Tuesday, August 24, 2010

City Culture in a Small Village

How many of us enjoy the restaurants and theater of downtown DC?  And how many of us would like it better without the hassle of traffic and paid parking?
Well I have news for you -- the Village of Shirlington in Arlington, Virginia has everything you want and nothing you don't.  You can enjoy cabaret theater, musicals, and plays at the Signature Theater, and eat at any number of ethnic and American restaurants.  There are fountains, outdoor seating, and free parking -- thanks to a very walkable area.
Signature Theater won a Tony for the best regional theater and has two theaters with a show in them at all times.  If you attend a cabaret, you can get wine and cheese at the theater and take it with you to watch the show.  For the young residents of Shirlington, the singers in the cabaret are perfect -- young, vibrant, and talented.  For that same crowd, there are a series of restaurants to meet the hip village that Shirlington has become.  These restaurants include Busboys & Poets and Capital City Brewery, two of the region's favorites.
There is also a movie theater, a frozen yogurt shop, and a wonderful bakery/coffee house.  Indeed, all the town is missing, as a friend astutely commented, is a piano bar.
For the young crowd budding around Shirlington, dinner and a movie or dinner and a show is just the beginning!  Aside from the pool hall in town, there really isn't anywhere to go for the later Friday and Saturday night hours.  I'd bet that this town could support a couple of different kind of late night establishments -- such as a piano bar and a comedy bar.
For those of you who live in NoVa, want the culture of DC without the hassle, give Shirlington a try.  Just do this fan a favor -- don't spread the word too far!  Leave some parking for us regulars. ;-)

Street & Road Map of Arlington, Virginia VA - Printed poster size wall atlas of your home town

Sunday, August 15, 2010

National History Nearby

Many of us know the name, “Stonewall Jackson”, and some even remember the location “Bull Run Creek”.  For local residents, these names don't need to be abstract names from the history books.  You can go to the place where General Jackson got his nickname and where the first American Civil War battle occurred.
At the Battlefield of Mananas, you can learn all about the two Civil War battles that occurred in Mananas.   

Interestingly, Congress set aside the historic battlefields in the thick of World War II – an indication that one war made them realize that we'd want to know all about the history and sites of earlier wars.  The first sad detail that you learn is that because this was the first battle of the war, aside from the leading generals, the soldiers were as green as they come.  Also, the blue & grey uniforms weren't issued yet, so it was hard to tell who fought for what side of the war.  The flags also looked quite similar, so some people died from friendly fire and by mistaking the enemy for friends.  Naively, the soldiers thought that war is glamorous, and in the first battle of Mananas, they were fighting so close to each other that all they'd see are dead bodies of young men just like them.  There was, they realized, no glamor in war.

Stone Wall Jackson statue
The great thing about this historic site is that the current roads are built upon what was there at the time, so the tavern that they turned into a Federalist hospital is easy to get to.  So is the site of the New York City volunteer army, and the Stone Bridge which became a central part of the battle that morning.  The first battle site gives you a brief tour of their grounds and a narrative of what occurred on the day of battle.  They also give you a handout with a driving tour that includes the second battle, and the sites for both Mananas battles.  I liked the driving tour, it felt a bit like a scavenger hunt for historic locations.
This site is very close to anyone in the DC area, and in fact my drive home replicated the Federalist army’s retreat back to the Capital!  I will let you visit yourself for the history lesson, but give you the following tidbits: 
  • part of the Federalist guarded the Stone Bridge to keep the Confederate army from invading Washington DC, where President Lincoln was,
  • this was the first time railroads were used to transport American soldiers for combat, and
  • Thomas Jefferson knew that the nation would fight about slavery.  He thought it should be abolished, although his vast estate was supported by slaves.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Special Edition: Small Summer Haven for the Busy

Remember when we were small children, and we loved splashing around in the pool?  Various digits would prune, our lips would turn blue, and our suntan lotion would wear off, and yet we loved the water on the hot summer days.

I just revisited this simple, exquisite escape from the humdrum -- my neighbors belong to a neighborhood pool "club".  On their way to the pool one afternoon, they rang my door and asked if I wanted to join them.  The adult of the pair said that there are cold drinks there, and tables with umbrellas.  I don't know what, but something about this relaxed, outdoor, social activity sounded especially appealing.  I went with them!

