Breakfast Time on Barracks Row

photo 3 copy 2August 7, 2014, Washington, DC: “Good morning! I didn’t know you were open!”

“We’re not. But you’re about to get a doughnut!”

So began this August morning on Capitol Hill. During my outing down 7th and 8th streets to peek inside the doughnut shop coming soon to Barracks Row, I both met a neighbor who usually keeps to himself and had a spontaneous coffee-doughnut breakfast with a new business owner and a marine. This is something I love about my neighborhood: the random interactions with people we’d never meet otherwise if we didn’t all share the same living space.

One thing I appreciate about cities is their physical variation — the way architectural details from different eras occupy a single block, the way old and new butt up against one another like old friends. But the same can be said of a city’s people. In the neighborhood I call home, residents from all walks of life cross paths during the course of a busy day. And District Doughnut co-founder Greg Menna is certain a good old-fashioned doughnut, individually crafted in small batches by pastry chef Christine Schaefer, will appeal to them all.

Case in point, Greg says: “My dad would never be caught dead buying a cupcake.”

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A City’s Shared Gardens

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July 23, 2014, Washington, DC: I used to love walking through Fort Mason’s not-so-secret city garden when I lived in San Francisco. I’d see people awake in the early morning, hard at work tending to their tomatoes and peppers and roses. Their tiny plots were so precious to them. I remember thinking how lovely it would be to one day have a little square of my own there in the shadow of the tall trees and footpath lining the San Francisco Bay, just over the crest of the hill from triathletes swimming laps in open water at the Aquatic Park. I also remember thinking I might not ever live in one place long enough to make it happen. It takes a large degree of certainty about a place to commit to growing produce. It implies a person has a family dinner table to bring it home to. It suggests they’re not packing any boxes just yet and will remain there to see the bulbs they planted months ago bloom in spring. As much as I loved that shared city garden, I wasn’t sure I’d ever commit to one place long enough to grow fruits and vegetables. Even in my favorite city in the world.

More than ten years later, and as confident as a wandering soul can be that I’m not moving for at least the foreseeable future, I still admire the gardeners who tend to these shared spaces. When I walk past the Hilton Community Garden close to home on Capitol Hill or the Biltmore Triangle Garden in my old neighborhood of Adams Morgan or the communal garden in Shaw that a neighborhood nomad introduced me to not long ago, I admire the gardeners there for the same reasons I admired those at Fort Mason. They’re committed. They intend to stay put. They are certain enough about this place they call home to put a stake in the ground and declare they belong.

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Monuments at Night

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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

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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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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.