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We’re twelve days into 2014 and, as one might expect, there’s been a lot of reflection about 2013.  The top news stories.  The top political cartoons.  The top films (and just FYI, if you haven’t seen 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, or Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom, then you should stop reading this right now, go to Fandango.com, and purchase your tickets.  I’ll be here when you get back).  Anyway, you get the idea.  I thought about doing that this year – I’ve done it in the past – but decided to do something a little different this time.

2013 got off to a rough start for me, personally and professionally.  I was really struggling.  One of my Facebook friends had posted a story/article/blog piece about counting your blessings.  Every day, you write on a piece of paper one blessing in your life and then you put that piece of paper somewhere – a jar, a vase, a box – somewhere where you can see it.  It seemed like a good way for me to focus on the positives in my life, so I decided to give it a try.

Now, I have to confess:  I did not count my blessings for the entire year, but I did do a pretty good job.  I wrote my daily blessings on bits of colored paper and dropped them in the big glass vase that sat on my kitchen counter.  Yesterday, I finally got around to opening those bits of paper so that I could review my 2013 and the many things I have to be thankful for.

My 2013 Blessings

My 2013 Blessings

My blessings tended to fall into a few categories:  weather, pets, family, work.  I am pleased to note that “work” didn’t dominate.  What I mean is, I tend to be pretty career-focused and sometimes I forget to stop and smell the roses.  Turns out, I didn’t forget.  I won’t share every blessing with you, but I’d like to point out a few highlights (in no particular order):

  1. The honeybells arrived!  Last year, I got a six-month subscription to a “fruit of the month” club.  First up:  the honeybell.  Honeybells, in case you are wondering, are the most amazing fruit ever.  An orange/grapefruit hybrid.  Sweet.  Super juicy.  So juicy that a bib is included with the shipment.  If you’ve ever had one, you’ll understand why their arrival was such a wonderful blessing.  If you haven’t, stop reading right now and go out and get some.  They’re only available January through March!
  2. Cheerwine – another special treat.  This is North Carolina’s version of Dr. Pepper, but not quite the same.  I don’t think it’s sold anywhere else – at least I’ve never been able to find it.  So whenever I visit my parents in NC, I try to swing by the Food Lion to pick up a 12-pack or two.  Soooo good.
  3. Pushing my boundaries and getting outside my comfort zone.  Now, I have no idea what I did here.  I might have been referring to the Meetup group I joined, or maybe I went to a play by myself, or maybe I went skydiving.  (FYI – pretty sure I’d remember skydiving).  Whatever it was, it was something that I wasn’t used to and I did it anyway.  Go me!
  4. Arlington County firemen.  At some point in 2013, I got stuck in an elevator and I am totally not joking.  I was in the elevator of my parking garage to pick up my car and head home after work.  All of a sudden — BOOM!  Elevator stopped.  No power.  I was alone.  No a/c.  And most importantly, I.  Didn’t.  Have.  Anything.  To.  Read.  People who know me will understand how important that is.  Anyway, I managed to stave off panic by figuring that I probably wouldn’t die if the elevator fell – after all, I was stuck between basement levels 1 and 2, and the last basement level was 4, so it wouldn’t have been a huge drop.  Broken bones maybe, but I’d live.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to test my theory because the firemen from Arlington County saved me.  I was extremely thankful.
  5. This one’s a two-fer:  sleepover/afternoon tea with my sister and having the best sister in the world.  My sister is married with a toddler, so for her birthday last year, I thought it would be fun to have a girls’ night.  I booked us into the Willard Intercontinental, took her out for cocktails and dinner, and then the next day we shopped and returned to the Willard for afternoon tea.  It was fun, relaxing, and nice to have time for just the two of us.  We had so much fun we’re doing it again this year!  As for “the best sister in the world” – well, she’s been my number one cheerleader for a long time.  She tells me the truth when I need truth-telling, reassures me when I need reassurance, and makes me giggle when I need a good laugh.  She really is the best.
  6. Spending the day with my niece.  This is the best, especially now that she’s such a chatterbox.  She is a little person with her own tastes and opinions, and I enjoy hearing about them – even when she tells me she doesn’t like something I knitted for her.  Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

So that was just a little glimpse of my 2013.  I’m not doing this exercise for 2014 – not because I didn’t think it was worthwhile.  It definitely was for me.  I have a lot of wonderful blessings in my life and I hope that I will do a better job of remembering them because of this.  No, this year I’m focused on de-cluttering.  I’ll be headed overseas for my next assignment this summer, so I’ve got to clear out some of the junk.  Collecting bits of paper – even ones with my blessings written on them – is counter-productive at this stage.  That said, I’ll do my best to count my blessings every day.

