Stories of Evolution

Rainy weekends are perfect for curling up with a good book, and this weekend, DC residents and visitors have the best selection at the 11th National Book Festival.  The two-day event, expanded from previous years, features storytelling for children and talks from the best contemporary life, poetry, and prose writers.  It all takes place on the somewhat soggy National Mall, with tents for hourly readings and book signings.

To get there, we boarded a Metrobus driven by a soon-to-be Texas preacher, who ministered to the passengers.  During the ride, he gave instructions on how o a path in the crossroads of life. He expertly navigated the tight streets to downtown D.C., telling his life story by the time we reached the Capitol.

Entrance to the Museum of Natural HistoryWe split our Saturday between the Museum of Natural History and the author readings, first exploring the fossils in the dinosaur exhibit and then listening to the anthropological poems of Claudia Emerson.  Both were expertly curated and only slightly crowded. In the museum, the heavy traffic areas circulated around the dinosaur bones and Hope diamond, an odd contrast of what can be discovered when digging through the dirt.  At the book festival, the crowds congregated around the fiction tent, where writers shared their stories of their evolution.



Closing Time

During college, I would visit Borders almost every weekend. As a bookstore, it fit somewhere between the city-staple Barnes and Nobel and the Books-A-Million that I had grown up with.  It didn’t serve Starbucks, but it served up a hearty clearance section and plenty of comfortable chairs in its cafe.  On a visit almost a year after graduation, the store had barely changed, and I still saw the same people.  One commented that he hadn’t seen me in a while, so it felt like I had never moved away at all.

The familiarity of Borders is gone now, as are most of the books, as the store enters its last two days.  The mark-downs are drastic – 80-90% – so some new books cost less than a dollar. But inventory is low and limited to several romance novels and an endless supply of Sarah Palin books, Lady Gaga magazines, and a  Jonas brothers booklet that’s going for about 20 cents.  Perhaps pop culture has conquered the more traditional book, but in this case it sits on the shelf a little bit longer.

Fortunately, the store closes in the same spirit that it operated, with good music playing over the speakers, even after the cafe has shut down, its fixtures sold piece by piece.  Customers carry out bookcases at the rate of three for $100, and it’s my hope that they will be filled again.  As we left, the song changed to Semi-Sonic’s “Closing Time,” a very appropriate end to this beginning.

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.

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.

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.