March 2008


Washington, D.C.’s most beloved cherry blossom trees are in danger. A wild and ravenous creature is creeping through the tidal basin, felling trees and leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Beaver alert!!

Some of you may remember the Great Beaver Controversy of 1999, when an enterprising young beaver sought to build a dam across the tidal basin, with the unfortunate building material choice of D.C.’s beloved cherry trees.

Get ready for some more Buggs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd-esque escapades, as the National Park Service tries to protect the trees from the ever-elusive tree-chomping animals.

The beavers are back.

I noticed on my lunchtime run that park service personnel had put mesh guards around a lot of the cherry trees — a suspicious sign. I asked one of the park rangers, “What is going on?”

Park ranger: Beaver control.

Me: Oh no, really!?

Park ranger: They’re back.

Me: Have they been chomping on the trees?

Park ranger: We’ve lost half-a-dozen trees already.

I know the beaver is just trying to do what beavers do … but this is an enemy invasion. Guard your cherry trees.

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Today is technically the first day of Spring, so it seems like a good time for an update on area flora. Growing up in South Carolina, I remember spring bursting forth in all its floral glory around Eastertime. But here in D.C., Spring seems to come much more gradually (although apparently earlier every year, according to climate scientists).

Currently in bloom: forsythia, pear trees and some of the magnolia tulip-trees. It’s a relief to see the tulip-trees, which have had some problems with budding too early and freezing in recent years.

We also have some daffodils, those cheery harbingers of springtime. Their yellow faces smile at me.

And the cherry trees… I like to check on their progress every day when I run. On Monday there just one tree in bloom at the Tidal Basin. Today there are two more. It looks like the hundreds of other trees will burst forth next weekend. Currently, they have green buds with the hot pink tips of flowers at the ends.  From a distance, they look like they’re in a red haze.

The smaller group of cherry trees by the National Gallery of Art (3rd St. and Madison Ave.) are all flowering.  It looks like they’ll hit their peak just in time for Easter. nice! There are also two trees in bloom in front of the Hirshorn. One little young tree there is always one of the first to go. I remember one year it started to bloom before a cold snap. I felt so bad for the little eager tree, I put my gloves on it as I went running. (I later reclaimed the gloves, since they seemed to be doing more good for me than the little tree.)

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I have been remiss in posting — please forgive me. I am not passed out on the floor somewhere under a mop and bucket. I’m just sluggish. Perhaps I could use an interest rate cut or something.

I have several half-composed follow-up posts on Target, bread-baking and the in-law visit — all of which were just dandy, thank you. Also on the mouse in the house, which is not so dandy. But now that we are in throes of Holy Week, those are going to have to wait until next week. At the end of work today, I will pretty much be pitching a tent at church.

I love Holy Week. And I love the services of Holy Week, especially in all their majesty with the beautiful music and liturgy at St. Paul’s, K St. Our priest likes to say that you cannot participate in the full liturgy of Holy Week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) without it changing your life. I agree. For me, it has become like a vital annual retreat.

It’s like entering a different world, as we participate in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. I suspect many more people in D.C. will be watching basketball than going to church this weekend. But there is nowhere I would rather be than at St. Paul’s (incidentally if you are a DC pal and would like to join me, see the list of services here. the ones in bold are the important ones. call me if you’d like a ride).

I remember one year as I was riding my bike home from Good Friday, passing all these people sitting outside at restaurant patios, and I was kind of astounded to see that the world was puttering along just like normal for everyone. It was like, “What are you doing? Do you know what is happening?!” It is probably a shadow of how people feel when they get a happy hour invite after someone they know has died or been diagnosed with an illness. Or perhaps similar to how a bride feels when she finds out — what?!! — there is a huge war protest in D.C. on her wedding day. OK, maybe not like that.

For those who are celebrating Holy Week, today is Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum Sacrum, the three holy days that lead up to Easter. “Maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum,” commandment. We remember Christ’s new commandment: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The priests wash 12 parishioners feet and the choir sings this beautiful hymn (which was also sung at our wedding):

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

mopping woman

Ned’s parents are visiting for the weekend. They will be staying in our house for the first time. So it’s a pretty big in-laws-in-the-house-nervousness rite of passage for me. We’ve been doing a lot of cleaning.

One might call it a cleaning FRENZY.

Ned’s mother has notably higher standards of cleanliness than me. For instance, before hosting a party, she likes to be sure the windows have been washed. I, on the other hand, am just trying to make sure all my piles are neatly stacked.

So this was a pretty big week for us. It started with the cleansing of the magazine baskets on Sunday. By Tuesday I had laundered all sheets and towels and actually put all my clothes away. Last night, Ned miraculously rearranged our wee closet/garage/office to make it more closely resemble an office (office/closet). He washed windows and scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom. I dusted places I had never dusted before, swept and mopped several times (doubling the number of times I have *ever* mopped some of those wooden floors). We vacuumed at 12:30 a.m. It was literally back-wrenching: my back is seriously sore today from mopping.

