A Day in Washington DC

A few suggestions:

Start with Bikram at Bikram Tysons in McLean Virginia.  They have a large lovely studio that’s just hot enough and big bathroom facilities with 3 showers. Carol led class with just enough fuerza and vigor but without some of the stridency that can accompany the Bikram dialogue. We got icy lavender scented towels during the final savasana and they had a $20/first week special for new students. It was my first class back in about 5 months and I loved it.

Locolat Cafe for Breakfast
Locolat is a Belgian cafe in Adams Morgan specializing in waffles and beer and things you might put on waffles (like smoked salmon and asparagus) or eat while you drink beer (like chocolate). It’s a cute little place with a big glass case of luscious pastries and a very decent Belgian beer list. I’d recommend avoiding the “red hot mimosas,” which were overpriced and badly mixed with cheap champagne but the waffles were stellar and the portion sizes perfect. The service was a bit absent minded but we weren’t in a hurry so it wasn’t an issue. They’re closed on Mondays.

National Postal Museum
When I said “Let’s go to the National Postal Museum!”, 2 friends said “Why?” That’s probably the reaction most of you had . However, you should go anyway and here are the reasons why:

1. It’s free.
2. It’s interesting. Mail has been shockingly important to the building of American communities.
3. The mail trebuchet. Yes, it’s a mail flinging device. No, I won’t describe it. You have to go see it.
4. Washington DC has A LOT of museums. Most of them are focused on art. This one isn’t. It’s worth a visit for that reason alone.
5. It’s small so it won’t take long and you’ll feel interestingly educated afterwards. Plus, stamps are beautiful.

Busboys and Poets for Lunch
Classic Washington DC establishment with a couple different locations. Hipstery, organic, good with the vegetarian/vegan/gluten free selections and also an art gallery/homage to political revolutions. If this is your kind of place, you’ll love it. Come for the paninis, stay for the poetry slam.

Renwick Gallery – Best 40 Under 40 exhibit
2 museums, Kaitlyn? Yeah, I know. But it is DC and there are SO many museums, most of which are worth visiting. I always enjoy the Renwick because it’s the perfect size and can well experienced in under an hour. Their permanent collection is on the top floor and I particularly like the giant salon with pictures hung in groups. If you’re in DC sometime soon, go see this temporary exhibit of the top 40 Craftsman in America under 40 years old for a glimpse into the past and future of American Craftsmanship. Pieces range from a meditation room (definitely go in) to a room covered in knitted pieces called “Knitting is for Pus****” and a set of fierce sculpted metal talon gloves. If this is America’s craft future, I think technology will only become more involved in the artistic process but it won’t replace the need for real artistic technique. That makes me hopeful.

Georgetown Cupcakes for a late afternoon sugar jolt
Is the cupcake craze ever going away? I keep thinking it might but then nothing arises to take it’s place. I’m waiting for the cake pop revolution. Until then, these are the best cupcakes in DC. No question.

The Hamilton for pre dinner drinks
Upscale, classy joint with well mixed drinks and late night food. Makes you feel like maybe you might want to get involved in politics or have an affair with a politician. Very DC.

Firefly for dinner
Part of the GussiedUpComfortFood movement. In a good way. The restaurant interior is charmingly wooded, literally, with a nice tree swing for photo ops. The menu has a great selection of small plates they call Urban Picnic. The deviled eggs were spicy creamy bites of heaven, as were the pimento cheese fritters. I cleansed my palate with a chopped kale salad with smoked pumpkin seeds that was flavorful and with a bright vinaigrette to offset the kale’s natural bitterness. The vegetable risotto with goat cheese might have been the best risotto I’ve ever tasted and I also liked the shrimp and grits, which made up in flavor what it lacked in photogenic appeal. The firefly/outdoor theme was consistent but not overwhelming and they gave us our  check in a little mason jar with a light in it. Cute, right? We got there early and had no trouble getting a table but it filled up quickly so I’d recommend reservations.

