Swimmin’ Hole

If you’ve ever hiked along Rock Creek in DC during the summer, trust me, you look at it so longingly, just wanting to take a quick dip to cool off like the dogs can. But you can’t. Because it’s polluted with sewage, especially after a big rain. (Let’s be honest, the dogs probably shouldn’t be in it, either, but there’s really no stopping them.)

I have a solution! Christopher and his sister found an article with a bunch of nearby swimming holes and there’s one only about half an hour away from my apartment. It’s in Seneca Creek in Poolesville, Maryland. He and I went to check it out last Friday. I most definitely got in the water and it was really fun.

You can get to it quite easily. Put Seneca Store at 16315 Old River Road into your GPS.

Seneca_store
Park on the street in front of the store, not in the lot behind it.

To the right of the store, you’ll see a clearing, and beyond that, a creek. That there creek is your swimmin’ hole!

swimming_hole
There are small, clay sand beaches on both sides of the creek.

The creek was only about thigh deep at its deepest when we went last Friday. I paddled around in it a little, but it’s mostly for wading.

Hapoo_lifeguard
Hapoo was the lifeguard.

The clearing I mentioned earlier is a great spot for a picnic and to dry off after you’re done playing. They keep it mowed because the general store and I guess this spot in the creek are historic landmarks.

Chris_Ginger_picnic
Christopher said he felt like he was hanging out with Ray Charles all afternoon.

We headed out from Adams Morgan at about 4:00 PM on a DC summer Friday, which everyone knows means hellacious traffic – except there wasn’t any going that way. We took River Road and there was just… nothing. That might have been the best part. We got there about 4:30 and left about 8:00. It was the best way to spend a hot summer night, no sweltering on a rooftop, no languishing in soulless, sunless air conditioning, just enjoying the summer outdoors. Come with us next time!

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Saintpaulia

My african violet, given to me by my building management company on Earth Day, had been slowly losing its blooms and what looked like dying. Until this weekend. When I got back to work today, it had one gloriously vibrant little bloom. ❤️‍

violet

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Restaurant Review: MXDC by Todd English

This is going to shock you – I found yet another Mexican restaurant. The best thing about MXDC is that it’s right by where I work and the happy hour goes from 3-8 PM in the summer! Schwing! The margaritas aren’t super cheap at $6 apiece, but the food specials are solid and quite tasty, for the most part. I’ll give you my gets and don’t-gets.

MXDC_margarita
If you don’t know what this is, we’re probably not friends.

Get:

Cuatro Queso Fundidos: This four-cheese dip comes in a skillet with tortillas for dipping. It’s salty and super filling – if you order it first, you’ll be less inclined to order anything else. I don’t know what makes it so filling, one of the cheeses must be. Could it be the oaxaca cheese? Cos I have no idea what that stuff is.

queso_fundido
I don’t know what fundido means, but I read it as FUN. Cheese fun. Cheese celebration, cheese fiesta.

Tradicional Guacamole: Just what the title says, this guac is very good and keeps the lemon juice light. I hate over-tangy guac, it ruins a thing of beauty and all you can taste is acid. Don’t worry, they don’t here. It reminds me of the guacamole at Rosa Mexicana, except it’s not prepared tableside like Rosa does. They also serve it with tortilla chips instead of soft tortillas.

Hongos Tacos: These mushroom tacos had good flavor. They didn’t taste like a regular taco, they tasted like you’d expect a more fine-dining take on tacos would taste: slightly sweet with hints of tang. I liked them and would get them again.

Don’t get:

Beet Ceviche: I’ve written before about the vegetarian ceviche at Las Canteras and how insanely magical it is, how exactly like traditional ceviche it is. The beet ceviche at MXDC is none of these things. It is a delicious beet salad with blue cheese crumbles. It is not ceviche at all. Beet salad. False advertising on this one. I only say ‘don’t get’ because it’s mislabeled, not because it isn’t delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed it once my expectations were adjusted.

Rockfish Aguachile Ceviche: Sadly, another don’t get. It tasted almost pickley or vinaigaretty (I tasted the cucumber, so maybe that’s where the pickle feeling came from). It was too far from traditional ceviche, a fact that was not explained in the menu. These dishes just shouldn’t be called ceviche is all. Idk. Maybe people aren’t as strict about what exactly ceviche is as I thought.

Maybe get:

I added a category cos these were a mixed bag. Mahi Mahi Tacos: These came exactly as advertised except for one key point: the fish had been smoked! Isn’t that something they should say on the menu? Good food, but if you don’t like smoky flavor, forget it.

happy_hour_menu
Here’s the whole happy hour menu, at least for the summer.

All in all, I like this place. Excellent atmosphere, good location for after work fun, and pretty good food – they just need to be a little more descriptive on their menu. Like we’ve all heard a thousand times, you get the best outcome when you manage people’s expectations.

