Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn's Promise

 Fall has never been my favorite season.  "Fall" down..."Fall" off the wagon...Inspite of the beautiful color, Fall feels like an ending, like a heartache. 

But this year I've been watching the color change more closely than usual.  Like the slow cooling of a valley at dusk,  the sun kissed edges of the leaves give way to a deep blush on the entire canopy.  The colors are so vivid you won't find them in any painter's pallet--golden leaf tips become a blaze in red, fade to a burnt orange, and on the lowest branches, green leaves yet untouched finish the spectrum.

I admire the trees.  Sentries of our landscape, they are the time keepers. The rhythm of the forest, the neighborhood, and the street, they have witnessed it all. Each year they prepare for this very moment. Once they get going, the fall foliage rivals any fireworks display. With their brilliant color, they show us how to live big, live fully, live now.  They don't hold back, they don't save some color for later.  The trees are not worried that they will run out of beautiful.  They are not afraid that it will be wasted. They are not concerned with investing too much in the production and coming out empty handed.  They already did the hard work.  They set their buds for spring.  No matter what, they cannot lose now.

Some think that the tree's colors are an indication that death is imminent....Winter is at their heels after all. But Autumn is not a song before dying.  Death is not imminent.  Trees don't give up when Winter comes--they take a well deserved rest.  And when they wake up, they start all over and do it again the next year...And the next year...And the next. Like Spring represents hope, Autumn is a promise, to weather, to adapt, to thrive.

So, when we falter, we can admire the old Oak, the Sycamore, the Maple, towering above us-- two hundred years of better and wiser and more spectacular.

This Fall, I'm going to face the heartache, shed some tears for what's been lost, and then look back with a smile.  The tears mean that we lived.

Celebrate the small victories, give thanks for what you have. Basque in the glorious sunshine.  Dance in the crisp air. Breathe deep in wisdom of the trees.

Never ever, ever, ever, ever give up -Winston Churchill

Monday, October 1, 2012

Totally Seduced

From the top Photo by LAM
 Recently, I got the chance to work with Tim (the curator of Water-lilies at Longwood.) Since Tim's focus is aquatic plants, he does most of his work waist high in the lily pools. That morning, I followed suit, pushed my foot into the deep boot of the waders and fastened the overalls.  The water is dyed black to keep algae from growing, but it also keeps you from seeing the bottom. I knew it was shallow but I didn't want to look like a rookie. Tim handed me a pocket knife and hopped in.  I followed his lead. Then I felt the strange sensation of the water suctioning around my leg.  I braced for the cold, but the waders did their job and my skin stayed dry!  Unfortunately, at that moment, the knife slipped from my hand. Luckily it landed on a lily pad and I was able to retrieve it.  (Cue the memories of trying to seem like I knew how to start the leaf blower at USNA a few years back.) We waded around, studying each plant--Hardy water lilies and Tropical ones, night bloomers, day bloomers, you name it-- We discussed their origin, architecture and bloom cycle and explored the best way to pot them, prune them and clean them.  I watched with delight as bees, who were already carrying enormous bundles, buzzed back greedily for a bit more nectar.

It wasn't long before the mysterious Victoria Water Lily took center stage.  Ruling the pool, Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana hold court with their love child, the Longwood Hybrid. Again and again since my arrival at Longwood, I have puzzled over the nickname of this plant--"The Seductress."  This was the perfect day to find out the thought behind the name.

To begin, she is the largest water lily in existence.  Her round platter shaped leaves can measure up to 8 feet across and can bear a 40 lb. weight. The flowers are large too--about 12 inches.  This indicates she is strong--appropriately named for Queen Victoria--but a seductress?  I wasn't convinced.

the insides Photo by LAM
Continuing our lesson, Tim dissected one of the spent flowers, and thus unleashed the spell of the Victoria.  She first blooms at sunset- a bright pile of white petals exuding a sharp, alluring fragrance.  A scarab beetle is aroused by the scent and clumsily flies right into the folds of the flower.  Beneath the petals, there lies a cavernous chamber where the beetles eat.  While doing so, they shake the pollen from their bodies, to the floor of the chamber.  Slowly the pollen sinks inside her to the ovaries.  The flower's temperature rises and the beetles stay active.  The ambiance seems to make them lose track of time.  At dawn the petals close, trapping the beetles inside all day, with nothing to do but assure pollination.  On the second evening, the flower re-opens, now blushing a dark, unabashed shade of pink. The fresh air allows the beetles to gain their bearings and they depart.

