General, Goals

US National Arboretum (April’s New Experience)

This past weekend, my friend Bonnie and I went to the National Arboretum for the first time. It was a glorious day and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out our nation’s living museum. It’s hard to imagine that within a big city like Washington, DC, there lies 446 acres of lush grounds dedicated to conserving and showcasing thousands of varieties of plants. The arboretum is “in bloom” all year long, so no matter what time of year you visit, there will be plenty for you to see. To find out which plants will be in bloom during your visit, see the arboretum’s bloom schedule.

We happened to go on a very busy weekend and it was difficult to find a place to park. We finally managed to find a spot alongside a field of lilac shrubs. As soon as we stepped out of the car we were overwhelmed by the smell of fresh lilac. (Side note: I had been thinking about planting a lilac shrub in our back yard and after seeing this magnificent field of lilacs I went out and bought one the very next day!)


What we stumbled upon next was like something out of Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece. It’s not every day that you see free-standing columns amidst a meadow in the United States!


But the columns are of course, not ancient. These Corinthian columns were originally on the East Portico of the US Capitol. But due to an oversight in design, the columns didn’t appear to adequately support the Capitol dome which was completed in 1864. The columns were removed and an addition was built on the east side of the Capitol in 1958. In the 1980s, the Capitol Columns found their new home at the National Arboretum. The columns overlook 20 acres known as the Ellipse Meadow. They are set on a foundation of stones that also used to be on the east side of the Capitol. And nothing is complete in DC without a reflecting pool!


The current showstoppers in bloom at the arboretum are the azaleas. The area known as Mount Hamilton is ablaze with color from the all of the azaleas that flood the hillside. There are literally thousands of azalea shrubs in every variety and color imaginable and visitors can walk along footpaths to get a good view of them all.



With over 9 miles of winding roads within the arboretum, we barely scratched the surface during our visit. We spent most of our time looking at the azaleas, but here are a few other plant varieties we enjoyed.



I especially loved this Lace Bark Pine whose trunks look like army camo!



We even got to see some wildlife. In addition to the frogs below, we also spotted a fox.



This is definitely one DC landmark that I intend to revisit!

General, Goals

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.


Events, Goals

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!


Events, Goals

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!

General, Goals

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.

Photo from

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?

Photo from

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.

Photo from

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.

Photo from

Destinations, Goals, Turkey

We are going to Turkey!

Rob and I will be traveling to Turkey at the end of August! I found an incredible deal on Travelzoo for a 13 Day Turkish Treasures vacation package by Gate 1 Travel. Our package includes 11 nights at 4 star hotels in Istanbul, Canakkale, Izmir, Antalya, Cappadocia, & Ankara, as well as a ton of included tours and meals. This package can be booked to include airfare, but we purchased the land only package and plan to use reward points to purchase our airfare, making this vacation incredibly affordable! (Less than $1000 per person!)

This vacation will complete # 5 for my goals for 2013. Turkey is also on my Top Ten Wish List, so I will get to scratch that off the list as well! If you have ever traveled to Turkey, please feel free to leave any tips and suggestions for us!

Photo courtesy of Gate 1 Travel


January’s “New Experience”

Just a few blocks away from our home there is an outdoor ice skating rink set up every winter. The area is called Pentagon Row and it is a local hotspot for dining and shopping. Rob and I walk to Pentagon Row fairly often and every winter he asks me if I would like to go ice skating. My answer was always the same…No.

Rob would spontaneously ask me to go ice skating since we were already in the area for lunch or dinner. But I always had an excuse for why we shouldn’t go. It was either too cold, or I wasn’t dressed appropriately, or I had eaten too much, etc., etc. Rob never quit asking me to go and I never seemed to run out of excuses. Rob likes to be spontaneous, but I am a planner. We never planned to go to Pentagon Row to ice skate. We always planned to go there to eat out. How can he expect me to just jump on board when he springs this idea on me out of the blue? Ok, I realize I am not as spontaneous as Rob, but I would like to think I am not quite that rigid either. The truth is…I don’t have much experience on ice skates and I was just plain scared!

But one of my goals for 2013 is to experience something new in the DC area at least once a month. Since Rob has been asking me to do this with him every single year (for the past 7 years!) this seemed like the perfect activity to break the ice with my 2013 goals (no pun intended).

My sister Victoria came to visit us because she had recently joined the Air Force and she was about to leave for basic training. Victoria used to be a figure skater, so it seemed like a great activity for us all to do together. It had been quite a while since Victoria had been on the ice, but she was still out there skating backwards and doing spins. Meanwhile, I was clutching the side rail like my life depended on it! I got the hang of it after a little while and I was finally able to skate freely away from the rail. It wasn’t exactly graceful, but I was just happy that I didn’t fall (Rob fell though, but don’t tell him I told you). We all ended up having a good time, so maybe I will even try it again next year!

Preparing to go out on the ice (and hoping I don't make a fool of myself)

Preparing to go out on the ice (and hoping I don’t make a fool of myself)

Me, Victoria, and Rob

Me, Victoria, and Rob (please excuse our silly hats, but we each got a free hat with admission that day)

Victoria showing off skating backwards

Victoria and her friend Scott showing off skating backwards

Goals, Random

Goals Instead of Resolutions

I realize my timing is way off here being that we celebrated the new year well over a month ago, but I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions anyway. And this year was no different. Instead, I somehow ended up with a list of goals for 2013. I don’t normally make lists of goals for the new year either, but this one just fell into place so I figured I would share it.

1. Take advantage of all that the DC area has to offer by experiencing something new at least once a month. (We often take for granted the fact that we live here. We assume we have all the time in the world to explore the DC area, and then we never actually do it!)
2. Run a half marathon. (I am currently in training [thanks Brie!] and plan to run on March 16!)
3. Become a Humane Society volunteer. (I have always donated money to HSUS, but I realize that donating my time might be even more important.)
4. Open up my very own Etsy shop. (I’ve already come up with the shop name, now I just need to crank out some inventory!)
5. Travel to at least two new countries. (Of course my list of goals would have to require a passport! One down [Nicaragua], one more to go!)

Hopefully I can keep you all posted as I complete my 2013 goals!