HomeTown Tourist: WONDER


Washington DC will never be a mecca for what’s on point in fashion, sports or art. But, the Smithsonian is working overtime to at least put us in the conversation.  (Thank you, Smithsonian!) Exhibit A: 2014’s American Cool at The National Portrait Gallery.

After two years of renovations, The Renwick Gallery reopened at the end of  2015 and is the latest proof point that we are not a city full of stodgy politicians and presidents who don’t live up to the hype.

The current exhibit, entitled WONDER, is delightfully just that. (Yes, I used the word delightful.)  The gallery lends its space to nine contemporary artists who created “site-specific” installations. In English, each exhibit is customized to the room, hallway or ceiling that serves as host to the finished masterpiece.

What results is unique series of massive works of art that are simply beautiful. You can wander through each room, walking around or, in the case of Patrick Dougherty’s exhibit (below), through enormous pods of willows and saplings.

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To truly enjoy WONDER, don’t rush from room-to-room. Slow down. Stand on your tip toes to peak down the center of the reconstructed hemlock. Circle through rubber tires a few times. Stand in the corner to marvel at the “wallpaper” Jennifer Angus created. And, lay down in the grand salon to really marvel at the waves Janet Echelman installed. (Trust me fellow, germaphobes, put your jacket up over your head and lay down.)

PROTIP: Thanks to press like this, WONDER is P-A-C-K-E-D on the weekends. To miss the worst of the crowds, take a lunch break or leave work early. Make sure your camera or iPhone is charged. Photos are encouraged and you are going to want to photograph the heck out of WONDER.

The Renwick is open daily from  10:00 – 5:30 pm. The first floor installations will be on exhibit through May 8, 2016. The second floor installations will be on display through July 10, 2016.

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The 2015 Summer Bucket List

Summer! Whether you define summer as that time between Memorial Day and Labor Day (rejoice! You can wear white without worrying if you are breaking a fashion rule), or if you follow the Farmers Almanac more traditional first day of Summer (June 21st: thank goodness I for the extra time to mentally prepare), we can agree the season is here.

Summer in the US is synonymous with barbecue and vacations (or staycations). Because I march to my own beat, for me, Summer means the return of my the Summer Bucket List.

Inspired by Carla Birnberg, I made my first summer bucket list last year. It was so much fun, I decided it will be my new “thing.” Here are a few highlights from my inaugural list.

2014 Bucket List Highlights
2014 Bucket List Highlights (from the bottom left, up and around): Pottsville, PA road trip, Ride in 2nd Trek Across Maine, Photography Tour of Central Park, Kayaking on the Potomac River, a National’s game and Visiting the re-opened Washington Monument.

This year’s list is not as extensive as my first go-around. I have a lot of work lined up and don’t want to be disappointed about not getting everything done. I’m already dealing with one failure, why set myself up for another?

But really, the length of the list is not what matters. The list is a collection of things and mini-adventures I want to have. Writing them down and sharing them becomes a device for making it happen. I mean, let’s be real. How many times have you said you wanted to do something and months, even years later, it still wasn’t done. Yeah, I thought so. I’m guilty too.

Instead of lolling around wasting beautiful days, my Summer Bucket List helps me prioritize my weekends, days off and most importantly gets me out enjoying life and all that the greater Washington DC area has to offer. Without further ado, here is the 2015 Summer Bucket List.


What do you think of my summer tradition? Would you make a Summer Bucket List?

Hometown Tourist, Ch 11: The Washington Monument

For people outside of Washington, DC, our city is synonymous with many things. Among these, political gridlock, superiority complexes, paranoia, and an increasing inability to get along are ones I hear about most often these days.

Something I am more proud to boast about is that we are home to a vast number of impressive national monuments and memorials. Even if you aren’t on the National Mall, it’s hard not to pass a plaque, or stumble across a statue of historical relevance in this city. Seriously. It takes a lot of effort.

While I was lucky enough to visit most of DC’s monuments as a kid, I was curious to see if I would now leave with a different impression (both as a “local” and as an adult). I decided to test my theory on the recently re-opened Washington Monument.