She'll get you Photo by LAM
Next, we got to work--pruning the plant. This allowed me a closer look at the enormous leaves. Brazenly, she displays her ammunition--the undersides of the platters, the stems and even the buds, are covered, every centimeter, with incredibly sharp needles. The spines leave a tiny shard in your skin when you touch them. These allow her to push or slice every other plant out of the way.

After spending the day with the Victoria, here is my evaluation of her nickname: She's beautifully alluring. Her pollination story is spell binding. She's devilish enough to puncture your finger or your backside (the needles can poke through the fabric of the waders) and yet she leaves you looking forward to the next encounter. So fascinating is she, that all of the first year Longwood Graduate Fellows are now planning a trip to Brazil just to see her pollinated in her native Amazon...She sounds exactly like a seductress to me.

*For more information on the Victoria, please read Dr. Tomasz Anisko's blog post, Magic by Moonlight.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Picture this...

There is a walkway in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens.  It's not a specific destination, it would be hard to direct someone to its exact spot.  I usually come upon it by accident, hurrying from one one place to another.  But when you walk in, the temperature changes. The breeze floats through the open windows, carrying the fragrance of water lilies. Mingling with the fresh scent of ferns and blossoms, overflowing their baskets, time suddenly slows.  Every slow motion step, I find myself thinking, "I wish I could take a picture of the way this place feels." 

My favorite backyard in Southern Virginia is full of sky scraping Virginia Pines and Loblollies, bright lantanas, fragrant gardenias and views of the brackish Lynnhaven River--try as I might to capture its peaceful magic, I can't freeze that moment with my iphone or my Canon point and shoot.  It's the sensation of being there. The calm of the present.  A Night Heron may swoop in or a White Egret might catch a fish.

Sometimes there is not a thing--not a song, not a dance, not even a compelling movie montage that can capture or express, the feeling of being in a moment.

As creative thinkers in gardens, museums and in schools, we are being tasked with finding interactive on-line ways of interpretive, dynamic learning. But no matter what, if it's online, it's still virtual reality, not reality.  The internet is a wonderful tool, but it has yet to eclipse the necessity of human interaction. There is a magic in the ebb and flow of teacher student relationships that remains unmatched by our daily interactions with Google. What we really need to do is to challenge ourselves, our children and our students to live fullyExperience the things that we cannot describe.   What does it feel like to be inside listening to the rain? Can you describe the moment before an embrace, the split second of jumping off the high dive?  Imagine climbing the steep hills of San Francisco. What does snow taste like?  How does it feel to stand at the foot of the Giza Pyramids with your feet in the Saharan sand?

You can't take a photo of these moments, you can't truly describe them.  They don't add value to anyone's life when they are announced on facebook in the tawdry tone that has become common place---these moments only matter--when you live them.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Naked Strength

Oak at Mount Vernon byLAM

With nothing to read the other day, I eyed an collection of Tennyson's poems across the room.  Forgetting his genius, I opened the book to see if I recognized any of the titles. Turns out Tennyson wrote the Charge of Light Brigade and the Lady of Shallot. As I picked over my pasta lunch, curiosity led me through poems filled with adventure, observation, heart, and light. Near the end of the book, I found this gem, The Oak. No doubt he is reflecting on the noble benefit of quiet growth and modest majesty, that Oak trees generally display. But, what's magical about his writing is the momentum he uses to keep us reading.  He tells us right away, to be like the Oak. But he compels us to keep reading to discover why. As I read, I wondered if Tennyson saw the Oak as a pillar of strength or a lonely giant. Down to the very last sentence, I felt a sense of foreboding over the bare oak, "leaves fallen at length...trunk and bough" --Until the last phrase,--the save-- when I read the words, "Naked Strength."  He is not telling us that the Oak is sad and bare, he is reminding us that when all the leaves fall, the Oak is finally able to show us what its' got.