For dinner you could also try Burger, Tap and Shake where they serve a Southern Comfort burger with pimento cheese on it and adult ice cream shakes with booze in them. Order the sides to share though, everything’s big here. Or District Commons, which is right next door and has an amazing (though expensive) seafood cobb salad.

Or perhaps EatBar in Arlington for dinner (if you want to get out of the city)
EatBar is the best kind of Gastropub because they have a nice selection of vegetable dishes and over 40 bottles of wine on tap. On tap! The Bang Bang Broccoli was fantastic as were the fried green tomatoes. I’d take a pass on the roasted cauliflower, were I you but definitely try the Cheasapeake Clam Roll (that’s how they spell it. Don’t ask me.) This is a cozy little bar with great food and killer atmosphere. They have movie nights too.

51st State Tavern for post dinner drinks
We watched the election returns here. Can you tell? Foggy Bottom has a fair number of great neighborhood bars and 51st State is one of them. Late night food. Good drink prices. Upstairs/downstairs. Fun times.

I’d also recommend Lindy’s Red Lion home of the beer helmets and sandwiches and chips served on paper plates, Froggy Bottom Pub with it’s sticky floors, basement bar and $6 doubles (more like quadruples…), and Old Ebbitt Grill with the half off raw bar after 11pm.

Now go back to your hotel and get some sleep. You’ve had a busy day!

The Majestic Cafe on a beautiful fall day


Professor Cline and his World of Wonders

Every day of this trip should be like today.

I got up early to have breakfast with my cousin Tracy and her two sweet rascally sons and was on the road by 8AM. Since I had plenty of time, I took a long route up through the Shenandoah National Park and drove tiny windy roads through small towns in the mountains. The fruit trees are beginning to blossom and greenery is peeking out of all the dead forest overgrowth.

There’s nothing like listening to really loud music and driving on an empty road with the whole day ahead of you.

In my continuing pursuit of the weird and wonderful, I stopped in Natural Falls, VA at the Enchanted Studios where I was lucky enough to catch Professor Cline.

Mark Cline runs Enchanted Studios, making props for any production that needs them. He also acts in local theatre productions and puts together an astonishing haunted house every Halloween. He likes putting together events around the holidays and here you get a peek preview of his April 1 “Jack the Giant Killer hands” that he plans to put up on a hill overlooking town.

He told me all about how he got into the business at age 17 because he needed a job and a resin artist needed an assistant. Once he figured out how to cast resin, he just looked for bigger and bigger projects until one day he had an idea.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

Yes, that’s a scale model of Stonehenge, made out of 420lb blocks of Styrofoam and resin.

And it’s amazing. But just when you think your road trip and your day can’t improve, you drive up the road another couple of miles and come to Escape from Dinosaur Kingdom.

Here’s the story: in 1863 a friendly family of paleontologists stumble across a valley of live dinosaurs. The evil Yankee army hears of these riches and hatches an evil plan to use the dinosaurs as a weapon of mass destruction against the south. Many soldiers get eaten, some lose their clothes and chaos reigns.

I have SO many pictures from this park. It was officially closed but Mark told me to go in anyway so I was the only person there, hiking around, taking pictures and laughing my face off. GLORIOUS. Who thinks up these things? Mark Cline. That’s who. I’ll post the rest of the pictures on facebook at the end of the week.

It’s a bit hard to top something like that. So I drove the rest of the way to Greensboro, NC in one stretch and did Bikram here with Bruce.

Bikram lesson of today: Let the heat in.

It was a much less hot class than yesterday but instead of fighting against the heat, I tried breathing it in. I could do all the poses today – though none of them all that well… yet – and it was a much more enjoyable experience. He said that Friday night classes are his favorites and I agree that the class energy was awesome.

I’ll leave you with Bruce’s words of wisdom: Learn to control your breath. When you control your breath, you control your life.