The National Monument
The National Monument

It boasts the best views of any monument in the city, and so I made a sunset reservation. The Monument is a heavily trafficked area so I strongly recommend tickets. It’s really unlikely you will get there in time for the small batch of free tickets.

As everyone knows, the Washington Monument was built to honor our first President, George Washington. Most people also remember that in 2011, there was a  5.8 earthquake on the East Coast that spun out a series of humorous Internet gifs.  Still, the relatively short-lived quake did in fact cause significant damage to both the Washington Monument and National Cathedral.

Who says Washingtonian's don't have a sense of humor? Post 2011 earthquake gifs.
Who says Washingtonian’s don’t have a sense of humor? Post 2011 earthquake gifs. Image courtesy of brothatech.com

Recently, the Monument reopened so it was the perfect time for a visit. A few interesting stats about the monument:

  • It stands 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches, making it the worlds largest free-standing stone structure
  • In 1884, when it was completed, it was the world’s tallest man-made structure, until the Eiffel Tower
  • It contains 36,000 stones and weights 81,000 tons (or, the equivalent of almost 6,500 school buses)
  • It’s not your eyes playing a trick on you, the stone changes color at 150 feet

After a 70-second elevator ride (the first steam-powered elevator ride took 12 minutes), you reach the triangular pyradmidion and are treated to sweeping views of Washington DC. While I thought I timed our visit to sunset, I was off by about 15 minutes. Nevertheless, we were still in awe of the Mall. And Washington, DC (as well as the northern VA skyline), I have to admit are quite beautiful.

A view of the National Mall from the top of the Washington Monument
A view of the National Mall from the top of the Washington Monument

Now, this next observation will make me sound like a travel snob but I guess, if the shoe fits… The Monument is beautiful, but after seeing Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila, it was just a bit underwhelming. I mean, it’s an obelisk.

It’s possible that part of my travel snob comment, is that we took an elevator to the top. You miss so much that I remember being impressed with by walking up the Monument. Unfortunately, the stairs are still closed to guests. But I do have a bit of scoop. I learned that the U.S. Park Service will open stairs for walk-up tours in early September! So, I’ll be going back. If you’re thinking of visiting, or a native who’s interested in walking the monument, check back for details. They’re only doing two walk-up tours (that amount to 896 steps) a day. So this will fill up fast!

Travel snob opinion aside, but if you are visiting Washington (or even if you live here), it’s well worth popping by. It’s an American experience. You can purchase tickets. It’s really unlikely you will get there in time for the small batch of free tickets. (note: the actual tickets are free but you do have to pay a small reservation fee. Ours was $3.00 plus a processing fee and shipping and handling). It was worth it. And as far as time, we were in and out in about a half hour. So if you time it well, it’s a great one to knock off your list, and then go on to the WWII Memorial and other sights on the National Mall.

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Sometimes The Rules Just Need to Be Broken

For those more cynical readers, prepare for an eye roll, but here’s the thing. Spring is probably my favorite time of the year, because it’s all about love and happiness, blossoming flowers and lush green grass. Spring is also synonymous with rebirth, especially cute bunnies, adorable ducklings and just baby animals in general. After the brutal winter we all just had, it was an especially happy time.

Which is why when I hit G by Mike Isabella to continue the self-appointed challenge to try every sandwich on Zagat’s “9 DC Sandwiches You Need to Try Right Now” I broke the only rule I made, which was trying every sandwich just it was written up by Zagat’s. You see, goat and particularly spiced baby goat, was just too..well. too much to stomach. So, technically this whole 9-DC sandwiches challenge has come to an end.

In the spirit of the challenge, and writing a blog post, it seemed silly NOT to get a sandwich. The sandwich part is really an overlay to get out and try new things. So with that in mind, I opted for the “fan favorite” falafel sandwich. This ridiculously large sandwich features falafel, sumac, hummus and pickled cabbage wrapped up tightly in a gyro. The result… to quote Mr Os, “you should not be a food critic.” I didn’t love it and am super thankful I have no real ambition of becoming a food critic. Because he’s right, I suck at expanding my food horizons. 