Like the Oak, we weather the seasons of life. We gain and we grow. We are golden for a time, we are winning... then with in a wind's gust, we lose.  Whether by nature or by circumstance, there are moments when we stand bare....But when we do--we reveal our strength.  We let go of our leaves when we don't need them anymore, when we don't need them anymore and finally, we reveal ourselves.

The Oak

Live thy Life,
     Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Living gold;

    Then; and then
Gold again.

All his leaves
     Fallen at length,
Look, he stands,
      Trunk and bough...
Naked strength.

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


July 4th at U. Del
This year Independence Day fell during the week I moved. Surrounded by unfamiliar faces at a Turkish/Brazilian cook out, I might have been the only American at the celebration.  Luckily on the 4th, the fireworks provide a few moments of solidarity for all.  The mix of a humid starry night, the BOOM of the explosives, the 'oohs and aahhs' lighting every face, knit us together with shared excitement. So even though I was among relative strangers, I was with friends.

At the same time Bruce Munro's "Light" exhibit was opening at Longwood.  The installation harnesses light through fiber optics and LEDs, channeling their energy into tubes and bulbs that set a whole meadow aglow. Twinkling, they make a bright, candied wonderland meandering through the parts of Longwood that are usually dark and closed off at night.

Not long after Light, I got to see Longwood's highly acclaimed Fireworks & Fountains show.  The main fountain garden at Longwood was first turned on in 1931 by the garden's creator and founder, Pierre duPont.  Today the fountains boast the same colorful lights from Pierre's time, and can fly 50 feet into the air!  Side by side, sharing the sky, the fire and water are a sight to behold.  Like nothing I have seen before, each element enhances the other's power.

Bruce Munro's "Light" 
In all these displays a collaborative attitude makes it so that presumably opposite elements are juxtaposed, creating a startling and breathtaking effect--the whole really is a sum of its parts.  This is a BIG synergistic idea.  In order to have a sustainable enterprise, we first look at our elements, we coordinate ourselves to focus on a common goal.  Then we create the steps to get there.  In a small way each of these displays is an example of this philosophy.  It is interesting to note that you only see the beauty of the lights, when it's dark...Coupled together the strongest forces might destroy one another or they might become allies.   An innovative idea- brilliant and simple... Like a light bulb!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Car is is my heart

It's time to go.  

Yesterday my dear friends helped me to fulfill number 42 on my DC Bucket List:  Go to Tabard Inn for brunch! On the menu are these gorgeous donuts with home made whipped cream that are not to be missed! So rich so fluffy, so delicious.

Below is my full bucket list.  The best part about this list is that each time I cross something off, I find something new to add.  The ones in bold at the bottom I have yet to do.  It cheers me up that I'll have to return to finish the list in years to come.  DC is a fantastic place to live and learn.  This list is a testament to just that.

1. See the cherry blossoms at peak with a dear friend:  Check! 

2.  Ice skate at the National Gallery's Ice Rink: Check!

3. See the 4th of July Fireworks from the National Mall : Check! ( to infinity or at least 15 times)

4.  Nats Game: Check!

5. Redskins Game: Check!

6. Caps Game: Check!

7.  DC United Match: Check!

8.  Have a backyard cook out: Check!

9.   Visit Dumbarton Oaks: Check!

10. Walk through Brookside Gardens : Check!

11. Buy and eat Steamed Blue Crabs from the Maine Avenue Fish Market: Check!

12.  Shop at the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market (Sundays) purchase Bacon directly from the farmer: Check!