MXDC_bar
The bar is VERY loud, but it doesn’t really bother me. I like loud, bustling places. Quiet ones are depressing and you feel like the staff is spying on you.

MXDC by Todd English
600 14th Street NW
Washington, DC
Downtown

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Outdoor Fun in the City: Rock Creek Park Trail from Calvert Street NW to Dumbarton Oaks

Rock Creek Park is a gem. It really is just a shining gem in DC. When people not from here think of outdoor space in DC, most think of the National Mall. The Mall is acres and acres of tourists, patchy grass, too few trees, lots of war monuments.

If you want nature and not monuments, go to Rock Creek Park. The easiest trail for me to get to is the one that starts in the Woodley Park area. If you’re familiar with DC, maybe you know the cafe Open City? There is an entrance to Rock Creek Parkway right in front of that, on the corner of Calvert and 24th Streets.

24th_Calvert

When you’re standing on that corner, you’ll see the entrance to Rock Creek Parkway. The paved trail is to the right of the road.

Entrance to RCP

Head down it on the paved foot/bike trail, and at the bottom of this open area (about a quarter of a mile at most), right before you get to the wooden bridge, you’ll see a little dirt side trail to the right of it. Take that side trail, that’s where there are no bikers and you can take your dog off the leash – and for a swim!

WhereTheTrailSplits
This is where the trail splits.

This dirt trail winds over a small bridge and under a huge one. The dogs can swim under the small one.

DogsSwimmingUnderBridge
There is a small pool under the little wooden bridge.

A little further, and the trail veers right, but you can dip down to the creek on your left to a little doggy beach. Bring a tennis ball or just use the broken off sticks lying around to play fetch with the beasts. Most times there are other dogs playing there, too.

DoggyBeach

This area is right behind Montrose Park in Georgetown, which you can climb up a hill or a paved road to get to. Continue a bit further and you get to Dumbarton Oaks Park. This park has a unique history, it was once part of a huge estate in the middle of the city and was designed by renowned landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. From the Park’s website:

“In 1920 a career U.S. diplomat and his wife, Ambassador Robert and Mildred Woods Bliss, returning to Washington from twenty years abroad, purchased an early 19th century mansion surrounded by six acres of disheveled gardens and “gentleman’s farmland” on the northern edge Georgetown. With a goal of creating, in Robert Bliss’ words, “a country estate in the city,” over the next twenty years they vastly expanded that acreage and, under the guidance of landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, created one of the greatest garden ensembles in American landscape history. Farrand’s 1921 design envisaged a carefully phased transition from formal gardens near the mansion to informal gardens further away, ending in a designed pastoral/woodland landscape in the valley below the mansion, centered on a stream with numerous constructed waterfalls and ponds.

In a remarkable act of generosity, in 1940 the Blisses — still healthy and only in their 60s — donated their estate. The mansion, out-buildings, and formal gardens nearby went to Harvard University (Mr. Bliss’s alma mater) for use as one of the world’s leading research institutes in three fields in the humanities. The majority of the estate, comprising the carefully contrived pastoral/woodland, 27 acres which are now Dumbarton Oaks Park, was donated by the Blisses to the American people, as represented by the National Park Service, which since has administered the Park as a unit of Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.”

DumbartonOaksEntrance
The entrance is pretty hard to miss.

Loop around Dumbarton Oaks with its neat little built-in benches and fire pits and glorious meadow for lounging and reading in, and then head back the way you came.

DumbartonOaksMeadow
The meadow is a heavenly place to read during the spring, after being cooped up all winter.

BuiltInBenches
You’ll be totally charmed by all the built-ins.

You’ll come back out of Dumbarton Oaks, then backtrack the main trail. Be warned, this is a dirt trail and can be muddy after it rains.

MudOnTrail
Don’t wear your brand new running shoes.

The whole trail is probably a mile and a half, so about three miles round trip. It’s almost totally flat, super lush, and just an easy, pretty walk. Do yourself a favor and give it a try, and if you have friends or family in town that get tired of endless sightseeing and pavement pounding, bring them for a little relief.

HikeMap
I made you a little map.

One last suggestion for when you’re done with the trail. Once you’re back on Calvert up by Open City, head east toward Connecticut Avenue (it’s only a block). Turn left on Connecticut and go half a block till you see the restaurant Medaterra on your left. This place has year-round CHEAP martinis and margaritas. If you need some carbo loading, order the Koshari, a delicious lentils, tomatoes, and rice dish (it tastes sooooo much better than it sounds, trust me). Enjoy!

