The Highest Peak

Mount Mitchell peak

The Blue Ridge Mountains from the peak of Mount Mitchell

We’ve been working up to hiking Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi with an elevation 6,684 feet. In early June, we hiked around Dupont State Forest, touring three waterfalls in what would comparatively be a ramble. Then we ventured past the fence of the N.C. Arboretum, hike 13 miles of mostly wide bike trails, three of which felt like they were exclusively uphill.  That should have been preparation for the Mount Mitchell hike, which rises more than a mile over a distance of 5.6 miles from Black Mountain campground. There’s shorter paths too, and that’s important to note; however, we wanted the complete experience and the pride of saying we hiked the highest peak.

Mounta Mitchell sign

5.6 miles to go

The terrain starts as mostly sanding paths, becoming solid stones that glitter with pieces of mica. Signs of campgrounds show through the few open, flat spaces, where we rested frequently.  At probably a mile and a half up, the trail splits with small red on white sign pointing both directions. We picked the right because of the handwritten addendum that it is shorter, but who knows if that is true. It could also be steeper. That route took us across several streams and the path became rockier, with loose stones hidden under the grasses that arched over the path and larger rocks taking several steps to climb and cross.  The dog loved it. The humans had a trickier time, but we all made it to the top in time to eat lunch.

At that point, we joined the crowd. Because Mount Mitchell is such a strenuous climb, there’s also a road option, and the parking lot takes you to a concession stand where you can purchase cider and trail bars, not that you would need them on the mere 200-yard paved walk to the look-out point. It’s still steep, and the weather can probably change during the accent, but it’s nothing near the climb and climate of the Mount Mitchell trail. And that’s the problem.  After hiking that hardest trail to date, we would have preferred the solitude and satisfaction of reaching the top where few others had gone. However, it is nice that Mount Mitchell is accessible to almost everyone, as the expansive views are hard to beat, but the cloud cover obscured a few angles.

On our hike back down, we encountered high humidity, a rain shower that didn’t quite reach us on the ground thanks to the forest overhead, and several trips and falls due to our tired legs (that was mostly me, but I’ll attribute it to the group anyway).  That might have been the lowest point of the hike.



We experienced homecoming weekend in a different sense, traveling to Richmond for a parents’ birthday celebration, then further south to Williamsburg.  Going south in general makes me feel more at home, and I welcome the inclusion of sweet tea on the menu again.  While we were away, Georgetown celebrated its traditional homecoming weekend, with the football game taking center stage.  At William and Mary, the football game and coinciding parents weekend drew the crowds to the outlet malls, so after window shopping at our favorite stores we turned back toward the starting point, deciding to avoid the masses that would inevitably invade Colonial Williamsburg.  So after looking forward to a weekend of fall flavors, including the wonderful gingerbread cakes that defined my childhood trips, to the area, we went home empty handed.  I can almost taste the nostalgia.





Tug O’ War between Summer and Fall

Fall arrived this morning, with weather cool enough to open the windows and turn of the AC.  But summer still tugs at the days, and technical we still have at least two weeks until the start of the new season.  We’ve already embraced weekend football games (on TV due to yesterday’s storms), morning runs through the trails, and of course, pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks.  I wish I could find an at-home brew that comes close to that taste!

My husband keeps remind me that all those pumpkin-flavored things that I love this time of year aren’t really made from pumpkin at all, but it’s the spices that define their deliciousness.  That’s why I could make pumpkin cookies from a mix last weekend – just as good as if the base at come from a can.  Pumpkin is one of those foods that provides texture and a great base, but it’s the spices that matter.  So I’m happy to discover the following ideas for recreating the coffee creation for crisp fall mornings.

Now if I can convince the dog to go for a morning run without trying to pull me back to bed.

Navigating Narrow Lanes

I drove the interstate for the first time in weeks today.  Merging into traffic reminded me why I enjoy my walk to and from work, where I only need to look both ways before I cross the street.  It also reminded me of another area where we need to navigate traffic: the grocery store.  Our local supermarket consists of narrow aisles, just wide-enough for two carts to pass side-by-side.  Occasionally, we’ll run into a traffic jam, usually at the registers, the equivalent of the exit ramps. Every now and then, we’ll select the broken cart – the one with the wobbly wheel or worse yet, the seemingly standard cart that veers into the aisles when it pleases.  This cart, which only reveals itself after in the middle of a crowded aisle, will turn head-on into displays of dry goods, threaten to roll into other shoppers from behind, and if loaded down with soda cans or a giant bag of dog food, dig its worn-out treads into the tiles and refuse to move at all.  Depending on how quickly we want to move through the store, the cart’s belligerence is an annoyance and sometimes, comical relief.  We have laughed our way down the aisle as we slow traffic.