13:  See a show at the Kennedy Center, the Harmon Center, the Verizon Center, the Shakespeare Theater, the Warner Theater: Check! Check! Check! Check! Check!

14:Visit the National Christmas Tree and the Yule Log: Check!

15:  Visit the Lincoln, the Jefferson, The WWII, the Vietnam, the MLK, Jr., the Einstein, the FDR Monuments

16.  Walk in Rock Creek Park in the Spring

17.  See the Azalea Collection, the Peony Collection, and the Dogwoods in Bloom at the National Arboretum (don't miss the Asian collection, the Bonsai Collection, the Capital Columns or the National Herb Garden)

18.  Tour the Capital Building--hear the story of John Quincy Adams

19.  Visit the National Botanic Garden, take a guided tour

20.  Visit the National Archives and view the Constitution, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence.

21.  Have a picnic at Roosevelt Island

22.  Walk through Georgetown, buy something.  Eat a meal at Paparazzi or stop for a drink on the roof of Old Glory.

23. Visit Arlington Cemetery and stop at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

24.  Dinner in Old Town Alexandria

25.  Visit Mount Vernon, sit back a while and enjoy George Washington's spectacular view...then imagine DC in the summertime without the A/C.

26.  Take the $11 boat ride from Georgetown water front for a short entertaining tour of the Potomac

27.  Walk around the sculpture garden at the National Gallery then stick your feet in the fountain!

28.  Frequent the Eastern Market

29.  Visit the Georgetown Flea Market on Wisconsin and buy something hand made directly from the vendor.

30. Eat at as many DC restaurants as possible and rate the food
The Federalist, Bodega, Two Amy's, Rasika, Tabard Inn, Bonaparte, Palena, Cork, Posto, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

31.  Give money to a homeless person

32. Volunteer at a soup kitchen

33. Go to an inauguration at the National Mall

34.  Go to a Ball

35.  Pay to see the exhibits in the Corcoran Gallery even though so many other galleries are free.

36.  Visit Hillwood Estate and Gardens

37.  Get drinks or dinner at the Waterfront in Georgetown.

38.  Go out to brunch a lot --Bottomless brunch at Masa 14 (be careful!)  Korean Brunch ManduYum!  Order Hangover Cure at Bar Pilar

39.  Try Grasshopper Tacos at Oyamel (by Jose Andreas in Penn Quarter)

40.  Venture down to H Street.  Eat at Sticky Rice and Granville Moores, get beer at the Black and the Red, see a show at Red Palace

41.See a live performance at the 9:30 club and at Wolftrap

42. Brunch at Tabard Inn-must do!!

43. Roosevelt Island

Sit at the National Gallery's Jazz in the Garden on a Friday evening
Go to the Portrait Gallery
See a show at Arena stage and at the National Theater
Visit the LBJ memorial
Go to a Wizards Game
Go see the Preakness in Baltimore
Go crabbing or fishing on the Potomac
Eat a cupcake at Baked and Wired
Hike Great Falls

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Advice from a Tree

 I continue to be awed by the lessons we can take from the simple yet spectacular rhythm that nature abides by and shares with us. About a year ago, a beautiful poem was introduced to me by my friend Mary Lou (a fellow volunteer at the National Arboretum.) At this time of year, with so many goings and comings, beginnings and endings, this poem rings true.
Advice from  a Tree

 Metasequoia glyptostroboide  (Dawn Redwoods) 

Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of your true Nature
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
  Seek nourishment from the good things in life 
Simple pleasures  
Earth, fresh air, light
       Be content with your natural beauty
       Drink plenty of water
          Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
            Be flexible 
Remember your roots
         Enjoy the view!

          -Ilan Shamir

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rasika-Bonus Food Blog

We sat at the corner table on the left
A few weeks ago, my partner restaurant critic and I met at Rasika's newest location in the West End.  It was a rainy Tuesday but I was not about to miss this meal after a month of anticipation (that's how long it took us to get a reservation!)  But boy, was it worth the wait.

