curled tightly on the edge as if scared of heights.  The most unique, and possible most elusive to find, is Darth Vader.

We signed up for the tour upon reading this unique detail, but even after adjusting my binoculars, I still couldn’t be sure that I had focused in on this unique character.  Fortunately, the lower gargoyles are easy to spot from the grounds, even with the chain-link fence still in place from last year’s earthquake.  The damage from this event remains visible – from a twisted turret to a headless gargoyle.  That was part of the tour too.

Dog Days of Summer

The dcist reported this week that some city pools will open their gates later this month for the Fourth Annual Doggie Day Swim.  Dogs can dive in on October 8, or if baseball is more their style, Nationals Park sells outfield seats for $8 for Sept 22.  Unfortunately, the first option is a little too active for my dog, and the second is too much of a spectator sport.  She considers herself part of the tennis-ball set.  Plus, let’s not forget the challenge of getting a dog to either of these events. The natural method is to walk, but both the pools and the ballpark are several miles away.  So we would resort to driving our car across the city and paying for parking, or taking a dog-friendly cab, another expensive prospect.

These dog days of summer should include a take your dog on public transit day.  It’s a natural accompaniment to the already popular take your dog to work day that occurs earlier in the summer.  And our dog would fully endorse this day.  She already looks longingly at the metrobus every time it pulls up to a stop along our walk, and she’s lunged for the doors a few times, hoping to catch a ride.  We think her affinity for public transportation stems from the afternoons that she’s met one of us at the bus stop.  The bus brings us home, so it must go some where equally awesome. In this case, I know she would enjoy the ride more than the destination.

A Dog’s Day in Annapolis

Sitting at the State House in Annapolis

Since reading this 2011 Washingtonian great days trips article about Annapolis, I wanted to visit the bayside city with or without the dog. We left her at home to enjoy the AC on this sweltering Sunday and set off for the hour-long journey with our navigation system set on the Naval Academy.  A boat broken down on the side of the highway just inside Anne Arundel county confirmed that we were headed the right direction, and we spotted more boats and the corresponding amount of water as soon as we reached the city.

With it’s expansive campus, the academy turned out to be an easy place to find, as was the statehouse, with it’s rotunda.  We parked on College Avenue, directly in front of St. John’s College, choosing this as our second target only after we couldn’t find substantially shaded parking in other areas.  After a short walk down Maryland Avenue, we located the Annapolis bookstore, which still looks like the picture in the magazine and greets browsers with tempting air condition and cold drinks.  The stores along Main Street offered equally inviting cool air, with at least every third storefront declaring delicious ice cream or a collection of souvenirs.  At least half of these featured crab.

Annapolis Bookstore

We selected Acme for lunch, next door to the storied Chick and Ruth’s Delly, which had already drawn a crowd for brunch and boasted a giant milkshake as a challenge, then toured the museum and the statehouse grounds, driving past the congressional buildings our on way out of town, but not without a few more stops.  Though I had never visit Annapolis before, my husband spent his first three years there, and the family had found memories of old houses and signature tastes.  They more than recommended Mike’s Crab House; they required that we stop there and bring back a fresh souvenir to the table.

Intermittent Storms (and Power)

We weathered the derecho, a type of storm that I hadn’t heard of until Friday, just a few hours before it struck the city of D.C.  We lost power in our apartment with the first wind gust and watched the subsequent lightning flashes in total darkness. Our power stayed off overnight, so we slept late and ventured out around noon to access the damage.  The building and car remained unscathed, though tree limbs littered the streets and sidewalks.  Starbucks up the street still had power and fresh coffee, as did the Safeway and other restaurants.  We decided to charge our cell phones in the car and enjoy the AC, which we got even more time in as we tried to find a navigable road out of the city.  By mid-afternoon, Canal Road still had large trees blocking several lanes.  Fortunately, we also had power again.  It’s been off  since then, but always returns by evening, and we hope our neighbors across the city regain their electricity soon.

A Place Where We Belong

We have lived in D.C. for a year now but still discover new parts of the city every day.  We have our regular locations – a favorite Chinese restaurant that now knows our usual order, another Japanese establishment that can almost guess which rolls we will tic off on their form, and a pizza place that gets ready to roll out a whole pie when we walk in the door.  They also recognize our dog, who waits patiently outside with one of us while the other one places our order.  We take our food home, to this small apartment that has finally started feeling like home after a year of being in it.  The tree outside our front window is in full-bloom again, just as it was when we moved here.

But as much as we feel like residents of the city, we are still visitors compared to our good friends, who this weekend enlisted the city as the setting for their wedding. They wanted to have a local wedding, which seems simple with so many choices but becomes complicated with money, family, and logistics factored into the planning.  Ashley chronicles this process beautifully on her blog.  In the end, they invited close friends and family to join them in Meridian Hill Park on a Saturday afternoon, where they stood under a hand-constructed chuppah, read their vows from their iPhones, and reminded us all that this city and it’s people can be both comforting and challenging.