Tomorrow I think I might see a lot of buttons. Let’s see what happens…

Crazy rich people and Bikram lessons

Left NYC covered in snow like a winter wonderland.

I planned to stay in the DC area with my cousin, Tracy, but I had a few things I wanted to see on the way. Namely the Mercer Museum in Pennsylvania.

I’m not sure if you know this, but the world is full of crazy people. And a reasonable percentage of these crazies have substantial amounts of cash, a bad collecting habit and a need to stash their stuff somewhere. If they were broke, they’d be hoarders. But with lots of money and ambition they can build themselves fortresses to protect themselves from ghosts (Winchester Mansion in CA), odes to their lost loves (Coral Castle in FL) and concrete castles to house their giant collections (Mercer Museum).

I would recommend a visit to the Winchester Mansion if you’re ever in San Jose, CA. It’s the creepiest strangest place with stairs that lead nowhere and rooms that can’t be accessed from inside the house and a decorating obsession with flowers and numbers. I found the Coral Castle bewildering (how did one man build it?) and sad.

The Mercer Museum is less insane than either of these two houses. Henry Mercer collected 19th century stuff that showed how people lived and worked and he needed a place to put it. For 3 years between  1913 and 1916, he and 8 men hand-mixed concrete, built the forms and then hand-poured this entire 6 story castle with the help of a horse named Lucy.

Some pieces he’d collected were so big – gigantic plows, mill stones, wagons, a huge hand poured cast iron pot for rendering whale blubber– that he built the castle around them and you can’t get them out of the place short of a wrecking ball. There’s SO much stuff, it’s staggering.

Every 19th century craft and job has a room or a floor and there are a few additional gee whiz pieces, like this one for your vampire killing needs.

Here’s the sign.

19th century historians come from all over the world to see this collection. As well as people who are trying to recreate old stoves or glass blowing techniques or whatever. I had an enjoyable hour with the place to myself and then skipped out before my eyes started to blur over.

I spent the rest of the afternoon driving over state lines. I’ve crossed through New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Philadelphia, Delaware, DC and Virginia in one day. I had planned to get to Bikram by 530 for a 6pm class but instead I arrived at 5:55, frantic, agitated, hauling all my stuff in my bag. Just a mess.

The proper protocol is to arrive in time to change clothes, transition from where you were to where you are and let your pulse calm down. Racing in fresh off a 3 hour stint of fast driving, throwing clothes on and running in the door of the studio with my mat was the least great way to get there today. But at least I got there.

The teacher – Insel – took one look at me when I walked in and said “Get ready for class. We’ll take care of the money afterwards.” Then commenced the hardest and best classes of my short Bikram career. He started by asking us to think what we wanted to achieve in class and say it three times with our hearts before we began. I asked for mindfulness – something I’m struggling with right now. When we started it was clear that a lot of people – including me – were having a hard time today.

Bikram lesson learned today: Stay in the room.

3 people left the class today. That’s a Bikram no no. Even if you can’t do the poses, you’re supposed to stay in the room. I think it’s a bit like a rough relationship. Resolution comes by staying in the room. Working at it. Not walking away. I definitely have a rough relationship with Bikram and I did manage to stay in the room but it was tough. I couldn’t do all the poses. I would bend backwards and feel dizzy and sick so I’d sit down or lay down.

Savasana – corpse pose – seems like it should be easy. You’re lying on your back and focusing on your body. But it’s a quietly active pose and also where you reap the benefits of the more active poses. That makes it the most important pose, which is good for me since I spent more time there than I should have.

The other thing that Insel emphasized: The most important parts of the 90 minute class are these 20 second savasana poses. Focus here. When you don’t focus here, you are focusing on your vanity. These 20 seconds are what will change you.

Empty your mind. Breathe. Let go. This concrete floor is big enough to take it all. Let it go.

Things I’ll take with me this week as well as the words of another smart man:

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Tomorrow Appalachians, dinosaurs and North Carolina.