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Week 12 (March 19 to March 25, 2018)



Meet Your Mayor

First-term Mayor Allison Silberberg, up for re-election in November and running against Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, is hosting her first ever monthly Meet with the Mayor session from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon on Monday, March 26, 2018.  The Mayor (in photo at left at NOTICe's Winter Party held on February 15th) will chat with each interested resident for up to 10 minutes about any issue or idea that the resident wishes to discuss on a first come, first served basis without an advance appointment.

No Increase in Alexandria Tax Rates for FY 2019

A post in Week 8 below reported that City Manager Mark Jinks formally kicked off the city's FY 2019 budget process by presenting his proposed $742 million operating budget for FY 2019 to the City Council on February 20th.  The post noted that the offered budget did not include a proposed increase in the property tax rates and suggested that, this being a municipal election year, no such increae would be forthcoming on May 3rd when the city council votes to finalize Alexandria's budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1st.  That forecast was not a difficult lift.  But the speed with which the City Council decided to freeze next year's tax rates is quite surprising.

The following notice was posted to the city's website last week Thursday:  "On March 14, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously not to consider any increases from calendar years 2017 to 2018 in the tax rates for real estate, vehicles, or business tangible property. The real estate tax rate City Council eventually adopts could be the same or lower than the current rate of $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, but cannot be higher."  You can be assured of two things -- the city council will not lower the tax rates for FY 2019 and will raise the tax rates for FY 2020.


Week 11 (March 12 to March 18, 2018)



Alexandria Library's Semi-Annual Used Book Sale and Fundraiser

This story is necessarily in the first person.  I'm sipping my iced coffee, looking for ideas for this Local News page, and reading an article in the Alexandria Gazette Packet about the Alexandria Library's upcoming semi-annual used book sale and fundraiser to be held next week on March 20-25.  The event is organized by the Friends of the Beatley Central Library.

In the news write-up, Nancy Blanton, who leads book sale, notes that all books are donated by the community.  She names several of the more remarkable books that the library recently received, and then says that one of her favorite titles is World's Greatest Military Aircraft.  That's my book!!  I donated it to the library last year.  I'm so excited that I finally made it to the top of someone's list, kinda, sorta.

And I think that my contribution is definitely more interesting than Ms. Blanton's top pick from last year's sale, an unnamed book written in Tsalagi Gawonihisdi, the southern Iroquoian language spoken by the Cherokee people. 

Apparently, the most memorable book ever received and sold by the library was a signed antique George Gershwin songbook that the Friends of the Library sold online for $1,200.  The two annual used book sales raise $50,000 a year to support some of the non-core library programs that are not funded or fully funded by the city.  Unlike the Gershwin songbook, most offerings at the book sale are $3 for hardcovers and $2 for paperbacks.


New Development

Giant/ABC Site
2nd Street Green Project
Power Plant Site
Old Colony Inn Site
National Airport North
Metro Bus Barn Site
Travel Lodge Motel Site
The Towns at 1333
Powhatan Potomac Yard
Mount Vernon Trail
Robinson Terminal North
Robinson Terminal South
Old Dominion Boat Club
The Thornton
Hoffman Town Center
Landmark Mall
Potomac Yard Metro
Alexandria Sewer
Craddock/Smoot Lumber
Potomac Yard


Montgomery Street
Crowne Plaza
Waterfront Center
Holiday Inn
Beach Drive

Park Development

Montgomery Park
Windmill Hill Park
Jones Point Park
Potomac Yard Park
King Street Waterfront Park

Completed Projects

National Airport South
Canal Center Plaza



New King Street Waterfront Park

Most of us share a common quirk of human nature -- we want to know everything now and unless we hate what we have learned we don't want that knowledge to change, which would force us to learn something else.  Those who inhabit the far end of this behavioral spectrum, should not go into real estate development.  For that profession -- from initial concept and artist's renderings, through groundbreaking and cornerstone-laying, and arriving at dedication and opening -- is permeated by change.

Take as an example, the Best Western Old Colony Inn, whose owners first proposed to add two additional stories of rooms and public spaces to their existing structure where the George Washington Memorial Parkway, East Abingdon Drive and Second Street converge.  Despite the fact that the developers received the city's approval for the expansion project over the widespread objections of neighbors, the developers have now decided to level the existing hotel and build 20 new garage townhomes.  Apparently, it is better for their return on investment and cash flow.  And our peace and parking.

Or consider the former Washington Post newsprint warehouse site at Robinson Terminal North, a patch of land wedged between Oronoco Bay Park and Founders Park.  Developers originally proposed to construct a 132-room hotel, 66 multi-family housing units, 25,000 square feet of commercial space, 4 restaurants with a total of 500 indoor and outdoor seats, a public pier, and other open space.  It formed a matching bookend to the mixed-use waterfront redevelopment effort now underway at the Robinson Terminal South site where Duke and Wolfe Streets meet the Potomac River.  Again, the visioneers of the northern parcel received the city's approval for their ambitious project, but were unable to find an interested hotelier and soon concluded that the venture was financially impractical as designed.