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There’s a man who stands outside the Foggy Bottom metro station almost every day, belting out gospel songs.  I kind of hate this guy.  He’s not a very good singer, but he has a powerful set of lungs.  Yet there he is almost every morning, rain or shine, his tip jar at his feet.  So I wondered:  what keeps him coming back, fighting for space at the top of the escalators, competing with all the other singers, musicians, and student groups selling Krispy Kreme donuts?  Is it the acoustics?  The tips?  Is this how he makes a living?  Does he earn enough to pay his rent or buy a meal?  How does he not get discouraged and throw in the towel?

I think I may have the answer:  faith.  He has faith that he’ll remember the words, that his voice won’t fail him, that the tips will come.

And it occurred to me that these days, I have to do the same.  The climate in Washington is cold – and I’m not talking about the weather.  Federal government employees have taken it on the chin:  three years with no pay raises, sequester, politicians and the public calling us lazy, incompetent, or worse.  And now the government is shut down.  Most feds have been forced to stay at home for the last two weeks; some are working without pay.  I am one of the lucky ones:  State Department management cobbled together no-year and multi-year funds to keep us open and operating – and collecting a paycheck.  But who knows how long that will last?

Let me tell you what I do know:  federal employees are hard working, bright, dedicated people who are proud to serve our country.  We smile and grit our teeth when people call us leeches or describe this shutdown as a “vacation.”  Guess what?  It’s not a vacation when you’re stressed out about how you’re going to pay your mortgage or your kid’s school fees.  We will keep working and waiting and hoping that our elected leaders will put an end to this madness.

And like that out of tune gospel singer at the top of the escalators, we will keep the faith.

I know.  It’s been a while.  What can I say?  I’ve been busy.  And not with anything all that exciting.

I’m checking back in to do something I haven’t done in quite a while:  rave about some fabulous restaurants in Washington, DC.  I realize I’m probably way, way behind the curve – these restaurants aren’t new after all.  But they were phenomenal and I think worth a plug here.  So here we go.

I spent three wonderful years in Italy – soaking up the culture, speaking the language, and (most importantly) loving the amazing cuisine.  I don’t think I ever went to a bad restaurant anywhere in Italy.  Everything was always fresh and flavorful; pasta always al dente; fish always perfectly seasoned and flaky; and on and on an on.  So when I got back to the United States, I made a conscious decision not to eat in Italian restaurants.  I figured that would only lead to disappointment.  And over the last three years, I’ve stuck by that decision.  Until last week, when I went to Fiola in Penn Quarter.  I was dining with a group of friends from way back – my first tour in Albania – and one of them recommended this restaurant.  I’m so glad that she did.  It did not disappoint.  Appetizer:  prosciutto and foie-gras-stuffed dates.  Oh, prosciutto – how I’ve missed you.  A.  Ma.  Zing.  Next:  risotto with veal cheek.   As anyone who’s ever watched Hell’s Kitchen knows, risotto is a tricky business.  It’s not easy to prepare it correctly and it requires constant attention.  (I’ve tried to make it myself and failed miserably).  I’ve never had veal cheek – in fact, I steer clear of veal as a general rule – so I didn’t know what would be on my plate.  Turns out, an extremely tender and flavorful piece of meat.  Fiola’s Risotto Milanese was absolutely incredible.  I thought I was back in Milan (famous for saffron risotto) for a minute.  It was just that good.