We were debating on cocktails.  When we told our waiter we weren't sure what to order, he talked to us about the kind of drinks we like. With a knowing grin, he promised to come back with something for each of us. Sure enough, he served us two different cocktails well-suited to our taste buds. Unfortunately I have no idea what we drank.  Hopefully you can have a similar conversation with your waiter and end up with a perfect cocktail match.  Here is what we ordered from the dinner menu with a mixed basket of Naan.   

1190 New Hampshire Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20037

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


1st Year at USNA

Conservatory at Longwood

This time of year, we sail though our days, time flies, we meet, we laugh, we are merry. We create, we observe, we're delighted.  But suddenly time feels like it is gaining on me. I stop short. Very soon I will leave DC to become a fellow at the University of Delaware's Longwood Graduate Program.  I will face a new beginning, and a big change, the salty and the sweet.

Porter Street Cook Out

Shannon's Bike
As expected, I am confronted with memories of past beginnings and endings.  How did I feel when I packed the last time?  Did I pack these same things?  What have I kept since then? What have I left behind? There seems to be a rhythm to the collecting and shedding rituals of life--think of the snake's skin, the bird's feathers, the sunset and the sunrise.  There is a song to our journeys, a time to be still and a time to move.

When I falter in my confidence about moving, I think of my insightful friend Micah who shared this quote with me, "Life is a series of coming togethers and of partings..."

The sweetness of the meeting is never fully diminished by the ache of the parting. Once things are, they always will be.  Some words--once whispered into the universe--echo forever.  Some truths--once revealed--can never be unseen.  We are shaped by these moments. And we can take heart that they are milestones and benchmarks to remember and to push us along.

Dupont Metro
This feeling that makes you glow, that makes you sad to end but happy to begin ---I think it's a kind of love.  It originates inside each one of us. When we feel it--it's because we shared it with someone else and now they are reflecting it back to us.

Thanks DC for the tough love in the beginning and the overflow of fun at the ending...
Level 3 Red with Miss Laurie and 'Happy Man'

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. -The Beatles

Friday, May 25, 2012



The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long-run.  -Henry David Thoreau

 I came across this quote from Thoreau and I felt a kindred spirit.  If I woke up 100 years in the past and Thoreau was my friend I know I wouldn't have to explain my values to him.  I like that he knows that 'life' is currency.  So, in addition to his insight, I'd like to pose this important question:

How much life is this thing going to add to you compared with what you exchange for it? 

What if 'quality of being' was our currency?  What if the 'value of yourself at your best' was worth as much as gold. What if we were constantly looking for ways to 'build our best selves' instead of ways to build our portfolio?

What is your time worth?  What are your thoughts worth?  How much more effective are you after a good night's sleep? How much more do you have to offer when you are a happy, nourished person, compared with a crabby, hungry person?  How much more loving are we when we are loved.  How much more insight would we have if we were world travelers, if we were observers? How much more would we understand if we engaged with people instead of running away?  If we said 'yes' more often?  What if our individual stock plummets when we are spent and rise when we are filled...? Because it does, you know...

When we waste our time, to save our money, that has a cost. When we do a job we hate because the money is good, we are paying with our lives. When we eat things with no taste because they are affordable, we are missing out on living. It's ok to do these things for a while but not for a lifetime.

As a species we struggle with balance.  Other species don't operate this way.  They balance or they don't survive.   By instinct, they spend their energy and their resources wisely. They find balance because nature abhors a vacuum. Plants love to thrive, to basque in the sunlight, to soak up the water, growing green and lush.  Their goal is to be the best version of themselves. They spend and save as needed by instinct and so it's no surprise that we could take a lesson from them.

We exchange a lot of currency in this world that has nothing to do with money. 

Time is how you spend your love- Zadie Smith

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Understory...