Upon arriving there was the charming and familiar scene of various towheads of all ages splashing around in the pool.  Some with siblings or friends, and a few with parents.  Chairs and parents were lined up near the shallow end, watching.  At the other end were picnic tables where some people were planning to have dinner.
Then the life guard blew his whistle, and the children cleared out quickly -- adult swim!  Although there is an ever-present lap lane, for ten minutes every hour, adults have the pool the themselves.  During this time, of course, the children want some treat from the kitchen, the vending machine, or their parents' cooler.

We were there for a few hours that afternoon, and there was something about that particular afternoon activity that I loved.  It wasn't just lying around the pool, and it wasn't just talking to the neighbors.  It was both -- and doing something that felt as summery and natural as going to a baseball game or celebrating July 4th with a grilled hot dog.

Of course, the cost of pool membership for a season is more than my annual gym membership, which makes me say "yikes"!  My gym has a pool, if I really want to swim.  But visiting for a few hours, it is easy to see why parents join.  Their kids have hours and hours of cool-off time in a safe, controlled area with their friends and neighbors.  The parents can sit and relax while eyeballing their children.  One of the parents can even swim during adult swim.  They bring lunch, consume beverages of all types, and maybe get a tan.  Not a bad way to spend a summer day!

So ... to all you parents out there ... I'm sure you know already, but if you don't, consider a community pool membership for your towheads.  Each of them them is a fish or frog waiting to come out and let loose in the pool!  And, you will probably enjoy this activity too ... most of the parents I saw had a good time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Botanical Garden: Mid-town Peace

This weekend we had nice weather, so I wanted my outing to be outdoors.  I decided to visit the Botanical Garden in downtown Washington.  Most of the garden is the conservatory green house, but because of that, there is a great variety of plants to see.
Inside The Conservatory the visitor can be transported to another place, like Hawaii or a dessert, or another time like the Primeval days.  You can also find plants to suit your daily needs in the Garden court, which has spices, fibers, woods, cosmetics, and beverages.  There is also a Children's Garden, although the Jungle area seems enough to please most children.
There are also information displays throughout the conservatory and some of the outer buildings.  I noticed that there are many signs about doing things like gardening roses environmentally and the concerns about water conservation and distribution.  Many plants were labeled as endangered, including Echinacea, which is an all-natural plant used to boost the immune system during cold & flu season.  There was also a display about the "CSI" of finding out what happened during the Irish potato blight!
One of the nicer things about the Garden is that right in the middle of downtown, there are plenty of seats in the middle of beautiful and fragrant environs for the average commuter working in the Capitol to sit and eat lunch.
On a quirky note, the writer in me wonders why all the political drama movies that have secret meetings never occurred in the Conservatory, or a studio copycat of it.  It really would be such a neat place to arrange a "secret" meeting.
For those of you that are in downtown area around lunchtime, think about packing your lunch and bringing it there to eat.  You'll find yourself enjoying your lunch and tempted to wander inside!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Operation Oasis: Downtime Needed

On occasion, or perhaps more than that, we sometimes don't want to learn anything new or drive a long way, we just want down time.  We want to relax, and, as if we're a battery, we want to recharge.
I just had such a weekend.  Last weekend I had a plumbing surprise and a power outage one right after another.  I went through a week of feeling inexplicably tired, which ended with a team mate's resignation at work on Friday.  By the time Saturday morning came, I was tired enough to let my loving cat Tigger coax me into mid-morning nap.  I still don't know how he knew that I needed it, but he did.
So that set the tone for this weekend, I would not explore, but recharge.  I chose to visit one of my old haunts, Marina Place in Alexandria, off George Washington highway, a skip & a jump from National Airport.  So why this place?  The marina really has something for everyone.  For the plane fanatic, you can watch planes take off and land at National Airport, and for the boat lover, you can watch sailors leave the marina and sail around.  The animal lover can feed the ducks in the Potomac, and if you're hungry, there is a snack bar and a restaurant right there.  Even if you're bicycling or jogging in the area, its a good spot to take a break.
When you want to recharge, you can bring a book, your sketch pad, or your needlework to this place, sit outside in the nice weather, and pursue your hobby in a spot that's always peaceful, always beautiful, and welcomes you during all hours and weather.  So I sat there with my book until the foreboding, rainy weather rolled in, and slowly left.  Some people were still sitting there when I left, with their baby, their dog, or their child.  And they, too, were just trying to get some rest before the new work week.