After the ceremony, they invited us to wander the streets for about an hour until we reconvened at a nearby yoga studio for the reception.  My husband and I appropriately spent our time at Idle Time Books, a great two-story shop on 18th Street, that provided more than enough stories for an hour.  Later, we learned details about the couple’s story – they meet in college, stayed friends for years afterward, and eventually found each other and a shared love for D.C.  They have been invaluable experts for us on several occasions, and we were happy to share this memorable day with them.

The bride and groom at the fountain.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones. During the ceremony, a crowd of spectators gathered on the nearby hillside, cheering as the couple made their exit.  Though dressed in their wedding gown and tux, they fit in naturally.  Even their wedding was just another walk in the park.

One Year

I’ve considered writing one of those time-defined memoirs that tell about a year in the life of someone. Two of my favorites include The Happiness Project, where Gretchen Rubin explores different facets of happiness for 12 months, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where she lives seasonally with her family, explain when, where, and how things grow, and more importantly offering recipes for ways to eat them. My cooking skills extend to grill cheese sandwiches and spaghetti, and while I admire the pursuit of happiness, the thought of discussing and dissecting it for a year depresses me a little bit.  With cooking and philosophy checked off the list, I’m left with other lifestyle topics, which all seem to come down living with or without something.  So now that we’ve spent almost a year in the city and since I just turned another year older last week, here’s out list of things we have given up or gained – consciously or unconsciously – during our first year living in D.C.

  • Cable TV.  Thanks to Hulu and Netflix, we don’t miss our cable TV often.  We can still watch all of the shows we like, on our own schedule.  Though I still succumb to marathons of multiple episodes, I can skip those that I’ve seen too many times or those that I never want to see again.  I’m no longer the victim of weekend SVU marathons on USA.  Instead, I’m thinking about training for a half-marathon and spending more evenings running after work instead of running home to catch a particular TV show.
  • A second bedroom.  As a result, we have almost no overnight visits from relatives.  One brave soul stayed over once, for several nights, but having just graduated from college a few years ago and having survived life in a fraternity, he was comfortable sleeping on the floor.  We provided the air mattress, and the dog that quickly claimed it as her own.
  • A car.  We still have one car, but it stays parked on a side street most of the week.  I walk to work, which is one of the easiest commutes possible, and with the warm winter, I rarely needed to take the bus.  Fortunately, public transportation is a great option as well.  Plus, we could take a bike through Capital Bikeshare or rent a truck through ZipCar or get a little smartcar through the newest service Car2Go.  You can find whatever
  • About 500 sq. ft. of space the the stuff that filled it.  We used to keep every box in our attic.  Empty boxes that our toast or coffee maker or hammock stand came in.  The thought was that when we moved we could put everything back in the box.  That worked to a degree, but for four years the boxes collected dust.   We also culled down our clothing and books, putting those college textbooks into storage until we have more room for them.  Eventually, I realize I’m not going to look at them again, but I’m not that stage.
  • Outdoor space.  That hammock box mentioned earlier came in handy when we put the hammock and stand into storage.  Not only does our apartment have less space, but it does not have a deck where we can put our giant six bench picnic table or hammock.  I miss these things, and our grill.  The only good thing about a shared yard is that our dog makes friends and we have access to more herbs that we would have planted on our own.  We don’t have the room for a full garden, so we supplement these herbs with fresh vegetables from the nearby farmers market.  No weeding or yard maintenance required.
  • High electric bills.  One added benefit of fitting into less space is that it take less energy to heat and cool that space.  Central air conditioning would be nice, but a window unit works well enough.
  • Eating out at Wendy’s and/or Chick-fil-A once a week. These were easy to get to where we lived before.  They practically resided across the street from one another, so depending on the direction you were traveling, you would swing into one of the fast food establishments for an easy and expected meal.  They both sponsored 5k races where they gave away coupons that prompted us to patron their places even more.  And if we weren’t in the mood for a chicken sandwich or a frosty, McDonald’s was right next door.   Now our strip of restaurants in the city includes two sushi restaurants, a Lebanese cafe, two pizzerias, a Belgian brunch spot, and of course a Starbucks.

Given this last category and prior habit, it comes as no surprise that I picked the burger place for my birthday dinner last week.  We ventured to the The Shake Shack in Dupont Circle.  Though portions are small for the price, and the fries are nondescript,  but the burger was fresh and topped with a tasty sauce, and the shake was as delicious as expected.  In fact, the service and atmosphere is reminiscent of those burger joints that can still be found on corners in small towns, the kinds of places where the line goes out the door no matter the size of the population.