Enchanted Forest Norfolk Botanical Garden photo: L.A.M.
Recently, while driving on I-95, I found myself delighted by the flashes of color in the woods.  Given a moment to look, it was the forest's diminutive beauties showing off their color for Spring--Lilacs, Dogwoods, Forsythia and a rainbow of Azaleas--These dainty hardwoods make up the Understory-- While petite, these trees are ready to put on a show.  Batting their figurative eyelashes and showing their curves, alluring birds, bees and people alike they say,

 "Venture into the woods to see us!"  
"Taste our nectar, bask in our fragrance---we are stunning."

The forest's towering grandfathers-- Oak, Maple and Beech-- are more discrete, they brush off the winter dust, distributing their seeds without fanfare.

Only in Spring does the understory have the spotlight. By May the winsome blossoms are long forgotten. The larger trees have taken center stage. We become unaware of the understory because it's mixed in the bramble.  But--even when we can't see it--it's there--existing, thriving, contributing. 

And isn't it interesting that we call these smaller trees, the Understory?  It's a very human label--not a scientific term. When we refer to a person's understory we say, "background, point of view, context, or details."  Whatever we are referring to, we are talking about something underneath the surface.

Here are the details of the relationship between the forest's towering canopy and the understory:

The giant trees are genetically engineered to grow up to 100 feet.  The smaller flowering trees and shrubs are only designed to be 10-15 feet tall.  In this way they are well suited to live together.

The ostentatious flowers of the understory trees attract the attention of the pollinators early.  They get all the sunlight they need to leaf out when the tall trees are still in bud.  They complete the business of pollination, and collect plenty of energy from the sun, before the larger tree's leaves appear.  At that point, the tall trees take most of the sunlight for their own photosynthetic process, but it's okay because the understory trees are satisfied and are enjoying the dappled shade that the giants provide.

In this way they are not competing for resources, they are existing together in harmony. Each tree-- the tall and the small-- fulfilling its intended destiny.

Without knowing the details however, we might not understand this relationship.

And so it's logical that if there is a background and a context to every forest, then there are details and stories to every human being.  Our current disposition is a result of our understory.  It's not an excuse, but it is an insight. We are responsible for what we do with what we have, but there is an understory, a place that we came from.  There are parts that we can't see yet, parts we don't not know about other people.

If we miss the forest's spring showcase, it may take a full year before we get a glimpse.  A forest can take a lifetime to display all it's secrets and its gems.  So it is with people. Be on the lookout for the understory. Be aware of its mystery, and its beauty.

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
 Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960

Monday, April 2, 2012

My DC bucket list

Like a parade of hope, Spring marches into view, awakening our senses and redirecting us with her steady determination.   Revealing herself slowly at first, the white and pink Magnolias open on bare branches, floating their perfume on the still chilly breeze.  She picks up speed when the Forsythia and the Quince pop, Daffodils bob, Tulips stand tall, and then the Redbuds emerge, revealing their heart-shaped leaves--the sweethearts of spring. One by one Cherry Blossoms burst, clinging to their branches like snow before they flutter to the earth. The Crab Apples flash their vibrant pink petals, Dogwoods unfurl and soon the fragrance of lilacs and viburnum fill the air.
Leaf by leaf, blossom by blossom, Spring allures us outdoors and back on the town.  Stiff from winter's monochrome, the rainbow of flowering trees has us refreshed and ready for a new adventure. 

My Spring Adventure is a DC bucket list of sorts:

1. Eat at as many DC restaurants as possible and rate the food  

2. Sit at the National Gallery's Jazz in the Garden on a Friday evening
3. Go to a Screen on the Green event
4.  Go to the Portrait Gallery
5. See a show at Arena stage and at the National Theater
6.  Visit the LBJ memorial
7. Go to a Nats Game
8. Go to a Wizards Game

It's no surprise that I've gone right to work on Item 1.   I found the perfect partner in crime to enjoy this city wide taste test with me. I'm thinking we should don aliases like Victor and Veronica or Margaret and Norman--when we are in food critic mode.

