Making a House a Home

I’m lucky to see people fall in love with a house, buy it and then settle in and make it uniquely theirs – sometimes by doing extensive renovations and sometimes just by adding their own personal touch and prized possessions. I love seeing this process happen. I firmly believe that when people put themselves into their home, it creates a warm energy and appeal that goes beyond how expensive or rare their possessions are. I take pride in the fact that I can make just about any space feel inviting on any budget. I’ve made dorm rooms look homey. Even my apartment during my time in Peace Corps, when I had virtually no budget, was a space I was happy to come home to. It took some creativity, but it was a true refuge.

One of the things that tells me so much about people is the artwork they display in their home. My art collection is not worth much money. Much of it was given to me as a gift or handed down from family. Or it was purchased during my travels or to commemorate special occasions. But each piece means so much to me and represents a part of my personal journey.

This Peruvian retablo was brought back by my best friend as a gift from her trip to Ecuador.

A retablo is most often a religious painting on an altar or on a panel. My mini altar above isn’t religious in nature, but rather is a market scene filled with children’s toys. The artist is a Peruvian woman named Eleudora Jimenez. She and other members of her family make these beautiful and intricately detailed scenes and they are sold throughout South America and even exported to the US. My best friend took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and brought me back this special gift which I cherish and proudly display in my living room.

A colorful and glittery Dominican carnival mask.

Since I lived in the Dominican Republic for a little over two years, I’ve acquired a small collection of Dominican art and try to get a new piece every time I visit. On my last trip with my sons, we traveled around the island together with their dad. It was an amazing adventure filled with so many wonderful memories. We picked up mini Carnival masks like the one above for the kids at the Centro Leon Museum in Santiago. They’re displayed in their playroom because I believe art should be accessible and surround us as we go about our daily lives. I hope that the masks serve as a reminder to my boys of their Dominican heritage and rich artistic traditions that they have witnessed on the island firsthand.

Native American treasures passed down by my beloved great aunt Jeanne.

Some of my favorite pieces are part of a collection of Native American pottery and jewelry passed down to me from my great aunt who passed away some years ago. Jeanne Loomis was married to my grandfather’s brother. She was British and met my great uncle in London where he was serving as a pilot during WWII. They married and settled back in the United States. Perhaps b/c she was from another country, my great aunt always fascinated me. She and my uncle were particularly close to my mom, their niece. Aunt Jeanne was a spitfire. She had no fear of speaking her mind and she knew how to get things done. She made every family holiday dinner a little more exciting. Later in her life, she became fascinated with Native American culture and began traveling to reservations and purchasing artwork and jewelry which she sold in her Lancaster County, PA shop. In addition to numerous pieces of gorgeous jewelry, she also passed down the above collection of Native American pottery.

The piece on the top left with the long-haired human figure is by artist Tom Wacca. And the piece on the bottom left comes from the Santo Clara reservation in New Mexico which is well known for its unique pottery from various artists. The three pieces on the bottom right were done by artists Roy Tsigowany and Stella Kwa Povi and were clearly a favorite of my aunt. And the small black and brown vessel is an example of the typical style of artist N. Sandia Jimenez. The pieces are special because of the their amazing craftsmanship but also because they remind me of my beloved aunt and her love of American culture. I will pass these down to my children in order to both keep her story alive, as well as the beauty of Native American artwork.

The Black Madonna by contemporary artist Louis Luma.

And finally, during my exploration of Dominican art, I have come to appreciate the coveted artwork by famous Haitian artists as well. Haitian art can be very expensive and the pieces that I have are not the most famous or renowned but they struck me. It takes only a second for me to realize which pieces connect with me and resonate. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love color and I also love artistic styles that lean toward folk art. So when I saw the above painting of a black Madonna by prolific contemporary Haitian artist Louis Luma, I decided it needed to be part of my collection.

Ultimately, our homes can become expressions of our history, our journey and our passions. As my own life continues to evolve, I plan to collect artwork that reflects each stage. In doing so, we create refuges for ourselves and our families and cozy, welcoming spaces for others as well.


Culinary Experimentation 101: Homemade Curry

While recently texting with a foodie friend who is an amazing cook, I mentioned that I was hungry for curried lentils and planned to whip some up for dinner. His response was that it sounded great but I was going to make my own curry, right? Uh, yes, of course I was going to make my own curry. Who doesn’t?! Pshhh…Well, me. But my friend’s challenge inspired me. I love curry. I seriously think it’s possible to be addicted to curry. As a busy single mom, I’m often looking for the shortcut (pre-cut, pre-cooked, pre-made) that will make getting food into my kids’ bellies easier. But my friend is a purist and on his culinary adventures he has discovered that it’s often just as easy to make from scratch many of the things that we buy prepared. And as we know, the homemade version is often a hundred times better.

So, I was gonna do it. First step was to find a recipe. Sounds easy enough, but there is no one way to make curry. Curry simply means a spice mixture. There’s Indian curry, Thai curry, Jamaican curry, red curry, green curry, coconut curry. Since my hankering was for red lentils, I decided to lean more towards the Indian curries but the long list of spices is what had always intimidated me. Since no two curry recipes that I found were the same, I realized that there is no one right way to make a curry and I could make my own version tweaking the ingredients how I wanted. That took off some of the pressure.