Trail Blazes

Raspberries from the trail

The first signs of summer have cropped up along our favorite part of the Canal Path.  During our run this past week, we spotted 32 geese of all ages and sizes, a single young deer grazing in the nearby wooded area, and more raspberries than we could count.  Though hardly noticeably during our running pace, their ripe red color screamed out when we stopped to walk.   We probably looked crazy when we stepped off the pebbly path to get a closer look.  Most of our fellow runners, walkers, and bikers, crept or sped by seemingly unaware of these bight blazes.  Though I don’t recommended eating them straight from the trail, I did carry a few home to thoroughly clean before tasting.  Though smaller than store-bought berries, they are just as flavorful as those found at the nearby farmer’s market, and they had even fewer miles to travel – a total of 2.5 in fact.  Though with the berry picking sidetrack, this “run” took us over an hour.

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.

Chai, Chai Again

Like many D.C. residents, I’ve been under the weather lately.  The warm spring temperatures and up-close visit to the cherry blossoms resulted in a flair up of allergies.  After a regime of tea and honey, I resorted to more traditional remedies.  However, I’m still on the look-out for local honey.  Some believe that because honey contains pollen, an allergen, ingesting it in small doses can fend off later attacks.  With a family history of honey, I like to think that is true, plus it’s a great natural sweetener.

The honey at the local farmer’s market is within a 100-mile radius of the metro area, but there’s definitely a closer source in Georgetown, as identified in this News 4 story about a beekeeper who not only advocates for the bee population, but keeps eight hives on his rooftop.  It’s like a buzzing civilization above the city.

My tea of choice is chai.  It’s strong spices are one of the few things that I can still smell.  I discovered this type of tea in college, and it seemed so foreign then.  I grew up on hot black tea for breakfast and southern sweet tea for every other meal. Coffee was something reserved for holidays at grandparents houses, brewed strong to mask its staleness, or mixed instantly into hot water for a quick morning pick-me-up.  Now chai tea is something warm and familiar – pure comfort in a cup.

A Different Sort of Sunday Drive

Washington Auto Show

Washington Auto Show

My husband convinced me to watch cars this weekend, not the animated movie ones, but the one’s under the bright lights at the 2012 Washington Auto Show.  For those interested in this event, there’s still another weekend to catch the two-story exhibited, and for those who are brought along for the ride, there’s plenty of comfortable seating, including the passenger seat of most of the cars on display.  The show features a full exhibit hall of American automakers, who certainly show signs of revival, along with a second exhibit hall of every other make and model imaginable.  Anyone car shopping can test out everything under one roof, but you won’t be able to drive it anywhere.  In fact, given the show’s location in the middle of the city, I recommend taking public transit to get there.

Men Who French Press

Our coffee maker broke about a week ago.  This weekend staple for me and daily essential for my husband left a void in our morning routine, as I would usually grind the beans and turn it on as a secondary alarm clock for him to get out of bed.  Ten to 15 minutes later the machine would sound a beep four times just as I returned from walking the dog.

We contacted they company, Cuisinart, who recommended that we clean it first and then let them know if it still wasn’t working.  When we informed them that the decalcification didn’t solve the problem, they offered to send us a new coffee maker of the same style.  Excellent customer service overall, and we’ll follow through on the shipping process after the holidays.

In the meantime, we needed an alternate brewing method, so we used one of our gift cards to Starbucks to purchase a french press.  We haven’t had one of these simple brewers in several years, so it seemed both quaint and complicated.  Similar to brewing a pot of tea, the french press uses water just off a boil combined with fresh coffee grounds.  After a four-minute brew time, the press separate the liquid from the grounds, resulting in a frothing cup of coffee.  I’ve made the error of leaving the coffee sitting in the press for several cups, and it doesn’t alter the taste, though my husband swears it does.  However, I add so much to my cup that it is better described as coffee flavored milk.

This addition prompted me to ask my coffee aficionado co-worker about her preference for making the perfect cup.  Curious to know whether she had converted to one of those fancy one-cup contraptions, I asked what she kept in her house.  In addition to the standard glass carafe coffee maker, her husband had just brought home a french press from the company gift exchange.  Ironically, he had taken it as the gift, then selected it as the one he wanted to take back home, another example of a man enamoured with the idea of the french press.

Slow Sunday

With time changing today back to standard time, we cherished the extra hour, which seemed to extend throughout the day.  Waking up, I had a few extra minutes of sleep, first looking at my alarm clock reading seven-ten a.m. and then turning it back so that I was wide-awake at just after six a.m.  I savored the fresh pot of coffee a few minutes longer and turned on the TV before the Today show had started.  I left for the farmer’s market before it officially opened at 9 a.m. and secured the first pastries and a hard-to-find container of pumpkin soup. I watched the Sunday morning show, feeling like I should be eating lunch by the end, and then caught up on sleep with an afternoon nap.  We extended the afternoon sun as long as we could, running a few miles on a part of the trail that I otherwise never made it too.  Warmed the soup for dinner and found the news on at its now normal time, with the clocks in agreement that the night had set in.