Just a few days later, I found myself enjoying a completely different – but equally delicious – meal.  Do you ever have those days when you crave a really, really, really good steak?  I do.  And I loved the way the Italians prepared beef.  They kept it simple:  grill it, drop a pat of butter on it, and sprinkle it with sea salt.  Perfection.  I found the same perfection at BLT on I Street.  We started with an “amuse bouche” of foie gras on crusty baked bread.  I followed that up with a spinach salad, substantial enough to be a meal on its own.  Then came the tenderest filet mignon (topped with a pat of herbed butter of course) I’ve had in quite some time.  Paired with a fantastic glass of  red wine (an Argentinian malbec), my perfect meal was complete.  I almost never prepare steak at home and this is why – I simply cannot match that level of awesomeness.

So why are you still reading this?  You should be making your dinner reservations right now.  Go!

Happy New Year!  So, I’m a little late in getting my “year in review” post out there – as if you haven’t already read a zillion of them in  your local newspaper, weekly magazine, or favorite gossip website.  Whatever, I’ve been busy.  So sue me.

Anyway – fair warning:  this is not your standard “look at what all the celebrities did in 2011” year in review.  This is about my year in review.  Along with some topical, public domain, infotainment, real-deal history stuff because I need to snark a bit and I gotta do something to attract more readers.  Hee.

2011 was my “year of yes.”  It was my first full year back in Washington, DC after 7 years overseas and I really wanted to take advantage of my time here, to get out and explore the metropolitan DC area and to sink my teeth into the social life.  How’d I do?  Eh, there’s always room for improvement, but I think I did okay.  Let’s break it down:

January:  The Arab Spring begins in Tunisia.  Demonstrations – with varying levels of success – follow in Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, and Bahrain.  It’s an exciting time in the Middle East.  This translates into an exciting time for consular work, because you know Americans love to travel and we turn up in the most unlikely places.  I wasn’t on the ground in any of these countries helping to evacuate American citizens, but I did work on one of the many task forces set up here in Washington to monitor the situation on the ground.  Terrific learning experience for me.  January was also when I visited the National Archives with my colleagues and commented on my confusion about Trader Joe’s – which I have to formally retract.  I recently made a commitment to eat healthier – organic foods and whatnot – and I have to say, I get it now.  Although my local Trader Joe’s is a nightmare in terms of parking and the layout of the store, it is my go-to place for grocery shopping.  So, to all the Trader Joe’s fans out there:  I’m sorry.  Also, actor Pete Postlethwaite died on January 2.  I think I first saw Postlethwaite in “In the Name of the Father,” which is a terrific film.  He was also in “The Usual Suspects,” and more recently “Inception” and “The Town.”  If you are not familiar with him – shame on you.  Stop reading this article right now, get on Netflix or Hulu or whatever, and put one of his films in your queue.

February:  My introduction to punk.

March:  Japan was hit by a triple-whammy.  First, an earthquake.  Which triggered a tsunami.  Which led to a meltdown at a nuclear plant.  Yikes.  Tough times in Japan = another task force in Washington.  Another overnight shift for me.  I traveled to San Diego for a conference – I’d never been there before and thought it was a great city.  The zoo is pretty amazing, although I did experience a little bit of sticker shock.  It’s like $40 to get into that zoo!  I live in the DC area – our zoo is free!  Although, I suppose the National Zoo could look like the San Diego Zoo if we charged everyone $40 to get in.  Something to think about.  I also knitted my first hat.

April:  So, in my effort to “get out there,” I started looking for interesting stuff to do on the weekends.  In April, I went to the Kite Festival on the Mall.  Good times.  Took forever to get that kite in the air, but we finally succeeded.  Yay!  There were lots of kids and adults out there flying kites, but I gotta say:  I think the adults were having more fun.  Nothing like reverting to childhood, am I right?  In other news, those crazy “birthers” kept hammering away about President Obama’s birth certificate, so he released the long form this month.  Another royal wedding in the UK.  Which meant that this was the top news story on the networks for days.  Really?  Really?  Remind me:  why do we care about this again?  I mean, yeah – it’s great – Prince William got married.  All the best to you, sir.  But this is the United States.  I mean, we fought for our independence so that we wouldn’t have to care about this stuff.  And yet, apparently, we do.

May: Seal Team Six.  That is all.

June:  It’s June 2011 and the GOP debates begin.  God save us.  More than a year in advance of the 2012 elections.  It’s the height of the tourist season in DC.  This is a great city for tourists – everything is free!  And there’s so much to see.  My one wish is that the tourists could learn a little Metro etiquette.  Well, you know how I feel about that.  Hey, WMATA, would it kill you to put up a few signs to remind people to stand on the right on the escalators?  I also knitted a pair of socks.

