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A Gentle Reminder from the District of Columbia


This was posted on Twitter in light of the shootings at the Navy Yard, but I think this is a statement that needs to be made more often.

Miracle at Nationals Park


“Do you mind if I interview your little boy for The Washington Post?” asked a sandy-haired man in a jacket of the same color. We were all standing in front of the gates of Nationals Park as crowds were streaming in for the opening game of the season. Dante was wearing a bright red National cap embroidered with a “W,” and was looking very much the part of the young baseball fan.

“Sure,” I said, then turned to Dante and asked, “would you like to answer a few questions for this man?”

“Do you have tickets?” Dante squealed at the man. “Where are the tickets? WHERE ARE THE TICKETS?”

I looked up at the reporter and told him we were still looking for a pair of tickets. It was a beautiful day, the best you could hope for on April 1. The sun was out, temperatures were in the low 60s. It was the exact opposite weather I expected for Opening Day, which is one of the reasons I hadn’t bothered to order tickets in the first place. When I realized that Dante had the day off of school, I made a decision mid-morning that we would take the Metro down to the ballpark to see if there were any standing-room-only tickets. “Maybe we will get lucky,” I thought.

Dante’s line of questioning continued, “We NEED tickets! Do you have the tickets?”

The reporter looked at me blankly, clearly wondering why he wasn’t the one asking the questions.

“He’s autistic,” I offered. It’s never the first phrase I utter about my son but it comes in handy to explain behaviors that others perceive as odd. “He’s autistic, but I can help him answer the questions if you still want to interview him.”

“Come find me when you get tickets. Good luck!”

The journalist had struck out. He was there to report on the excitement of Opening Day at National Park and our twin sob stories of a boy with autism having no ticket to get into the stadium were not what he was looking for. Read more

Students gathered around "Grapes" by Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei: According to What? [Photos]

Students gathered around "Grapes" by Ai Weiwei
Students gathered around “Grapes” by Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s first major exhibit in the United States – “According to What?” – opened a few weeks ago at DC’s Hirshhorn Museum. Taking up almost the entire 2nd floor of the museum as well as a couple of spaces on the ground floor and third floor, According to What? is extensive and impressive. I instantly “got” the message that Weiwei was trying to convey. His exhibit is a commentary on the modern overtaking the ancient, of might overtaking right. I’ve described the exhibit in this article on my USA Travel site and that piece also includes links to more scholarly reviews of the exhibit than I can provide.


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The National Spelling Bee and the Evolution of Everyday Conversation

Hi. My name is Melanie and I am laodicean – pococurante, even – when it comes to being cymotrichous.

That. Sounded. Weird. But one day it may not.

I just used two winning words from previous National Spelling Bees, the 2012 edition is currently taking place in Washington, DC, and on your ESPN screens. Laodicean, spelled correctly by Kavya Shivashankar in the 2009 final, means indifference or a person with such an attitude. Pococurante also means indifferent, and it was the winning word in 2003, spelled correctly by Sai R. Gunturi. Cymotrichous, spelled by Sukanya Roy for the 2011 win, means having wavy hair.

I really am indifferent when it comes to having wavy hair, a condition that happens a lot during a typical DC summer. On the other hand, word nerd that I am, the National Spelling Bee has always excited me. What excites me even more is looking at the list of previous winning words from the National Spelling Bee and recognizing a good many of them as words that we use today in everyday speech. The winning words are a glimpse into our evolving vocabulary, the globalization of the English language, and the creeping of pop culture words into our dictionaries.

I love how the winning word for 1927 was “luxuriance” while the one for 1929 was “asceticism.” It amuses me how little Jean Trowbridge spelled “interning” correctly to win in 1936, while her successor, Waneeta Beckley, won with the word “promiscuous” in 1937. Irony is so easily found in hindsight.

“Condominium,” such an everyday word in today’s conversations, was the word winner in 1956, while “sycophant” a word that brings to my mind a few characters from “Mad Men” won the Bee in 1964, right about the same year in which that hit TV show is set. The “Me Generation” is reflected in several winning words during the 1970s: croissant (1970), narcolepsy (1976), deification (1978).

After a lull in the early 1980s, when the words “Purim” (1983) and “luge” (1984) were enough to win, the words start getting harder. But many are still very recognizable as words we use today: staphylococci (1987; ok, we use “staph” when describing the infection, but it’s still common); lyceum (1992); and chiaroscurist (1998), to name a few.

I wonder if this year’s winning word will become a term that we in 5, 10, or 20 years will use on a regular basis? That will require some real prospicience (2002).

Take a look at the full list of winning words and their spellers here.

Photo: Ad Depicts Bradley Manning as ‘Whistleblower’ and ‘Hero’

Here’s the kind of thing you only see in Washington, DC. I saw this ad going into a Metro Station. It depicts Bradley Manning, the soldier behind the Wikileaks documents about the U.S. wars in Iraq in Afghanistan, as a whistleblower, hero, and patriot. The group behind the ad is the Bradley Manning Support Network who apparently were able to put up the ad thanks to EpicStep, a sort of Kickstarter for politically-minded billboards.

The Waterfalls at Great Falls – #FriFotos

It is serendipitous that the subject of this week’s #FriFotos is waterfalls. I recently returned to my favorite local waterfalls, Great Falls, where the Potomac River separates Maryland from Virginia. Great Falls is part of two national parks – Great Falls National Park, which is accessed from the Virginia side, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park, which is accessed from the Maryland side. Both sides afford you awesome views of the falls.

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