Next step was to get quality ingredients. There were not going to be supermarket spices in this mix. I headed to Bazaar Spices in the new Atlantic Plumbing Building in Shaw. They’re also in Union Market in NE. The staff was extremely helpful and they had everything I needed and even mixed me up some of the ingredients for me in smaller sizes than those displayed in the shop. I ended up finding my coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, paprika, cayenne, garam masala and some beautiful red lentils. They even had tomato paste powder that I could reconstitute for the red curry paste, so I didn’t need to make another trip to the grocery store.

The rich, beautiful colors of all the spices I needed for my curry.

The recipe that I was using for Curried Coconut Lentils called for both curry powder and red curry paste so I decided I was going to make both. I realized that I didn’t have the dried chiles or whole peppercorns that were called for in the paste or the whole mustard seeds for the curry. But I did have mustard powder and ground pepper and I was gonna take a bet that I could omit the chiles and it would still be pretty good. And I was right! What this also made me realize is that – A) I will never be able to make the same curry twice cause I’ll be pinching a bit of this and a bit of that, B) this will be an ongoing process of exploration and experimentation to see how different spices and ingredients impact the overall flavor of the curry, and C) I may never be able to go back to store-bought curry.

The finished curry powder and paste all ready to go.

Once the curry powder and paste were prepared, I was ready for the easy part. My only complaint was that the curry paste did not get as red as I would have liked b/c of the dried tomato that I used. But the taste was phenomenal. So, I sauteed some minced garlic, ginger, onions, carrots and celery with the red lentils and then added the curries and coconut milk and let all the flavors dance together in a slow simmer. Some cilantro as garnish and a mini naan and voila, definitely the best curried lentils I’ve ever made and the closest I’ve ever come to replicating the amazing Indian food I’ve tried in restaurants throughout DC. I would never claim that after one try, I’ve figured out how to make better curry than some of the master chefs around here, but I’m off to a good start. I’ll continue to fuel my curry addiction by perfecting my ideal spice blend.

The finished product! I like lots of cilantro…


Staving Off Summertime Boredom

Those who don’t have children may not quite understand why the prospect of summer break causes some of us to break out in a nervous sweat. Parents in DC who choose to send their kids to camp for the entire summer are looking at spending a small fortune even if they choose the most affordable camps and are somehow able to forego aftercare services. Most parents try to carve out a mixture of camp, vacation time, grandparent duty, play dates and whatever else they can come up with. The flexibility of my job is helpful during this time, but I certainly can’t stay home all summer so there’s always some creativity involved in figuring it all out.

This year, I’m staying home with my kids for the first two weeks of summer and then they will start camp at their school. I will attempt to work while they are home, relying on friends and neighbors to watch them during appointments. While this is stressful, the other difficult piece is trying to keep them entertained and away from screens for at least a decent portion of the day. It’s been exactly one week since the boys’ summer break started and they’re bored. Frankly, so is mom. I love being out and about too and so I’ve been brushing up on our favorite summertime places to visit.

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Summer is a great time to pretend to be a tourist and catch up on all the museums.

Now, I try to take advantage of all that DC offers and I spend a good amount of time exploring, but I, too, lament how there’s still so much that we haven’t done. I haven’t taken a nighttime tour of the monuments, haven’t taken a tour of the Capitol building or the White House, haven’t climbed to the top of the Washington Monument. I could go on, but the list of things to do in this area is seemingly endless, so why not try to check off a few during summer? We recently spent the afternoon at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia. We hadn’t been in years. Neither kid really remembered it. Mount Vernon has spectacular views of the Potomac, gorgeous gardens and details that absolutely fascinated my children like an outhouse with multiple seats for group bathroom trips.

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Meticulously maintained gardens at Mount Vernon.

Though I enjoy exploring new spots, there are a few tried and true places that always please and one of those is Yards Park. I’m going to admit here that it’s really me who loves Yards Park the most. My kids always ending up having a good time, but sometimes they want to go to a real pool. But the wading pool here is SO much easier for me. I don’t have to get in (which means I don’t have to get into a bathing suit and get wet!) if I don’t want to; I can supervise from the cool shade. The park is gorgeous with beautiful river views. There are clean bathrooms close by. There’s a lot of kid-friendly food options like Nando’s Peri Peri, Potbelly’s and sometimes food trucks. And I can bribe them to get out of the pool with a cone from Ice Cream Jubilee.

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Lovely Yards Park with its wading pool, waterfall and fountains is always a hit.

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The very cool pedestrian bridge at Yard’s Park with river views.

Another popular summertime option is sporting events. A baseball game at Nats Park is an absolute must! Even non-sports people like myself enjoy the beautiful setting and killer food. We have tickets to see DC United this weekend as well. I’ll be looking forward to future soccer games at what is sure to be the gorgeous new stadium at Buzzard Point.

Nats Park

Nats Park is always a great night, even for someone like myself who doesn’t follow sports at all.

