Monuments at Night

monuments at night, dc

July 3, 2014, Washington, DC: An old friend I hadn’t seen in about ten years visited Washington for the first time last summer with his family. After a pizza dinner at Matchbox, his young daughter implored us see the “mommy mints” at night.

It was the evening before a DC fourth of July and Neil Diamond was rehearsing for the next day’s Independence Day concert over the loudspeakers around the Capitol. As we walked across the east plaza, our new little friend stopped in her tracks and insisted we join hands to spin around in a circle to the music. Moments later, a fireworks display erupted over at Nationals Park. We watched the colors burst into the sky behind the Cannon Building, and I stood there in awe of all that was happening in my beautiful neighborhood.

One night before the big show, this little celebration was entirely ours.

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City Swimming Holes

Navy Yard splash pool DC

July 1, 2014, Washington, DC: It’s still early, but the temperature in the city is pushing 90. In the southeast neighborhood of Navy Yard, campers in bathing suits rush down a sloped lawn into the water. Parents lather sunscreen on their children, leave their flip flops on the edge, and step in themselves. Even before a mid-morning snack, kids in tiny sunhats and rashguards have filled the splash pool by the Anacostia River.

Georgetown Waterfront Park

Mid-afternoon. The heat of the day. A family visiting Washington discovers the fountain by the Potomac River on Georgetown’s waterfront. All morning they’ve been asking themselves why they opted to visit this swampy city at the height of summer, but now the children run free in soaked t-shirts and shorts. An ice cream truck on the corner repeats its tune, and this trip to the nation’s capital seems like a good idea after all.

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Early evening in downtown Washington. Businessmen and women leave the office and fill in the gaps between tourists lining the fountain in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. They take off their summer flats or closed-toed shoes, roll up their slacks, and dip their feet in. Through graceful arcs of water, they gaze at the grand columns of the National Archives across the street. They take a breath, put the day behind them, imagine Europe. They zone out for a bit, some longer than others, before thinking about what’s for dinner and retreating into the city’s neighborhoods with hours of sunlight still ahead.

There’s a swimming hole on the slopes of Mt. Tam in the shadow of tall, dark trees on the outskirts of Muir Woods. The hole is alarmingly deep and the water is ice cold even after a long sweaty hike higher on the mountain. It’ll take your breath away every time.

If You Go…
National Gallery of Art (http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb.html)

Georgetown Waterfront Park (http://www.georgetownwaterfrontpark.org)
Yards Park (http://www.yardspark.org)

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The Upside to Cabin Fever

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June 26, 2014, Washington, DC: I’ve spent more time home than ever since little one arrived. She made her debut just before the temperature hit sweltering and the azaleas out front wilted away in the midday sun. Without warning, the heat of June cut short our daily outings and postponed strolls with friends until after dinner in the shade of evening. Within the confines of our air-conditioned oasis, I’ve teetered between going downright stir crazy and suddenly loving this home more than ever — in large part because the little person who lives here now has transformed it.

That’s why it felt serendipitous to finally get around to reading the rest of Kinfolk’s Home issue recently during an afternoon nap. I happened to open to an essay called “A New Lease on Life” and it was just perfect. It was everything I’d want to tell you here if its author Nikaela Marie Peters hadn’t so eloquently already done so.

“When my son was born, my house became alive,” she writes. “I noticed it in the first week. The structure I’d come to accept as ordinary—an early-1920s middle-class home with a stone foundation, hardwood floors and limestone moldings in the porch—started acting extraordinarily. In the otherwise silent night, save for the sounds of a suckling newborn, I was sure I could hear the house breathing.”

If you subscribe to Kinfolk, (I highly recommend!), you can read the essay here in its entirety. It’s all quite beautiful.

