pumpkins

A couple years ago, about this time of year, I excitedly bought several pumpkins at a farm stand. When we got home, I realized the small pumpkins would line up perfectly in our windowsill. As I placed them there, I had a fleeting thought, “What if some kid grabs them and throws them at our house?” But my admiration of their friendliness and homey-ness quickly supplanted that disturbing vision, and the pumpkins stayed in the windowsill. At least for a little while.

The next morning, the pumpkins were gone.

The good part, I suppose, is that no one threw them at our house. There was no trace of those pumpkins.

Lately, I feel like time is moving in some crazy vortex and leaving me behind. I’ve been caught up in a lot of different things, not all of them pleasant, and suddenly  I find we’re in mid-to-late October…? WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? The last time I looked, it was late summer. But that does not appear to be the case anymore: it is cold and rainy and I cannot, in fact, remember the last time I actually saw the sun. Today I wore a hat, gloves and a coat (mostly because I was sitting outside all day — such layering would not have been totally necessary for a brief stroll).

Clearly, we are not in summer anymore.

Anywhim, in an effort to actually tune into the world and seasons around me  — and I dunno, maybe appreciate them, rather than just glowering in a dark funk with no sunlight   — I am trying to stop and recognize the positive aspects of autumn. For me, this means: drinking apple cider, making tasty recipes that use squash, and noticing the leaves. It also meant buying a large pumpkin on Saturday.

But now the question is, where to put this friendly pumpkin? It would look nicest on on front steps (that is, if it ever stops raining. and I think it is entirely possible that it may NEVER stop raining). But will someone steal it?

I’ve decided this could be a test. Perhaps the measure of gentrification is how long it takes for your pumpkin to go missing…

The pumpkin test! I will let you know how it goes.

My across-the-street neighbor had her house painted two weeks ago, which set off a chain-reaction of house paintings. When Wilfredo the Paint Man is done with our house, he will have completed at least five houses within three blocks.

Note to painters looking for jobs: find a gentrifying neighborhood where most of the houses look really junky with old peeling paint. Ask a fair price, do a good job. Watch the job offers FLOOD to you.

The transformation of our across-the-street neighbor’s house was impressive. It went from shabby, paint-peeling, dirty gray to a clean, smooth, dark purplish blue. It looks fantastic … and I am not a person who generally gets excited about purple houses. Inspired by the sparkley new paint job, my neighbor bought new plants and chairs, cleaned her porch and has plans to take down some fencing. Suddenly with the new paint job, all that junky stuff stuck out like a sore thumb.

We had been going back-and-forth about getting a paint job. While our house is nicely painted and re-done on the inside, it looks pretty terrible from the outside. It is light grey, with bumpy peeling paint … and some very charming patches with no paint at all. Obviously, it needs a paint job. But then we thought, there is something to be said for camouflage — no one can tell our house is nice from the outside. Burglar deterrent.

In the end, we gave in. It was so easy. There Wilfredo was, doing his great job up and down the street. Then suddenly there he was, ringing our doorbell and saying he would start the next day. So if the weather holds up, we could have a newly painted house in a few days!

When I started this blog, we lived 3 blocks east of gentrification. Now I would say it’s more like one or two. We’re still the kind of neighborhood where some people plant flowers and others pee on them. But it’s mostly flower-planters, not urinators, that are moving into the neighborhood. And the signs of the gentried classes seems to be getting ever closer.

For instance, a new wine and dessert bar is soon to open soon just five blocks from us!

I’ve joked with my neighbors that I will watch the vagrants’ liquor store on our corner turn into a wine and cheese shop.  Perhaps I’ll be right.

I think this anecdote perfectly illustrates where my neighborhood is in the process of gentrification:

As on many city streets, we have a sidewalk in front of our house, and a stripe of dirt betwixt the sidewalk and the road. Some other streets in DC have flowers and pretty things in these “flower boxes” or “tree boxes” ( as in the picture above — that’s not my street). On our street, there are some tall, fairly attractive but incredibly stinky gecko trees. Other than that, we basically just have clay-like dirt, weeds, and people’s trash lining the sidewalk. Beautiful.

My neighbor B started a flower revolution in the spring. He took a shovel to that clay-like dirt and planted rows of impatiens and marigolds in front of his house. We did not think they would ever survive the poor conditions — bad soil, not a ton of sunlight, people tramping on them. We were all shocked when his flowers were still there a week later.