Even though summertime can be expensive and stressful, it’s still a great time to chill out, sleep in a bit and explore. It’s an opportunity to connect with my kids and let them decompress from the craziness of the school year. I am so grateful to live in an area with a plethora of fun activities at our fingertips. I vow to relax myself, forget my to-do list for the time being and try to create some unforgettable summer memories for my kids.


Celebrating the Love of DC Pride

Washington DC’s annual Pride Celebration is always a special time in the city. The first Pride Festival was held in 1975 so there’s a rich history here of celebrating DC’s LGBTQ community. This year, I attended the Pride Parade along with my best friend and two sons. We left with such warm feelings of love and peace. There were marchers holding signs of solidarity and support that brought tears to my eyes. It was an emotional and happy day, and I was grateful to experience it with my children.

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DC Pride

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The boys with all their swag.

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Peace Corps marches in the Pride Parade every year with volunteers carrying flags to represent all of the countries where Peace Corps is currently working. Go Peace Corps!

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Then I woke up the next day to the news of the mass shooting in Orlando. This horrific event was even more difficult to process after the previous day’s experience. To be present in a crowd of joyful people emanating love and peace is amazingly life affirming. I left the parade feeling so hopeful for humanity’s capacity for love and the progress we are making towards understanding and not just acceptance, but celebration, of one another. But the shooting was a grave reminder that this spirit of inclusion and love for diversity does not exist in every part of this country or within every American’s heart. And it has left me with a growing feeling of dread, scared of just how much hate is lurking out there and how easy it could be for powerful people to stoke that hatred and perpetuate more violence.

On the day of the parade, I was struck by the sign held by this man representing the Latino GLBT History Project. It says “Mr. Trump, I’m not a criminal nor a drug dealer…I’m a Mexican American GAY man fighting for our HUMAN RIGHTS and our LGBT community”. It was a reminder that in spite of all the strides that have been made, there is still plenty more work to be done to protect the human rights of all groups. The Orlando massacre once again made that heartbreakingly clear and made this man’s message even more poignant and urgent knowing that many of the victims were also both gay and Latino.

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Everyone wants to figure out what we can do to prevent these awful shootings. The causes of these mass shootings are complex and require equally complex, multi-faceted solutions, but it’s clear that we’re having a hard time figuring out what exactly those solutions should be. Resist access to guns? Improve mental health services? Battle racism and prejudice? Reign in radical religious groups? We clearly can’t agree what would work or how to go about doing these things.

I take comfort in my strong belief that there is a capacity for love and goodness within everyone. I know that when people do hateful things it’s because they are scared or hurting themselves. At the ripe old age of 6 years old, my son wisely proclaimed that everyone has good inside of them but some people just can’t find it. Maybe we can help people find their goodness by loving them, even when they seem entirely unworthy of our love. It’s so difficult to do but what if we take example from Mother Teresa and tell everyone, including those with hate in their hearts, “I see you too”. There doesn’t seem to be any other choice.

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Following the “Beach” Balls Underground

I will freely admit that one of the biggest draws of seeing the current “Raise/Raze” exhibit at the Dupont Underground was just to get inside the underground space. There’s been a lot of buzz of the use of these abandoned trolley tracks as a public art space and I was excited to see it for myself. Tickets to the exhibit were sold out within 24 hours so I clearly was not alone.

“Raise/Raze” is constructed from the thousands of plastic balls used in last year’s very popular “Beach” exhibit at the Building Museum. The balls were re-purposed for this exhibit in another interactive display allowing visitors to create blocks and build structures with the balls. The intentional lighting and shadows create opportunities for some great pictures.

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The black hole within the glowing white balls.

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Entering the Raise/Raze exhibit.

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My somewhat somber underground selfie.

Ironically and completely by chance, earlier that day I also visited the National Building Museum on a field trip with my son’s school. Last year, I took my boys to experience the “Beach” installation at the Building Museum which was essentially a huge ball pit mimicking a beach scene. We had so much fun! I literally had to drag them out of the “water”. Seeing the balls in their new space today was that much more compelling after being reminded of that unique experience. I love that both exhibits were interactive which allows patrons to connect more authentically with the artwork. And the contrast between the balls in a light and airy beach scene and now literally in a dark, underground passage was striking.

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A decidedly more lighthearted selfie playing with the kids at the “Beach”.

The National Building Museum is an amazing space in its own right, filled with tons of light and soaring, majestic ceilings. Pretty much the opposite of being underground.

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On this trip to the museum, my son was learning how to plan a city to make it the most livable and accessible for its residents. He and his classmates learned about the different uses of buildings, i.e. residential, commercial, industrial, etc. They then each built their own structure and figured out the best location in the town for their building based on its purpose and the needs of the people living in the space.

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The city map displaying some of the awesome creative structures built by elementary students.

It struck me how much the kids’ lesson demonstrated an ongoing theme of the use of public spaces in creating viable cities. The “Beach” and “Raise/Raze” installations specifically demonstrate the real world necessity of art in such spaces for building community, raising awareness and exploring important themes of our collective well-being.