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Cecil the Lion

I’m sure so many of you have now read more about the lion that was killed in Zimbabwe last week by a big game hunter from Minnesota. You know how I am about animals; I can hardly think about it without crying, let alone really research what happened. I’ve gotten the gist. I know it’s bad for many reasons. He was somewhat tame, and thus not really ‘hunted’ at all. He was lured from a safe zone to be killed. His cubs will now likely be killed. He was shot with a bow and arrow and left to suffer for days before being put out of his misery. He was not killed for sustenance for the person who killed him. The list goes on.

My thoughts are basically emotions. I just can’t have a rational, dispassionate thought when it comes to stuff like this. These types of incidents send my mind spinning in so many directions, thinking about the many forms of cruelty to the other living being that inhabit our planet (chickens in cages, those giraffes riding in a truck through low underpasses, the bear chained up in the heat to be roadside entertainment at a gas station, cattle frantic with fear as they’re herded in to slaughter, elephants mentally abused throughout their lives to do tricks at circuses – you get the idea).

The one nugget I always come back to is, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” When we read about events like this, it makes us all feel sick. Nobody is happy about this. So there MUST be a way we can live on this earth with other animals without having barbaric, senseless torture like this happen to them. Or to us. Yes, to us, because these types of cruelties happen every day, and they degrade our collective soul. Needlessly and knowingly causing suffering, even if you don’t feel it at the time, does something to you. It hardens you, it disconnects you.

Almost all of us feel connected to at least some animals in some way throughout our lives. But so often, instead of cultivating that special bond we have with the unspeaking creatures of the world, we deliberately abuse it and try to sever it so that we can come to see them as no more than machines, or meat, or entertainment.

Why? We don’t have to. I understand that humans were evolved to eat meat, so I’m not even going to touch that one right now. But must it be done so cruelly, so often? And what of entertainment, like circuses, zoos, and this trophy hunting? We don’t need to do ANY of those things, and I’d argue our lives would be far richer, deeper, and more loving if we didn’t. You know how they say torturing helpless animals is a sign of someone who’ll grow to be a serial killer? That’s real science. So what does FORCING a whole society to observe or participate in animal cruelty do to that society? I’d argue that society grows less empathetic to all suffering, animal and human. Possibly it makes things like slavery and war if not more frequent, then certainly more palatable.

We could all live fulfilled, healthy, successful lives without doing so many of the things that cause other beings fear, pain, and suffering. It would make us better humans if we looked at the consequences of so many of the choices we make regarding animals and each other. If I, of all people – selfish, superficial, mean as I am – know that working with the other beings on this planet rather than exploiting them would make existence happier and more fulfilling for all of us, then I know more of you have it in you, too. Warmth, connection, taking only what we need and doing it in a humane way, these are all real things that all of us can have in our lives. It simply doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe Cecil’s cruel death will help more people see this truth. The first step is waking up. Maybe we are on our way to waking up.

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Catawba Falls, North Carolina

I visited Black Mountain, NC for the third time last week and it was just as beautiful as ever. If you are ever near there, or Asheville, or Montreat, do yourself a favor and hike the Catawba Falls trail. This is real life:

catawba falls

Even more wonderful is that there are several little pools you can scramble down to and swim in along the trail. If you do this hike, wear your swimsuit underneath your clothes!

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On Eating Mussels

Not eating meat for humane reasons is such a minefield. When I first bailed on meat, it was probably the result of getting my dog and thinking that if I loved him and he loved me, maybe all animals deserved a little more consideration. And then I found books and videos showing the horrors of factory farming, butchering practices, the damage animal waste does to the environment, on and on. The movie Earthlings sealed the deal. I’m sure I’ve posted it before, but if you’re interested, you can watch it here:

Anyway, I went vegan for awhile. Well, mostly vegan. If I was dining out with someone and they ordered a meat dish and were going to throw it away without finishing it, I would eat it. Basically scavenging. Because if this animal has to suffer and die, it should not be for nothing. This was my reasoning. Better this being will at least give me sustenance, rather than just ending up in the landfill to rot. Plus, it was never that I didn’t like meat, so it’s never grossed me out like it does many vegetarians. As time goes by, though, I’ve been hyena-ing people’s leftovers less and less. It’s started to feel weird.