July:  July 4.  Independence Day.  A terrific day for sleeping in, celebrating with friends and family, and watching fireworks.  This was the first July 4 in 7 years where I did not have to do one darn thing.  I didn’t have to attend an Embassy party.  I didn’t have to get dressed up.  I didn’t have to talk “shop” with representatives from the host country government.  It was nice to just be lazy at home.  I had the best burger of my life at Ray’s Hellburger.  Have you been yet?  If not, stop reading, bookmark this page, and get over there.  You can thank me later.  I knitted a kick-ass sweater.   I have to say, I really love it when I get crafty and the project actually turns out well.  Okay, it’s not perfect – it fits a little big – but it’s pretty darn good for a first attempt.  Amy Winehouse died.  Bummer.

August:  Hurricane Irene brought a lot of rain to the east coast.  But the big news was the earthquake.  What the…?  I remember it like it was yesterday:  I was sitting in my office talking to a colleague, when all of a sudden everything started to sway.  We looked at each other, looked out the big plate glass window next to us (yikes!), looked at each other again and wondered what the heck just happened.  After the building stopped swaying, we decided it might be a good idea to head outside.  We joined hundreds of others standing on the street with our cell phones, trying to text or email friends and family, or check to the internet to find out what had happened.  Of course, it was impossible to send or receive messages:  system overload.  We eventually learned we’d just experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.  Get out!  Kim Kardashian got married!!!!  Why do we care about this again?  Why are these people famous?  Seriously – I do not get this one.  I do not care about them, so I won’t even link to anything about them.  I’m not even going to use the name as a tag for this post!  Get a job, Kardashians.  Most importantly, the best, brightest, and prettiest niece in the world was born in August.

September:  My subscription to AFI Talk Cinema kicked in.  If you live in a city that offers this program, I highly recommend it.  Subscribers go to a not-yet-released film screening, watch it, then talk about it afterward in a moderator-led discussion.  I saw some really interesting movies that I probably never would have gone to see on my own:  “Hermano,” “Melancholia,” “The Artist.”  I also saw a few that I was kind of “meh” about (“Like Crazy” and “Carnage”), but I’m still glad I had the experience.  I may do it again next year.   People around the world started occupying various streets, parks, and other locales to protest stuff.  Ah yes, I (vaguely) remember when I was young and idealistic.  Now, I’m just a jaded crone.

October:  My birthday month!  Yay, for me still being alive!  Kim Kardashian files for divorce.  This is what you get for caring America.  And yet, there are some people out there who think that it’s same-sex marriages that will destroy us all.  Hmmmm.  And the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 7.  I haven’t watched baseball since I left Atlanta (I loved to go to Braves games), but I guess this was a big deal.

NovemberHoliday travel.  GAH!!!!!

December:  It’s Christmas.  Hope you spent time with friends and family, and remembered what the season is all about.  I did.

So, that’s my year in a nutshell.  Some things I got right:  exploring a little bit of the DC area, trying new things, and embracing my inner geek.  But there’s still room for improvement.  2012 will be “Year of Yes 2.0.”

How was your 2011?

You know that old saying “sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees”?  The rough translation is that sometimes we become so focused on whatever is right in front of us that we miss everything else that’s going on.  Our blinders get in the way.  It’s so true.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been so focused on reaching my destination that I’ve totally missed all the neat things to see along the way. 

I think the same kind of “filtering” applies to the United States.  We live here, and that means we live with the challenges – the traffic, the pollution, the 24-hour news cycle.  And maybe we forget all the great stuff we’ve got here.  As a Foreign Service Officer, I think I might be able to see and appreciate this more than most because I spend so much time overseas.  Although anyone who has spent a significant amount of time outside of the U.S. could do the same.  As much as I love traveling and living overseas – and I have had lots of fun – I think it’s made me love and appreciate the U.S. even more. 

I’m still feeling the Independence Day love, so consider this post my Top 10 List of Things I Luuurrrve About the United States!  (This list will not include stuff like democracy, rule of law, equal opportunity, etc. because – obviously).  And tell me what you love.