Stamps on my Passport
The “fan favorite” falafel sandwich at G by Mike Isabella

I give myself props for trying but unless someone beats me to the punch, I will openly admit that I’ve got food issues. My biggest one is texture. I literally cannot swallow certain textured food, like grilled eggplant or soggy eggs. After texture, my next big challenge is odor. If I happen to love a certain food and catch of whiff of something that smells “off,” forget it.

Since I was breaking (bending?) the rule, I figured I’d still try and expand my horizon a little bit. I knew the falafel and hummus were in my safe zone but the sumac and pickled cabbage were a stretch. Ok, a HUGE stretch. I used to work with someone who now handles Mr Isabella’s public relations. She swears the guy knows his stuff she certainly knows food. I don’t think she’s wrong, I think pickled cabbage is just not my thing.

The vibe at G was very laid back, more welcoming than SunDeVich. The walls were decorated with graffiti of vegetables which says to me they are focused on the food rather than trying to take themselves too seriously. It’s worth a visit and if you eat half the sandwich (which is really a whole sandwich) then you have dinner or lunch for the next day.

Masks on these veggies give G a “we don’t take ourselves too seriously” vibe.

As for the “challenge,” yeah, I will continue. I’m certainly not the best food critic but that’s not what I’m about. I’m about getting out, exploring new things and making every day an adventure. Sometimes the adventure looks like a sandwich and sometimes it looks like a new stamp in your passport.

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What is Cool?


It’s difficult. Keeping track of all the things people recommend checking out around town (especially when that “town” is Washington, DC), or wherever I may be traveling. But when a friend suggested visiting the American Cool exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, it was a no brainer. As a person who is fascinated with cool and pop culture, she had me at “it’s an exhibit of what’s cool.”

American Cool at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery through Sept. 7, 2014.
American Cool at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery through Sept. 7, 2014.

Of course that’s a bit of an oversimplification. American Cool is a photography exhibit that answers the question, ‘what is cool?’ by identifying figures throughout America’s past that “fit” the curator’s definition. At first, I had my doubts. But in retrospect, the National Portrait Gallery nailed it from my point of view. That’s no small feat, because “cool” is somewhat subjective.

This spectacularly curated exhibit features photography of “cool” artists, musicians, actors and writers from the past 75 years. To be featured in the exhibit, curators considered the following rubric:

  1. The person had an original artistic vision that was carried off with signature style
  2. The person represented cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
  3. The person had iconic power or instant visual recognition
  4. The person is recognized as a cultural legacy

Using this criteria, the exhibit is organized into four categories of cool: pre-1940; 1940-1959, the birth of cool which included a lot of jazz musicians and actors; 1960-1979, cool and the counter-culture where cool was a badge of opposition to the system; and 1980’s – Present, legacies of cool.


The Birth of Cool
The Birth of Cool


Photography is strictly forbidden in the exhibit, so I can’t share the some of the dramatic portraits. (Ok, I snuck one photo on my iPhone and I totally feel guilty about. The other two images were taken with permission.) But I will mention a few favorites and what intrigued me about them.

  • My personal favorite, Marvin Gaye. I was really drawn to the image and the emotion it conveyed, you could feel the years of heartache and turmoil. (okay, this was the one, wow, what a picture and yes, I still feel guilty)
  • Walt Frazer. Interestingly, I think that there were less than five color portraits and this was one of them. Frazer was selected in part for his ability to “connect cool back to slavery when a black person had to talk insults and opposition every day without anger.”
  • John Travolta. Also one of the few color images in the exhibit. I wasn’t surprised to see Travolta made the exhibit. What was interesting, to me, was the description next to his portrait: he “established cool through dance, he projects self-control through style, gyrating hips, twirling on the club floor, two stepping or vamping with subtle gestures.” This is like literary poetry. About Travolta!

