March’s New Experience – Ben’s Chili Bowl

Ok, normally trying out a new restaurant wouldn’t technically fit into the “new experience” category I was going for in my list of goals for 2013. But, Ben’s Chili Bowl is literally considered a Washington, DC landmark. Therefore, I felt the exception could easily be made. So last weekend my dear friend Renee was visiting and we worked up our appetites while doing some sightseeing in DC. After getting our fill of the DC monuments, it was time to fill our gullets.



Ben’s signature dish is the “Original Chili Half-Smoke,” which is a ¼ pound half-pork/half-beef sausage, topped with mustard, onions and spicy homemade chili. I normally do not eat meat unless I know it was humanely raised on a responsible free roaming farm (what I refer to as happy meat), but I made an exception to my rule in order to try one of DC’s most famous dishes. Pictured below is the Chili Half-Smoke, but I topped mine with their veggie chili, rather than their original chili, because it is less spicy (and I am an extreme sissy when it comes to spicy food!). One of Ben’s most famous customers is Bill Cosby and the Half-Smoke is his favorite dish. So much so that he is known to eat up to six of them at one time!




Ben’s Chili Bowl was founded in 1958 by Ben Ali in the District’s U Street corridor. At that time, Washington, DC was officially segregated and U Street was known as “Black Broadway.” Famous jazz greats, such as Miles Davis and Nat King Cole, used to eat at Ben’s after they performed at U Street clubs. During the riots of 1968 after the assassination of MLK, Jr., Ben obtained permission to keep his restaurant open past curfew so he could feed both the police and firefighters working the riots, as well as the activists. Decades later, the construction of the U Street Metro Station forced many businesses to close, but Ben was determined to stay open and he fed the construction workers working on the Metro project. According to the Washington Post, Ben’s “is probably the only business on this strip that survived both the 1968 riots and the construction phase of the Metro Green Line.” Ben and Virginia Ali were later inducted into the DC Hall of Fame.

Ben’s Chili Bowl appears in movies, such as The Pelican Brief and State of Play, as well as dozens of TV shows. It was also featured on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food. Ben’s Chili Bowl has also found a home in many novels, setting the stage as a meeting location for fictional characters.

In addition to Bill Cosby and the jazz legends mentioned earlier, many other celebrities have also been to Ben’s Chili Bowl. Chris Tucker, Bono, and President Obama, just to name a few. Many celebrities may have expected the royal treatment at Ben’s, but there was always a sign on display that said, “List of who eats free at Ben’s: Bill Cosby, NO ONE ELSE.” The sign was later updated in 2008 to include the Obama family.


Travel Junkie Jonesing for a Camera Upgrade


About 6 years ago, I purchased an Olympus 550UZ super-zoom camera to better document my travels and record precious memories. The camera took great pictures, but what I loved most about it was that it had 18x optical zoom. At that time, super-zoom cameras were fairly fresh on the market, and in my humble opinion they were ideal for any traveler. I loved everything about this camera except the fact that it required 4 AA batteries, rather than a rechargeable lithium battery like many other cameras had. The camera seemed to just chew through AA batteries in no time and of course the batteries would always die at the most inopportune time. I learned very early on that I always needed to carry several packs of AA batteries as spares, but by the time I changed the batteries, the moment would have most certainly passed and the opportunity for my perfect shot was gone. I had been complaining about this battery problem for long enough, so it was finally time to purchase an upgrade. At first, Rob wasn’t really on board with this “unnecessary” added expense since our Olympus camera still worked. But then I ran this silly half-marathon and I suggested that I deserved a camera upgrade as a reward for completing my first half-marathon. He couldn’t really argue with me there….and so, the search for my new camera began.

I am not interested in a fancy DSLR camera for several reasons. First of all, they are expensive and definitely above my price point. Second, they are way too heavy. I am not interested in lugging around a huge camera bag while traveling and having to switch out lenses for different shots. Third (and probably most important), I am not a professional photographer. As an amateur, I really don’t want to inundate myself with manual settings, ISOs and apertures. I am more of a “point and shoot” kind of gal.

I am also not interested in a super compact digital camera. Many travelers prefer to use pocket-sized digital cameras while they are on the go. I can definitely see the allure of being able to fit your camera in your pocket rather than carrying around a camera bag, but I doubt those tiny cameras would live up to my expectations.