  1. American TV.  I love that there are channels devoted to golf, to home improvement, to WWII!  I may not watch all of these channels, but I love the fact that I could if I wanted to.  I love that if I’m feeling bored and lazy on a Sunday afternoon, I can scroll through the channel guide and find something to entertain me.  I love that we recognize that sometimes, other nationalities do it better, and that’s why we have BBC America and Univision and all of the other channels out there.  And I especially love that I can usually find an episode of “Law & Order” on some channel, somewhere.
  2. Big box stores.  I know they can be a pain sometimes, but you learn to appreciate them after you’ve spent three years going from little shop to little shop to buy your dinner:  fruits and vegetables here, dairy there, meat someplace else.  There are times when I really love the fact that I can buy apples, free weights, and motor oil all in one place.
  3. American consumerism.  I love that my grocery store is open until 10 or 11 PM, that Wendy’s is open late on weekends, and that it’s totally normal for stores to be open on Sunday.  You have no idea how many times I walked to the market in my Roman neighborhood on Sundays only to discover that it was closed.  (Because I’m a slow learner).  Don’t get me wrong – I also recognize that it might be better if we weren’t such a 24/7 culture, but I do appreciate it when I decide that I must have a bag of Funyuns on Sunday at 3PM.
  4. Online bill pay.  Love this.  This is so great for someone like me who is overseas a lot.  And it sucks to have to stand in line at the post office to pay your bills (I’m looking at you, Italy).
  5. Ethnic restaurants.  I bet that in almost every city in the U.S., you can find an ethnic restaurant.  In the DC area there are hundreds – if not thousands.  If I feel like eating Mexican today, my biggest problem is figuring out which Mexican restaurant (and I don’t mean Taco Bell).  America’s the land of immigrants, and it shows in our restaurants.  I love that.
  6. Washington, DC:  our nation’s capital.  I love this town and I feel really lucky to work here and live nearby.  It’s a great town, and I love the fact that there’s so much to do here that’s FREE.  You don’t have a lot of cash?  No worries – visit the Smithsonian Museums, go the National Zoo, have a seat in one of the parks and people-watch.  DC’s not perfect, but it’s still a great place to be. 
  7. I love American accents and idioms.  And I love that sometimes we can’t understand each other.  I love that we say “y’all” in the South and “youse guys” in NY and “you” someplace else.  I know accents aren’t unique to the United States, but I still love to hear ours:  from the southern drawl to the flats of the Midwest to the classic New York-speak.  I just love it. 
  8. American music.  I don’t think I appreciated it until I saw and heard the appreciation of non-Americans.  Think about it:  America is responsible for some really terrific sounds.  Jazz.  Bluegrass.  Country/Western.  Hip hop.  Rock.  And we keep innovating. 
  9. American order.  This might sound like a strange thing to appreciate, but I really do love the fact that (for the most part) Americans respect lines and lanes.  If you walk into a crowded Starbuck’s, rest assured there will be a line.  Lots of traffic on the road?  Every car will be in its lane.  You don’t always find this in other countries.
  10. Humor.  I think every culture has its own humor.  Sometimes it doesn’t translate well.  I’m a horrible joke-teller in English; imagine how much worse I am in another language and culture!  I love that, in the U.S., if I tell the story correctly, people will get my snark.  They may not think it’s especially witty, but they “get” it. 

So, notwithstanding the occasional rant about the Metro and my generally nomadic lifestyle, I really love this country. 

Now watch:  some jerk will cut in front of me at Starbuck’s and the love affair will be over.

It’s that time of year people:  tourist season in DC.  Don’t get me wrong – I recognize the importance of tourists to the DC area economy.  I get it.  But summer can be hell for the lowly DC Metro rider.

I just got home.  After waiting 30 minutes for an orange line train uncrowded enough for me to cram my relatively small frame into.  And once on that train, I competed for my one square foot of space on the floor and my grip on the handrails with everyone else.  Today was like any other day, though the experience was exacerbated by the ungodly heat outside (and inside) and the loud tourists with whom I had to share the car.  Considering the station from which they boarded (Roslyn), I am guessing they were business travelers.  Judging from the conversation – overheard by everyone in the car because they were so loud – some were from California, others from the Midwest.  This group of six or seven, male and female, loud and wrong, pushed themselves onto the crowded car at Roslyn and loudly (and incessantly) commented on the car, the station, the length of the trip, their dinner plans, etc.  “Hwah, hwah, hwah!  This train is so crowded!! Cackle, cackle, cackle.”  “I’m from the Midwest.  We drive everywhere!  We don’t care about the environment!  Chortle, chortle, snort.”  “Thank goodness we only have to go two stops!”  Tell me about it.