My only minor criticism of the exhibit was that descriptions talk about the person, versus the photograph. And many of the photographs merited their own write-up. The only exception to this was Billie Holliday’s photo—which was so stunning that (kudos) it was addressed in the vignette.

If you’re lucky enough to catch the exhibit, be sure not to skip the wall about the “Alt-100.” It’s an additional 100 figures curators considered for the exhibit, but who didn’t quite make the list.

Personally, I thought Samuel L Jackson and Isaac Hayes should have made the cut. As a big Doors fan, I was happy to see Jim Morrison noted but have to agree, he did not meet all the criteria the curators set forth. Same for Dr Dre. Then there are a few ‘say wha…?” but I’ll let you decide who falls into that category.

American Cool will be on exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery through September 7, 2014. Whether you are a local or visitor, I strongly recommend seeing the exhibit. It’s well worth the time. Exactly how good was it? Worth purchasing the coffee table book in the museum gift shop, which is what we did.

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D.C. Sandwiches You Need to Try (or Not): Sandwich One


Zagats, the gold standard of all things foodie, recently published it’s list of “DC Sandwiches You Need to Try Right Now.” DC is not exactly a food mecca, so anytime a restaurant other than Potbelly’s opens, we celebrate. The District is improving, and we have national caliber chef’s whose names are recognized outside the beltway. So, being an aspiring foodie, as I read the Zagats list I instantly decided THIS was blog fodder.

My plan: eat all nine sandwiches by Labor Day (hopefully sooner, but I’m balancing that with trying not to eat too many carbs, so I’m pacing). Readers and friends are welcome to join me. My only rule is that I have to order the sandwich noted on Zagat’s list, and take at least one full bite.

First up? The Kingston at SUNdeVich in the Shaw Neighborhood. Zagat’s describes the sandwich as, “the Jamaican-inspired flavors of jerk chicken, pineapple salsa, greens, spicy slaw and garlic mayo are the type of thing that transport you to a warmer happier place with each bit. Of all the sandwiches here named after cities around the world, this is consistently our favorite trip to take.”

The Kingston sandwich available at Sundevich
The Kingston sandwich available at SUNdeVICH

Now, let me preface the summary of my SUNdeVich experience by saying that Mr. Os., in his infinite wisdom, knew where this was going as soon as he read the description of the sandwich I ordered. In a preemptive move, he decided on “The Havana” (roasted pork, Gruyère, pickles and dijonnaise), since he knew there was no way I’d like my Kingston.

As soon as I opened my sandwich wrapper, I was overwhelmed with the smell of garlic. That was pretty much strike one, two and three. I’m not technically one of those super smellers, but when I catch a whiff of something like that, its instant dislike. But in the spirit of this challenge, I picked up the monstrous sandwich and took a massive bit. And then it was over for real.

The sandwich was advertised as spicy, I mistakenly thought it would be something I would enjoy (or at least tolerate). Not so much. If you are spice averse, skip this one. You’ll thank me later. Since I fulfilled my challenge rules, I happily swapped sandwiches, and enjoyed the Havana. Mr. Os., by the way, gave both sandwiches high marks, along with the restaurant.

Shaw is a neighborhood in transition, but I think it’s worth a visit. Especially if you happen to be in town for a conference since it’s just up from the Washington Convention Center. That said, at $24 for two sandwiches and one soda, it isn’t cheap. Also, the vibe is very “neighborhood.” While our money was politely accepted, we were clearly not considered locals, based on the reaction of the staff.

Sundevich is technically off 9th Street, so keep an eye out for this wall sign.
SUNdeVICH is technically off 9th Street, so keep an eye out for this wall sign.

My overall verdict: definitely an instance where Zagat’s suggested sandwich was not in line with my tastes. But these sandwiches are absolutely worth seeking out if you’re interested in trying something new and different.


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Hometown Tourist, Ch 10: Absinthe Tasting

After successfully checking off the “something touristy” on my BFF’s itinerary, we found ourselves in danger of a major sugar crash. Maybe that had something to do with our decision to try something neither of us had ever even considered: absinthe.