So, my camera upgrade is definitely going to be a super-zoom “bridge” camera (bridges the gap between compact and DSLR). The super-zoom cameras have advanced in leaps and bounds since I bought my first one 6 years ago. My old camera with 18x optical zoom was a breakthrough camera back in the day. Current super-zoom cameras average about 30x optical zoom, but some of them even go as high as 50x optical zoom! Those specifications are incredible! However, 50x optical zoom seemed a bit excessive for my needs and would likely add to the weight of the camera that I would be lugging around the world. So I started my research with these basic specifications in mind:

1. Rechargeable Lithium battery with good reviews on battery life
2. Upgrade in megapixels (Olympus 550UZ was 7.1 MP)
3. Upgrade optical zoom (Olympus 550UZ was 18x)
4. Prefer tilting or fully articulated LCD screen

With these criteria in mind, I came up with the Canon PowerShot SX40, Sony CyberShot HX200V, Nikon CoolPix P510, and Panasonic Lumix FZ200. I spent many hours across several days researching all 4 of these cameras. I asked for advice from friends and photographers alike. I read online reviews until my eyes were about to bleed. I agonized over every last detail. I finally made my decision and ordered my shiny new camera. I don’t want to reveal which one I picked until I have received it and get the opportunity to test it out. But in the meantime, I would love to know which camera you would have chosen and why. What type of camera do you prefer to use while traveling?

I Survived My First (Last?) Half Marathon

Item# 2 has officially been struck from my list of goals for 2013! I completed the Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon this past Saturday in Washington, DC. The race began in downtown DC and ended at RFK Stadium. The picture below shows the course as it was recorded by my RunKeeper app. You will notice that according to the app, I ran 13.45 miles. It’s amazing that weaving in and out around people while racing (a.k.a. passing them with my lightning speed!) added an extra .35 miles to my distance. In the future, I think race organizers should shorten race courses to account for such weaving. Please and thank you!


I was most grateful that the weather held out for this event. The weather reports leading up to the race were extremely disheartening as they were calling for rain. Running 13.1 miles was challenging enough; running 13.1 miles in the rain is just plain cruel. But luckily, the weatherman was wrong again!! (Note to self: Remember this day and don’t ever complain about the weatherman being wrong again.)

I was grateful that it didn’t rain, however, I did not appreciate the hills on the course. I hadn’t done much training running up hills because getting me to run on a flat surface is a feat in and of itself. Throughout the course I ended up climbing over 1,000 miserable feet. Despite these inclines, I was managing to keep my pace at about 11:30 min/mile which was considerably faster than my training runs (about 12 min/mile). At that pace, I thought it might be possible for me to finish in 2 hours 30 minutes when my initial goal was just to a. complete the race, and b. hopefully under 3 hours. Finishing 30 minutes faster than expected would have been quite incredible for my first half marathon. Unfortunately, somewhere around mile 11 I started to have trouble with my left ankle. I tried to “run it off” but the pain kept getting substantially worse until eventually I had to walk. However, I was determined to finish the race running, not walking. I stopped to take a moment to stretch my ankle really well and thankfully that seemed to do the trick. Unfortunately, my ankle incident really slowed me down and my pace dropped back down to my normal 12 min/mile. I still finished in well under 3 hours; 2 hours 42 minutes and 59 seconds to be exact. But let’s just say 2:43 to keep things simple, shall we. I doubt I will lose any sleep over that extra second.


If my old Drill Sergeants could see me now! There was nobody in basic training that hated to run as much as I did. If there was a basic training yearbook, I definitely would have locked in the “Least Likely To Run a Half Marathon” slot.


Rob met me at the finish line and gave me an insulated plastic liner to keep me warm. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I decided the liner was more like my Superwoman cape rather than it’s intended purpose as a plastic blanket. I made Rob take my Superwoman picture. Good thing this picture doesn’t reveal how badly Superwoman was hobbling post-race!


Help Me Build My Half-Marathon Playlist!


Today I completed my last long training run for the DC Rock ‘N’ Roll Half-Marathon next Saturday.  I ran 11 miles this morning and I am extremely happy with my pace.  Hopefully this is a good indication that I will be ready to run 13.1 miles one week from today!  But I could still use a little bit of help…from you.  Up until this point, I have been doing all of my long training runs with my friend Brie, but next week I will be running the race solo.  Brie has kept me motivated during our long weekend runs, however, next week I will need to rely on my tunes to keep me going.  Do you have any suggestions for good running songs that I can add to my playlist that will help me make it across that finish line?  If so, please share.

As a side note, many people have asked me if I have been losing weight as a result of all of my training runs.  Short answer: No.

Here is my explanation:


My current running app (RunKeeper) tells me that I burned over 1,400 calories this morning.  Since I actually don’t have an app that tells me how many glasses of wine I have earned…I basically assume that I can have as many damn glasses as I want!

How to Fly to Turkey for Free…(well, almost free)

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About a week ago, Rob and I booked an 11 night travel package in Turkey and we got a really great deal. While the price of the package is quite amazing considering all that is included, the price tag on our airfare is even sweeter! Two non-stop, round-trip tickets to Istanbul for…wait for it….$140 total! How is that possible you ask? By getting in on the credit card deals that offer big perks for travel.

I started to learn about the credit cards that offer huge mileage/points sign-on bonuses about 18 months ago and I immediately knew that I needed to get in on the action! I quickly cashed in on deals earning me 50,000 points with one company, 75,000 miles with another, etc. I started to follow The Points Guy for tips and tricks on how to maximize the most out of all these credit cards and find out which ones were worth the effort and which ones were not. For someone with a passion for travel like myself, these credit cards were just the ticket (pun intended).