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Our Annual Adventure

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“Come sit with me in summer chairs,
Behind us, the old hotel chatters with echoes.
Shadows fall on the lawn as dark as pitch, deep as the evergreen sea.
We speak of our heart’s desires, make lists: A sunny courtyard with pots of rosemary and a caramel colored cat; one more ripe tomato; one more conversation with our mother; walking in shoes that speak Italian; kisses that reach our toes; a world at peace.
Mist blurs blue balsams on the horizon, comes to settle on our knees.
We wear old sweaters and wait in summer chairs for rainbows, for one more golden chance.”

-Artist Diane Hanna

June 24, 2014, Washington, DC: Husband and I were married several years ago in the little town of Irvington, Virginia on the peninsula known as the Northern Neck, and each June we return to coastal Virginia to reminisce about that epic party. Map in hand, we explore various towns and waterways that lead to the Chesapeake Bay, drink Virginia wine, sit outside and dream of an eventual summer home, paddleboard on Carter’s Creek, eat oysters, make plans. I love how that wedding weekend has evolved into our own little family tradition, one that’s open-ended enough to be a bit different every year.

Are there trips you take with family every summer? Maybe it began with a horse race or a soccer game or a surprisingly good meal. Where do you go and how did the tradition begin? What do you value most about these annual adventures?

If You Go to Irvington:
Hope and Glory Inn (http://www.hopeandglory.com); The Dog and Oyster Vineyard (http://www.virginiawine.org/wineries/the-dog-and-oyster-vineyard); The Tides Inn (http://www.tidesinn.com); Nate’s Trick Dog Cafe (http://www.trickdogcafe.com)

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dogandoyster

Speaking of The Places You’ll Go…

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June 18, 2014, Washington, DC: 
I remember receiving Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” as a graduation gift long ago. I loved every word at age 18 as much as I did at 5, and I appreciate his book even more today. But this weekend, I was also compelled by the words of another doctor, likewise offering advice to graduates about the power of place.

This gem from doctor and writer Atul Gawande, appearing at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, was included in a compilation of excerpts from 2014 commencement speakers in Sunday’s New York Times:

“One thing I came to realize after college was that the search for purpose is really a search for place, not an idea. It is a search for a location in the world where you want to be part of making things better for others in your own small way. It could be a classroom where you teach, a business where you work, a neighborhood where you live. The key is, if you find yourself in a place where you stop caring — where your greatest concern becomes only you — get out of there.”

Isn’t that terrific? I thought those words deserved some space here on Neighborhood Nomads, both as a reflection on the places we’ve been and on those still ahead that we’ve yet to explore.

Tiny Houses & The Culture of Stuff

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June 12, 2014, Washington, DC: Home on a cloudy weekday morning: The dishwasher is humming. The dryer is broken. Miniature wet clothes hang off chairs, drape over the table, and dangle off the bicycle and stroller in this room now littered with baby products. In addition to the many joys that arrived with our newborn, she also came with a lot of stuff.

I left all that stuff at home earlier this month to take a quick tour of Boneyard Studios a tiny house community in the DC neighborhood of Stronghold that’s showcasing the merits of living small with a lot less gear.

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Miles from Monday: A Place to Pitch a Tent

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Miles from Monday is a travel series focused on venturing out of the spaces we inhabit during our work week and retreating to landscapes that feel far from routine.

June 2, 2014, Washington, DC: It was thumbtacked to a bulletin board in Eastport’s Leeward Market last week, just across the creek from downtown Annapolis. “Wanted, a place to pitch a tent… just a safe spot to sleep under the stars… my phone fell in the river so email is temporarily the best way to contact me.” A vine of flowers, birds and sunshine surrounded the message. Simple. Idealistic. Handwritten.

Maybe that’s why I found the note refreshing instead of naive. It was a throwback to an era that preceded the online status update, a return to a time when a lost cell phone was not the end of the world. It was a retreat to days when a bulletin board in an old deli was the optimal to contact the neighbors. It was a reminder of a former phase of my own life when solo travel was the greatest adventure imaginable and all a girl could ask for was a safe place to sleep under the stars.

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