Yeah, I’m totally in a sour mood today.  Normally this stuff doesn’t bother me.  But today…

And another thing, would it kill you guys to stand on the RIGHT SIDE of the escalator if you don’t feel like walking up?  For some of us, the sights, sounds, and smells of the Foggy Bottom station are not new and interesting.  We’re actually trying to get to work on time.  And could you please move to the freaking CENTER OF THE CAR when you board?  Please?  I promise you will still be able to exit before the doors close if you do.  I promise.  And every once in a while could you let your 2 year old kid sit on your lap and free up the seat next to you?  Maybe?  And if you are riding with your Cub Scout pack or your sewing guild or whatever, you all do not have to exit by the same door.  It’s a crazy concept, but every freakin’ door on the train lets you out at the same station!  Really!

But WMATA is not blameless here.  WMATA, listen up.  Have pity on the poor schlubs like me who ride the Metro even in the off season and put up some signs that tell people to stand on the right, walk on the left.  Can’t afford to put up new signs?  Budgets are tight, I get it.  Make an announcement every once in a while, or put in on those electronic boards that tell us how long before the next train arrives.  Something.  Throw us a bone!  And maybe management could just accept the fact that the Metro trains are not buses and take out some of the seats or redesign the cars so that there’s one row of seats on each side of the car – like in NYC – so that more people can fit in the cars.

Parking downtown is expensive, so I have no intention of giving up on Metro and driving to work everyday – so Metro doesn’t have to worry about losing my business.  So maybe that means they have no incentive to change things.  But I really, really wish they would.  This is not cool.

And yeah – I do appreciate the irony of having published a post a few months ago in which I giggled about how it was better to ride Metro than deal with DC traffic.

I need birthday cake.  And a stiff drink.

So Metro is trying to turn me into a fat, diabetic alcoholic.  Terrific.  It’s working, Metro.  It’s working.

I had a lot of fun flying kites last weekend.  I was really proud of myself for getting out there and being part of the action instead of just observing, so I decided to reward myself with a yummy cocktail or something.  We were just a block or two from the Willard, and I’d had such a great experience there before, so that was my first stop.  Unfortunately, there was no one in the Round Robin Bar and the Cafe du Parc was closed.  I was disappointed….and really, really hungry.  Kite-flying takes a lot out of a girl.

I’m embarrassed to admit that if I’d been in this situation even a few months ago, I probably would have just walked aimlessly around downtown, looking for anything that was open – or gone home hungry.  But I’ve learned the error of my ways.  I love smartphones.  I turned to my Yelp app to find out what restaurants were nearby and open.  How pleased I was to discover that I was only a few blocks away from the Old Ebbitt Grill!  (Shut up.  I’m directionally challenged, okay?)

Established in 1856, the Old Ebbitt Grill is an institution that has been frequented by American presidents, Congressmen, journalists, and celebrities.  This is one of those “must do” places on your list of things to do in DC; I was glad to finally be able to do it.

Now, I guess the place is pretty renowned for its oyster bar.  Well, I don’t eat oysters.  Don’t get me wrong; I like seafood – as long as it’s not chewy.  Salmon?  Yes.  Lobster?  Yes.  Crabs?  Yes.  Shrimp?  Sometimes.  I’ve even eaten octopus (though it violates the chewy seafood rule).  But I have to draw the line somewhere.

[On a side note and without naming names, not long ago I was at a dinner party where the host served pasta with clams – same as oysters as far as I’m concerned.  So to be polite, I ate it.  Fast forward 5 hours.  It’s the middle of the night.  I am awakened from a deep and restful sleep with a distinct feeling of discomfort.  I think to myself, “uh oh” and hope that if I ignore the feeling it will go away.  It does not.  I spend the next several minutes on my bathroom floor, hugging the toilet.  So I’m done with chewy seafood.]

