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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.

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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Photos: The National Arboretum and Bonsai Museum

Being in Washington, DC, I live so close to national museums for everything. Lately, I have been trying to make an effort to visit more of these museums, which is why I found myself at the U.S. National Arboretum on a warm afternoon last week. I was particularly interested in checking out the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, which I wrote about for Gadling. I took a ton of photos while I was there, several of which I posted in a gallery on Gadling. Here are some of those photos as well as a few more that didn’t make the cut.

*All photos taken with the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-WX9 camera (provided courtesy of Sony) or the iPhone 4.

Down with the DC Cellular Surcharge!

I’m getting ready to settle down in the DC area again after a long while of living overseas. So, I’m getting things in order. One of the first things I did upon coming back to the States was get a new cell phone. I’m loving my new iPhone (a topic for another post) and my DC phone number (complete with 202 area code).

But now the bill has come in and I’m wondering if I was wise to get a DC phone number. I looked at my bill and there were additional charges of about $11 (on top of a whopping $74/month contract fee). Here’s the rundown of the fees:

Credits, Adjustments & Other Charges

DC 911 FEE 0.76
Regulatory Cost Recovery Charge 1.05
DC Cellular Surcharge Residential 7.75
Federal Universal Service Charge 1.47

Do you see the third charge listed above – DC Cellular Surcharge Residential? I looked online to see what this is and saw that consumerist.com covered this a couple years ago. It really seems like an outrage to me and I am surprised that, two years on, people haven’t been marching in the streets over this. How can having a cell phone in DC be considered a luxury?

Anyhow, I am on a fact-finding mission to find out the reason behind this surcharge. What is it? What is it helping to fund? Why are people in DC allowing this to go through, month-after-month, without complaining?

I am determined to get to the bottom of this. I’m also considering changing my new phone number. *sigh*