First stop:  
The Madison Hotel Restaurant (The Federalist)

We started at the Hotel bar, both of us chose a drink called Pimm's Cobbler.  Gin, I usually avoid, but this was delicious, not too sweet, not too strong, perfect really.
The decor is true to Madison--elegant modern Americana, layers of chrome and gray with flashes of color.  The restaurant honors our heritage of farmers and fresh vegetables with its creativity and penchant for collaborative, homegrown good tastes.
We started with the Roasted Rainbow Beets and the Potato Leek Flatbread (with goat cheese...yyuuuuumm) Perfectly roasted, and seasoned --through the meal's entirety I never thought to check whether salt and pepper were on the table.
For entrees I ordered the special: Milk Poached Cod with fresh garden peas.  My cohort ordered Amish Chicken Roulade* with Black Truffle Mousse, Baby Carrots, Potato Puree and
Madeira Jus
(The asterick indicates the fact that this meal can be prepared gluten free, a bonus for my gluten intolerant friends)
The savory flavors of the truffle mousse and the jus melded perfectly with the tender chicken.  The cod was so fluffy. The peas, cooked so they still had a green garden crunch.  The entire dish was creamy, light and refreshing.  Besides tasting just right, each dish looked beautiful.
We chatted the evening away and sadly didn't order dessert. Next time!

Nuts and bolts:  Server was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. Didn't need a reservation. We tried to find something mediocre about the experience-- to no avail.  The only complaint we could muster up was that the bathrooms weren't as innovative as the rest of the place.

Cheers for spring!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Daffodils-a cheerful legacy

 rock creek parkway

Everywhere you look these days, there are brightly colored daffodils, cheering on the Spring.  Covering the hillsides, bobbing in the flower beds of all the neighbors, they charm us outdoors into the sunshine.

Each time I see them I am reminded that until just a few weeks ago, there was nothing to be seen on that very spot--No indication of life. Early spring flowers are a vivid reminder that things are happening just under the surface all the time. Things we can't imagine, things we have forgotten, things we don't know and can't yet see.  Just around the corner, moments from now, something that has been growing unseen all year, may  be revealed in a place that otherwise seemed barren.  So aside from cheer, Daffodils are also tiny beacons of hope. When planted en mass, they look like stars scattered in the green grass.

As I mentioned in a post last spring, bulbs are an investment for the gardener, but they are also a legacy.  Long after we stop being present to tell our stories, the bulbs continue dividing and producing blossoms on the hillsides of history.

In the latest issue of Garden Design Magazine Susan Heeger writes of Daffodils,"...American pioneers carried them west--even today, streams of daffodils mark spots where pioneer farmhouses once stood."

Washington, DC and its inhabitants carry a pioneering, story-telling spirit.  Each Spring, the daffodils encourage us to embrace this spirit-- forging bravely ahead and leaving graceful reminders of our adventures for posterity.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Until you succeed...

Orchids at the entrance

This weekend I attended the Philadelphia Flower Show.  This is the largest indoor flower display in the world!  It takes place for one week each spring in Philadelphia, PA.  Dresses, hats, store windows, jewelry, patios, even people are on parade, all made----completely of flowers! (Imagine the fragrance) Additionally there is a myriad variety of vendors, tempting you with their beautiful plants, cut flowers and handmade wares.

This brings me to a confession: 

I'm sad to report that a few weeks after I wrote the ballet and the bonsai -- whether it was lack of sun or over-watering on top of the stress from being neglected by the Nutcracker---my Cerissa Rose Bonsai bit the dust...

Nevertheless, in true warrior fashion, I am determined to succeed. This weekend, at the flower show, I bought a tiny new sapling, another Cerissa, this time a different variety.  (I'm sure I've already stressed the poor thing out by transplanting it, wiring it and over watering it, so cross your fingers for a sunny day to help dry it out and get it acclimated to its new surroundings.)

So, what does that mean for the lessons learned in the ballet and the bonsai? What is the point if the little tree didn't make it after all?  The point is -- you don't give up.  You just try again.  Until you break an old habit, until you make a new one. Until things become clear. Until you learn. Until you succeed. You just try again. 