To be clear, an absinthe tasting is not exactly on my “bucket list” or “missing stamps” list. As you may know, i am a 4HB believer so i only drink red wine. Even before i discovered how well 4HB worked for me, i was never too much of a hard liquor person, aside from the occasional bourbon. But especially not absinthe., because I don’t like the smell or taste of licorice—which is a large part of the whole “absinthe” thing.

In all honesty, the idea actually came from Mr. Os. He was brainstorming local things to do and commented how there is a surge of absinthe tastings. In a way, absinthe is DC’s latest cupcake –style fad. My aversion to licorice, aside, I had to admit it sounded like a solid adventure. I wanted a large group to go, but unlike cupcakes, it turns out absinthe is a fad for the brave few—at least for the moment.

After a little research, i decided the three of us would try Libertine in DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. This absinthe themed bar opened three months ago and as it turns out, Libertine is my new favorite ”non-neighborhood” bar. The absinthe menu is impressive. If you are novice, i strongly recommend putting your faith in the bartender and taking whatever their suggestions are—and here let me just say that my reason for liking Libertine so much had everything to do with Libertine’s staff.

We were going to have the absinthe flight of three. Even though this was recommended on Yelp, our server Susan had other ideas. She said the three selections have a very strong licorice flavor and we would not enjoy it given two of the three voiced an opinion that we didn’t like licorice. (Yes, Susan gave us a questioning look of “then why are you ordering absinthe” but she made some great recommendations)

We settled on three different versions, each a full glass: Absinthe de Vinchy (my BFF), Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian (me) and Absinthe Jade (Mr. Os). See below for details and price on each of our choices.

Our absinthe choices @LibertineDC
Our absinthe choices @LibertineDC

A few interesting things Susan shared with us as she prepared the absinthe:

  • It is very bad to light absinthe on fire. Because it’s a super high proof alcohol (highest they had on stock was 170 proof), burning it can change the taste resulting in a very bitter change to the flavor profile. She did recommend sugar, but this was also not the way it was originally consumed.
  • Not all absinthe is green. The color actually depends on the herbs used by the distiller, and it can be a milky white instead.
  • Absinthe Spain (high proof hemp flavored) actually does not mix well with water

The Wormwood Society is the association for absinthe. Their website has some interesting information about the drink’s history.

Old school (and we were told proper) preparation of absinthe
Old school (and we were told proper) preparation of absinthe

Absinthe de Vinchy (90 proof/$15): This was the lightest of the three. It had a very refreshing taste, my friend said it was not unlike drinking a Hendricks gin and tonic.

Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian (120 proof/$14): This was shockingly easy drinking, be warned. I was expecting to turn my nose up in an attempt to avoid hurling but not so. The anise flavor in this absinthe is stronger than the de Vinchy and the licorice does not dominate the taste. A great choice for beginners, this one (from Austria) would be  my recommendation.

Absinthe Jade (150 proof/$18): This had a very strong licorice flavor. Susan mentioned this is the choice of connoisseurs because it numbs the roof and back of the tongue. It does, that’s for sure. Mr. Os loved it, and gave it high marks, which is significant because he’s been enjoying absinthe since 1999.

You won’t find me drinking absinthe every weekend, that’s for sure. But Libertine is a DC gem thanks to its bartenders, and it’s a great place to take out-of-towners or to have an amazing specialty cocktail. The staff are real mixologists, the syrups are created by hand, the vegetables are pickeled on premise and they work together to make unique specialty drinks.

After having absinthe we stayed on and enjoyed some fabulous conversation with them and enjoyed a few of the drinks. The mulled over is terrific, if you like spice try the bad hombre and Mr Os says they make the best Manhattan in town. Again, that’s high praise, because it is his drink of choice. It didn’t hurt that the bartender shares his opinion that shaking a Manhattan is a huge no-no.

They don’t have a website but if you are on Twitter, you can follow them @LibertineDC. In case it wasn’t obvious, I also recommend visiting them at 2435 18th Street in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.