An aside: after reading a NYTimes article this week hailing push-ups as the ultimate sign of health, I decided it was time to develop a push-up regimen. Later that day, Ned and I stopped to drop 20 in one of our regular lunchtime runs on the mall, and I discovered I could not reach the push-up standard for a 40-year-old woman. I declared a need for more upper-body workouts. Last night, my arms and back aching from mopping, Ned pointed out to me: “You don’t need to do push-ups or weights, just mop more.” Thanks. Maybe someday I can also incorporate baby-carrying for the ultimate Mom/Housewife-look-at-these-guns arms.

Back to the cleaning frenzy. The house looks significantly better than it did before. You would think that I would feel quite satisfied. But no. The dirty spots in the house stick out all the more. I was aghast to discover a small pile of dust in a corner this morning.

As we prepare to enter Holy Week in the church calendar, the world is heavy with symbolism for me. So, this morning, on hands and knees picking at dirt spots, I found myself thinking: “I suppose this is like Lent.” We throw things out, we strip things down, we fast, we pray: “Lord, cleanse me, a sinner.” We attempt to sin less. And our sins become even more apparent in the process.

Forgive me.

There was a huge five-alarm fire last night in an apartment building not too far from me. No one was injured, but about 200 people were displaced. Low-income residents were the most affected.

Neighbors Consejo is taking donations of food and clothing for displaced residents. They will be open from 9 am until midnight through March 19 to accept donations. If you’d like to drop something off, just go to 3118 16th Street, NW. Or if you are one of my friendly readers in the Commonwealth, you can just give stuff to me when I see you next, and I will happily drop it off for you.

The timing of the fire is interesting. Just this week, the Washington Post has been running an investigative series about landlords who let their buildings deteriorate in the hopes that residents would leave. Once the buildings are vacant, they can turn them into high-priced condos without the hassle of complying with D.C.’s tenant protection laws. Councilmember Jim Graham said the building was typical of those described in the Post articles.

But not totally typical. The difference with this building is that the tenants were actually successful in working with city officials to force their Pennsylvania-dwelling landlord to improve conditions. He fixed some things, but many tenants left in frustration. Where tenants left, the landlord renovated apartments in one wing of the building and rented those out at higher rates. Lower-income residents stayed in the larger northern wing, which is where the fire was concentrated. The high-end part of the building was not as damaged. They are investigating the cause of the fire; it is not clear yet if any other code violations might have caused it.

capitoltile

As a reporter, I spend a lot of time skulking around in hallways waiting for Important People to come out and answer my questions (and this is seriously what I spent 6 hours doing yesterday). So, I also spend a lot of time walking back and forth in the Capitol building, puttering from the House side to the Senate side and back, trying to get the news.

My favorite route is on the second floor, through statuary hall and the big dome and all the most grand and beautiful parts of the Capitol. But I also love when I go down a stairway I never knew existed and — lo and behold — there is some huge beautiful painting of George Washington or one of his pals, just saying hello.  But my favorite artwork is actually on the floor — the ornate, painted Capitol tiles. Sometimes as I walk along, watching the stream of colors beneath my feet, I think, “this is what I will someday miss the most about my job…”

Reporters get to sneak around a lot of places in the Capitol, but the main thoroughfare through which I travel is also crowded with tour groups. In places like statuary hall, there are just too many of them to try to avoid, so I inevitably walk in front of people taking photos. Since we’re in the digital age, I do not feel too guilty about it — it’s not like I am wasting people’s film. But today I had at least three flashes go off in my eyes, and I began to wonder, how many people around the country have an accidental picture of me? Small, sad reporter, clutching notebook, looking down at the tiles…forgive me.

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Today a new Target opens in my neighborhood of Columbia Heights, and everyone is all a-flutter over what this will mean for the future of a neighborhood where commerce was previously dominated by pupuserias, liquor stores and sidewalk mango stands.

But I would like to step away from the neighborhood or city-wide implications for a moment and think about what Target will mean to me. And that is: awesomeness (mostly).

I prefer small neighborhood stores to big box chains just as much as the next yuppie, but there was nowhere within walking distance where I could buy trendy and affordable furniture, housewares, baby shower gifts, cute napkins and craft supplies. To procure such necessary items, I would have to putter out to Virginia or Maryland, leaving a trail of carbon footprints behind me. But no longer: I can walk ten minutes to Target.

My affinity for Target used to be a bit of a family joke. Since I lived in DC without a car, I couldn’t get my trendy bargain shopping fix very easily. So whenever I would return home to South Carolina for Christmas, it was like a purchasing feast day after months of fasting. I would find myself at Target, reveling in the post-Christmas sales and stocking up on holiday plates and napkins or the odd gingerbread-house-making kits for my 12th Night party. I would end up with an extra suitcase full of Target stuff. My family members were always a bit aghast/amused by my hoarding.

Now what will I do with a new Target within 6 blocks of my house? I will find it easier to purchase gifts for betrothed or pregnant friends. I will buy more black dress socks, instead of alternating the same two pairs. I will probably buy some decorative items that I do not need. I do not think I will feel the need to hoard … except maybe a bit after Christmas.

I will marvel at the foot traffic, weep at the car traffic and pray that this provides more good than bad for the community. And I will walk right past the Target pizza stand, and still support my local pupuserias, tacquerias and the beloved fish in the hood — all of which can beat out chain cuisine any day of the week.

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