Back to my regularly-scheduled post.  I didn’t order oysters.  Instead I had a nice pomegranate mojito (to celebrate the kites!) and a French Dip sandwich.  I have to tell you I was kind of meh about the whole experience.  The cocktail was nice, but not the best mojito I’d ever had.  (It didn’t help that I’d just had a fantastic ginger mojito a week before at the W Hotel in San Diego).  And the sandwich was nothing special.  I left wondering what all the fuss is about.  I mean, congrats OEG for sticking around for over 100 years and I guess it’s cool that political deals are struck in your dining room, but I wasn’t totally wowed.

Do you have to order the oysters to be wowed?

I haven’t lived in the Washington, DC area for several years, so I am thrilled to be back here long enough to enjoy all the wonderful things the city has to offer – including the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  I missed the peak of the blooms because I was in San Diego, but that didn’t keep me from Metro-ing down to the National Mall today for the Blossom Kite Festival.

I thought I’d spend half an hour or so watching the kites and taking photos.  Instead, I ended up flying my own kite.  What a blast! It took a few tries to get the hang of it – the kite dive-bombed a few times –  but we finally found a location with sufficient wind and space to let the kite fly high.  What a kick!  I haven’t flown a kite since I was a kid.  I have vague memories of my dad helping my sister and me fly kites in the open field behind our house in Kansas.  I felt like a happy-go-lucky kid again today.  And the closing song from “Mary Poppins” kept running through my head:  “Let’s go fly a kite! Up to the highest height!  Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring…”  Or something like that.

If you missed it this year, I highly recommend you check out the Blossom Kite Festival next year.  Your kite won’t be the only thing that’s lifted.  I guarantee it.

Last week I went to the Warner Theatre to see “Stomp.”  What a fun show!  I was amazed at the sounds that the troupe could produce from everyday items – brushes, trash cans, newspapers – even kitchen sinks!  The audience had a great time.

If you’ve never been to the Warner Theatre, you should add that to your list of landmarks to visit.  In the 1920s, the theater was once a venue for vaudeville shows and silent movies.  Back then it was known as the Earle Theatre.  In 1947, Harry Warner (one of the Hollywood Warner Brothers), decided that since he owned the theater, his name should be on the marquee.  It’s been the Warner Theater ever since.

The venue has had its ups and downs over the years – showing films like “Dr. Zhivago” and “Ben Hur” in the 1960s, porno films in the 1970s, and a concert venue in the late 1970s and into the 1980s.  The Rolling Stones performed at the Warner Theatre in 1978.

Learn more about the Warner Theatre’s history here, and check out upcoming events.  It’s a beautiful theater.  You don’t want to miss it.

 

The Willard Intercontinental Hotel

The Willard

No, I don’t mean me. I don’t live on Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

I am taking some time off this week to relax and recover from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I decided to take advantage of this free time to jump right into tourist mode and explore a bit of this great town. First stop: the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. Also known as the Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue. Okay, to be honest, I had some personal business in the area and the Willard was just a short walk away, so it made sense.

The Willard originally opened its doors in 1818 and is a DC legend. According to the hotel’s website, the Willard has hosted almost every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce in 1853. If those walls could talk, right?

So I popped into the historic hotel around noon for a quick lunch at the Round Robin Cafe. What a place! Circular bar in the center of the small room, surrounded by deep leather banquettes along the walls. The bartender was friendly. I ordered a bowl of French onion soup and a cocktail. Now, I love French onion soup and will order it almost anywhere whenever it’s on the menu. The soup at the Willard was fantastic. Vidalia onions and Gruyere – yum! I don’t know what they do that I don’t, because when I make French onion soup it does not taste that amazing.

For my drink, I ordered a Clover Club Cocktail. Never had one before, but it sounded interesting: Hendrick’s gin, framboise, and lemon juice over crushed ice. A slice of orange and a maraschino cherry topped it off. This was also terrific. Fruity, but not too, and the gin added just the right amount of “zing.”

Have you been to the Willard? If you’ve never been, then add it to your itinerary the next time you’re downtown. It’s just a stone’s throw from the White House, so stop in after your WH tour. You won’t regret it.

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