Anyway, back to eating vegan, I was cooking some amazing meals out of Robin Robertson’s cookbook, 1000 Vegan Recipes, but I just fell off, man. I started eating eggs and dairy that I went out and intentionally purchased again. I do make sure my eggs have the Certified Humane sticker on their carton. This means a few things:

  • Birds must have access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and promote a positive state of well-being. Feed and water must be distributed in such a way that birds can eat and drink without undue competition.
  • The environment in which hens are kept must take into account their welfare needs and be designed to protect them from physical and thermal discomfort, fear, and distress, and allow them to perform their natural behavior. All Cages, such as battery cages, furnished or enriched cages, as well as aviary systems that are designed to confine birds such as lock back cages that would be open during the day but closed at night, are prohibited. In aviary systems, all hens must have access to all levels of the system at all times.
  • A high degree of caring and responsible management is vital to ensure good animal welfare. Managers and caretakers must be thoroughly trained, skilled and competent in animal husbandry and welfare, and have a good working knowledge of their system and the hens under their care.
  • Hens must be protected from pain, injury and disease. The environment in which hens are housed must be conducive to good health. All producers must develop a health plan in consultation with a veterinarian.
  • Animal transport systems must be designed and managed to ensure hens are not caused unnecessary distress or discomfort. The transport and handling of hens must be kept to an absolute minimum. Personnel involved in transport must be thoroughly trained and competent to carry out the tasks required of them.
  • You can read more in-depth about the practices farms must adhere to for chickens here. It’s almost heartbreaking that it has to be spelled out so completely or else these poor animals will be handled cruelly, but I guess it does.

    copy-cropped-hfac-web-logo

    Dairy, which is arguably the cruelest of all if not done humanely, I’m less careful about. I’m going to start to change that. Maybe it means cutting out dairy. But what about pizza, nachos, all my favorite things? Is there a way to consume dairy without mistreating the cows they come from? I can admit that I am lazy and selfish about this and I turn a nearly blind eye on the dairy products I eat. It’s unforgivable and I will try to do better.

    This brings me to the eating of flesh. I have done some research and found that mussels and oysters are ethical to consume if your concern is cruelty to animals or the environment. In a nutshell, here’s why:

  • They can’t move.
  • They can’t feel pain.
  • Harvesting them doesn’t harm other animals.
  • Growing them is actually good for the water sources they live in.
  • I got most of my information about this subject from the following sources: The Sentientist, Slate, and PETA.

    So now I eat mussels and don’t even feel guilty about it. If the spirit of veganism is to spare animals suffering, I don’t think these animals suffer. And I’ve always had a big problem with strict labels. I’ve never claimed to be a vegan or a vegetarian because I don’t want all the baggage that goes with it. Also, okay, mussels are labeled as animals. But who did the labeling? Fallible humans, the source of all needless labeling. And not all animals are the same. A mussel is not a cow, it’s just NOT. Why do they have the same classification? Why are mushrooms okay but mussels aren’t? If they had classified oysters just a little bit differently back in Linnaeus’s day, would vegans be okay with eating them?

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    The Worst Thing That Could Happen, Happened

    I went to high school with Christina, who went on to have three beautiful daughters, two of whom are identical twins. They were so precious, I would follow their photos on facebook and marvel at the twins, identical twins are so rare! And their older sister who looks JUST like her mom.

    Then, on Monday, July 13, the unthinkable happened. The girls were in the car with their father when they were involved in an accident at an intersection south of Flandreau, SD. And just last night, one of the beautiful girls, Mariana, died.

    My heart breaks for them.

    A page to donate to the girls’ medical bills and Mariana’s funeral expenses (I can’t believe I had to just write that, so many of us had been pulling for her, I was just hoping against hope): Christina Rave’s Donation Page

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    Tote bags: Nobody cares anymore

    To the marketing teams that think giving me a free tote is going to be why I buy your product, I have to break it to you that you are wrong. I’ve noticed this a lot with magazine subscriptions. “Subscribe for $1 an issue and get a free tote bag!” But it’s just not really a draw anymore. Most people are so inundated with totes they end up throwing them away when they get home from conferences. Or trying to donate them to Goodwill.

    You know, though, if you were dead set on giving away totes as an incentive, one place that would be an excellent choice for tote-giving would be at a grocery store checkout line. You could package the tote with a magazine and signage that said you could get a whole subscription PLUS a tote for a dollar an issue, and people would be interested then. Cos at that point it’s like, I can buy a grocery tote and that’s all I get, or I can buy a tote and get a magazine subscription, too.

    vanityfair_tote

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    Gratitude: A Polemic

    Has anyone else had it up to here with everyone talking about how ‘grateful’ they are for everything? And even worse, Oprah and Deepak commanding us to manifest grace through gratitude? I think I’ve had about enough of this trend.

    Who am I even supposed to be grateful TO? The universe? I doubt it cares. God, the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth? Same deal. Dun need anyone’s #blessed nonsense. I get it, when someone does something nice for you, you thank them. Absolutely. But constantly spewing your gratitude for simple things that either 1) would have happened anyway, or B) YOU did, just makes you seem like kind of a ditz.

    I get that this is part of the whole hippie/yoga/embracing positivity movement, but to me, the whole thing feels forced/fake/disingenuous. Just another way for people to show the world how ‘perfect’ they are.

    gratitude
    We may or may not be selling ads and clicks.

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