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.


-Winston Churchill

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What goes around, comes around

In May of 2010, I posted a blog entitled Quick Change.  To recap: One night I was dancing Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove with the Washington Ballet and next morning I was dressed as a gardener, ready for my first day at the US National Arboretum.  I thought I was walking away from ballet in a straight line, directly towards 'the rest of my life.'

Now it's February of 2012 and the Washington Ballet is performing Push again. As fate would have it, a space opened in the corps de ballet for me.  Now I'm starting to think that life moves in circles and ovals and not in straight lines.

We see it in nature. The seasons are cyclical, but the exact timing is out of our hands and nature remains a mystery.  There is a sleepy calm to the winter dormancy.  After nature has a rest, we notice the heralds of early spring: Camelias, Hellabores, Witch Hazels, Crocus, and Galanthus.  Their hopeful color and fragrance peak out of the browns and whites of winter. It seems life is a mixture of tender familiarities and unknowns.  The unknowns keep things interesting.

Last March I went on a  Journey , visiting schools of Horticulture.   One school and one program stood above the rest, but seemed like a long shot:  The Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture a the University of Delaware.  But they only choose five people each year. (usually Science people)  The program is fully funded with a stipend! I applied and then I waited.

While I waited, I rekindled my love affair with ballet. And then began the delicate walk between two passions.  Imagine walking the edge of two round pools, jumping into the garden pool one day and onto the stage the next.  No straight lines here.  I wondered how long I could manage to keep both in my daily life.

And then I got invited for an interview at the Longwood program...

And then I got chosen to be a Fellow!
Hellabore (Lenten Rose)

And in their acceptance, they said something like:

We just want you to know that we see your background as an asset.  We are hoping you will pursue performing arts in the public garden with your thesis. 

I had not considered this option, I still didn't believe that I could have both.  Now I'm convinced that there aren't very many straight lines in life.  The earth is round, not flat.  The planets orbit the sun in an oval shape.  Spring comes around every year and we travel in changing circles and ovals, sometimes two at a time. We pick things up and we leave things behind.  They appear again. We create, we believe, we hold on, we let go, we rest. We stretch the limits and the boundaries of our perception.

Just one more adventure that shows nothing happens in a vacuum. 

Wake up and smell the Witch Hazel, spring is on the way!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Ballet and the Bonsai

borrowed from:
This holiday season, a wonderful opportunity was presented to me.  After a hiatus from the stage, I was invited to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker. I recognized this as an exciting opportunity and a great challenge. But I also thought that shifting my focus would involve sacrifices.  I suspected that it would cause a number of ripples in my daily life and I wondered if it would disrupt my long term plans. I remembered the roller coaster of being a performer and compared it with the relative calm of being a gardener...Was returning to the stage going to be a triumph or a setback?  For these thoughts I paused before I accepted the job. The job turned out to be more than I hoped, more than I feared or wondered. A perfect fit really.

However, when I returned home after nine days of 'ballerina-ing,' I found my Cerissa Rose bonsai nearly dead.  Parched soil, leaves brown and falling off, even a tiny bud dried up before it could bloom.  I couldn't help but see it as a tangible example of the change in my priorities. I worried that in my absence other priorities had been forgotten. 

Recently, I told this story to a friend. I was expecting a lecture about responsibilities, about letting go of old priorities and moving on to new ones,... but instead, after I finished the story of the ballet and bonsai, he asked if the tree made it.  I paused again and then answered happily "Yes! Well I did need to cut back the dead parts, but it's alive."  And then he said, "Well see? The point is, it survived. You're doing everything now."

He's right.  You can shift the balance of your life without becoming totally unhinged.  There are false starts and beginnings. There are losses and endings.   There are great stories in which we only play a tiny role, and mysteries that never add up. The question becomes:  How much do you believe you can have and how open you are to getting it?

"Once you get over the fear, it's a cinch," she said.  --Monique Duval