In the last 18 months, Rob and I have used our miles/points for a variety of different flights. For example, we flew to Colorado for free using my Southwest points (I had earned 50,000 Rapid Rewards points for signing up for the Chase Southwest Premier credit card). We flew to Nicaragua using my American Airlines miles and only had to pay $65 in taxes (I had earned 75,000 bonus miles for signing up for the Citi Platinum AAdvantage credit card). And just yesterday, I purchased our tickets to Istanbul for only $140 using my Chase Ultimate Rewards points (I had earned 50,000 bonus points for signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card). These flights should have cost us about $1,600, but my points covered almost all of the hefty bill. It was somewhat disheartening to watch all of my Ultimate Rewards points vanish in one fell swoop, but what would be the purpose of earning all those points just to watch the number grow and never use them?  No, this chick will continue to wipe out her rewards balances to make her travel dreams come true!

Offers like these could make your travel dreams a reality too!  However, these offers change often, so be sure to stay on top of the best deals by following sites like The Points Guy.

February’s New Experience (in March)

A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I attempted to visit the National Archives in DC as part of my monthly new experience goal, but we made a few grave errors. First of all, we decided to drive into the city which was a huge mistake because it was impossible to find parking anywhere. Second, we decided to go during a holiday weekend (President’s Day weekend). I mistakenly assumed that the frigid weather would keep the tourists at bay, but I was wrong, the tourists were out in full force. As Rob was getting increasingly more stressed about the parking situation, he decided he would just drop me off and then meet me inside after he found a place to park. But it was too late. A tour bus had just finished unloading a bus full of tourists and the security line wrapped around the building. It was 33 degrees outside and I was not about to stand outside in that line. This was why we never took advantage of all that DC had to offer! By that point, we were both a “bit” (note understatement) grumpy, so we decided to just go home for some afternoon drinking. Not exactly a “new experience” in our household…

We decided to give it another shot this past weekend. It was not a holiday weekend and we decided to Metro rather than drive, making it a much more enjoyable experience this time around. There were a few people in line ahead of us, but nothing like the line from weeks before.


Once inside, one of the first things we saw was an original Magna Carta. It is one of only four surviving originals. This particular one was purchased in 2007 by David Rubenstein for $21.3 million. It is the last privately owned original and Mr. Rubenstein has lent it to the National Archives to preserve its place in our country’s history.

We then made our way into the rotunda which houses our “Charters of Freedom.” One of the first things you see upon entering the rotunda are the giant Faulkner murals. The Declaration of Independence mural and the Constitution mural are among the largest single-piece oil canvases in the country and they set the tone for the historic documents on display. It was absolutely amazing to see our original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the National Archives, so all of the pictures below are from the Archives website.

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One of the things I immediately noticed about the Declaration of Independence was that it was much more faded than the other documents. John Hancock’s prominent signature was almost completely faded away. As it turns out, this priceless document was housed for over 35 years in the Patent Office Building opposite a window exposing it to damaging sunlight! I guess the sealed encasement filled with inert argon gas that houses the Declaration of Independence today was still patent pending?

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While admiring our original Bill of Rights, I overheard two guys (clearly anti-gun types) mentioning that the phrase “right to bear arms” wasn’t listed anywhere in the 2nd Amendment. Hmm? That’s odd because I am certain it is there. Upon second glance, I realized they were right…well, they were “kind of” right. The original document lists 12 “Articles,” but only 10 of those were ratified. Our “right to bear arms” was still there, nicely rooted in “Article the Fourth” of the original document.

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Our Constitution is actually much larger than I realized. The document spans four large pieces of parchment and each one is individually encased and closely guarded by the National Archives security officers. Our Constitution is considered one of the most influential legal documents of all time and it is absolutely fascinating that we have the opportunity to gaze upon the original.

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Canines Helping Cheetahs Get in the Mood?

Two years ago, Rob and I were in San Diego so we visited the famous San Diego Zoo. While there, we saw this cheetah and this dog being walked around the zoo grounds together. Hmmm? I wondered how this unlikely duo ended up being walking pals.


And now I know the rationale behind my strange encounter.

Did you know that cheetahs apparently have a hard time doing the wild thing? According to this article, cheetahs are very skittish animals making it very difficult for them to mate. As a result, zoos have been pairing cheetahs with domestic dogs that act like therapy dogs. In fact, the San Diego Zoo has been pairing cheetahs and dogs for nearly 40 years!

How does it work?

The cheetahs are paired with a dog when they are very young and the cheetah learns to trust the dog. The dog’s reassuring body language is calming to the cheetah and helps ease it’s skittish nature. This relaxation helps the cheetah respond better with others of its own species; thereby making it easier to breed. Who knew dogs could be such an aphrodisiac! Feeling frisky? Need help getting your lady friend in the mood? Adopt a dog today!