So, on Memorial Day, my next door neighbor and I also planted flowers — making it three houses in a row with flowers out front. B was very proud that he started the flower-power movement.

“Yes, I see how it is, you have to keep up with your neighbor now. Watch, I will show you how to water the flowers,” he bragged. (Read that in a very slight Madagascaran accent. lovely. I love B.)

Two months later, our flowers are still mostly alive, shockingly enough. People toss trash onto them, but there has not been a lot of noticable floral vandalism. Some neighbors across the street even joined the revolution in recent weeks, planting their own flowers.

So, you might say we are moving on up — fancy gentrifying street with flowers, eh? But wait.

One of my across-the-street neighbors reported that she has seen a man urinating on the flowers. Right there on the sidewalk, in the late afternoon after work.

So, THAT is where we are in my neighborhood. It’s the kind of place where people will plant flowers, and other people will pee on them in broad daylight.

target-card-color.jpg

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.

a capitol fourthI started this blog months ago as an experiment, but told no one other than my husband. So it was even easier to *stop* it than it was to start. But what about you, my faithful imaginary reader? Did you think I died on the Fourth of July, caught in the crossfire of fireworks and gunfire? Do not fear.

Months later, I am here to report What Really Happened on July Fourth.

We spent the morning with our adorable godson, because his mother was ill and his dad needed sleep. But most of all, because we love him (and his parents!). We bought a chicken and some potato salad on the way home, then packed our picnic backpack to go see the Capitol Fourth extravaganza. My husband, heretofore referred to as “Ned,” had never spent July 4th in our nation’s capitol, so we wanted to do the tourist thing.

We rode our bikes down toward the mall and soon joined a peleton of DC police who were also cycling mall-ward to patrol the festivities. They let us join their line of bikes — awesome. The highlight: they played a little police siren from their bikes and we ran a red light. woot.

W e headed to the Capitol grounds to get in line for the concert. It was a pleasant, sunny day, but there were reports of thunderstorms outside the city, so the police held us in line while they watched the storm patterns. Eventually, they decide the storm risk was too great and told everyone to practice “operation safe harbor.” This basically meant that we should get out of line and file into one of the Senate’s underground parking garages. People were not happy. They wanted to stay in line.

We went inside the garage and tried to make the best of the situation with a bit of our picnic. But it was not exactly pleasant with all those grouchy people in that tight space … and no idea of when or if we would get out.

I suddenly realized, “I know what an anxiety attack must feel like : this.”

I had to get out of the safe harbor. It was not safe for me.

We walked in the *dangerous* rain to my nearby office and watched the weather satellites on the computer while I cleaned my cube. The storm subsided. We walked outside just in the nick of time. They were letting people back on the Capitol grounds, and we made it through security before the concert started.

The perennially cheesy host this year was Tony Danza. Other talent included Little Richard, who looked and sounded way past his prime, sadly; the fabulous Bebe Neuwirth; some really enjoyable country singer; a very good American Idol loser; and the always-wonderful National Symphony Orchestra playing the 1812 Overture. The symphony alone — with its live cannon fire and concurrent fireworks display — is worth the price of admission … which, as it turns out, is free. More importantly, it is worth the wait in line. Or in this case, the near panic attack.

Having completed our patriotic evening, it was time to return home. We were on bikes, which allowed us to avoid the extremely crowded metro and ridiculous traffic. It also allowed us to be in the midst of the action as the firework-fueled patriotism swept across the nation’s capitol.

There were at-home legal and illegal fireworks blasting off EVERYWHERE. Sparklers and small fountains are about the only things technically allowed, but people had ALL KINDS of fireworks — including stuff that looked almost as good as what they were shooting off by the Washington Monument. And since people in DC don’t really have driveways or yards from which to shoot their fireworks, they stand on sidewalks, lean on cars; they shoot fireworks right next to their houses or from their front stoops. Some people had a long line of fountains in the middle of the road; others were throwing bottle rockets wherever. And who knows what kind of gunfire might have been accompanying it.

It was wonderful! Also, petrifying.

So, our journey home was sort of like riding bikes through a beautiful-and-not-entirely-deadly warzone. It was Ned’s favorite part of the day. My favorite part was when we came home, sat behind our house and watched the extensive display of fireworks overhead in our alley.

I had thought nothing could beat fireworks on the mall accompanied by the 1812 overture, but there is something wonderful about seeing them right above your head in your very own backyard, home sweet home in your hilarious neighborhood

God bless America. God bless our ‘hood.