Or the former Metro Bus Barn acreage bounded by North Pitt Street to the west, Wythe Street to the north, North Royal Street to the east, and Pendleton Street to the south.  For most of the first half of the 20th century, the block was occupied by two-story row houses and other small buildings.  From the end of World War II in 1945 until 2014, the property was used as a bus garage and maintenance facility, first by the Alexandria, Barcroft and Washington Transit Company and later by its successor the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.  In 2015, WMATA released an initial solicitation of proposals for development of the site, but later canceled the process purportedly because none of the responses met the agency’s criteria.  Others suggested that the project became mired over disputes over liability for environmental remediation of the site.  In 2017, WMATA announced that it was preparing a second solicitation of proposals.  Yet there has been nothing other than crickets -- the disconcerting sound of urban and governmental silence -- since.

In 2012, Alexandria adopted an ambitious Waterfront Plan that envisioned uninterrupted public access along the entire Potomac River shoreline abutting Old Town, from Tide Lock Park in the north (which is part of Canal Center located two blocks from Watergate) to Windmill Hill Park/Shipyard Park in the south (near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge).  While the entire plan is designed to be implemented over the next 20 to 30 years, the city council, in full-on obsessive-compulsive mode, wanted some changes to take place immediately.

High on the city's redevelopment wish list is the site at the foot of King Street that has been occupied since 1923 by the venerable Old Dominion Boat Club.  While municipal bullying did not alone dislodge the rightful owners from their property, the addition of more than $6 million in publicly-financed bribes did.  And so, in January 2018, the ODBC moved into its newly built $10 million clubhouse a block away at the foot of Prince Street (see Week 2 below).

At the time its armistice with the ODBC was announced, the city revealed its plans to demolish the old clubhouse once it was vacated and reclaim the land for a new Fitzgerald Square ParkLast week, the city updated its website to report that construction on the interim park, now named King Street Waterfront Park, will start later this spring and it will open to the public before the end of 2018 (see artist's rendering at left).  However, the city warns that "it may be a decade or more before the planned flood mitigation infrastructure is in place and the permanent park can be constructed."  That is what we now know, but things could change.

Meanwhile, the city has posted interactive "360° Panoramic Renderings of King Street Park at the Waterfront."  Artist renderings are also posted to the King Street Waterfront Park page of this website.  A groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Saturday, March 17, 2018, from 8:00 to 9:00 am.

If you like this news item, there are many more like them on the Neighborhood Development page of this website (also see index above left). 


Week 10 (March 5 to March 11, 2018)

Top 10 U.S. Destinations
Alexandria, Virginia
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Stateline, Nevada
Glen Arbor, Michigan
Pompano Beach, Florida
Chicago, Illinois
Anaheim, California
Lake George, New York
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Top 10 International Destinations
Tokyo, Japan
Rome, Italy
Mérida, Mexico
Xi'an, China
London, England
Jeju Island, South Korea
Mallorca, Spain
Tbilisi, Georgia
Granada, Nicaragua



Alexandria Tops List of Places to Go

This week, Money published its third annual list of the 20 Best Places To Go -- 10 in the U.S. and 10 abroad.  These are destinations "that deliver the highest value for your dollar" taking into consideration "more than 32,000 data points in total from dozens of sources, covering cost, year-over-year trends, and customer satisfaction."  And Alexandria ranked at the top of the stateside list, number 1, best of the field, the pinnacle "where quality, cost, and value come together to provide a terrific travel experience."

Money found:  "When you hit the cobblestone streets of Alexandria, you may feel like you’re a world away from the hubbub of the nation’s capital—but you’re actually less than 10 miles from national landmarks like the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. Alexandria’s red-brick homes and a historic waterfront promenade make it a surprisingly charming, inexpensive outpost for travelers to the D.C.-area."   Ditto for those of us who choose to actually live in Alexandria.  And best of all, we have the remaining cities on the list to visit.

And if you are not the exploring type, here are the inspiring opening words of Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!:

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You're on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.


James River Breakfront

Jefferson Sideboard

Regent Arm Chair and Side Chair



Better Than Ikea

Benjamin S. Carson Sr. -- graduate of Yale University and University of Michigan Medical School, former pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, recipient of a 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom (highest U.S. civilian award) bestowed by then President George W. Bush, conferee of more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees, unsuccessful candidate for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination, 17th U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and only African-American senior official currently serving in the Trump Administration -- has been publicly chastised for purchasing a $31,651 dining set for his office at HUD's main headquarters building at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC.  Apparently, the cost exceeds a federally mandated cap of $5,000 for workspace redecorating by new political appointees.

According to its official mission statement, "The Department of Housing and Urban Development is the principal Federal agency responsible for programs concerned with the Nation's housing needs, fair housing opportunities, and improvement and development of the Nation's communities."  While $31,651 may seem like a lot of taxpayer money for furniture to be used by someone who is primarily responsible for championing affordable housing, the cost (as detailed in the chart at left) includes a dining table with two pedestal bases (see manufacturer's photo below), and a breakfront, sideboard and 10 chairs (see catalog photos below left).  Here are the details:

The solid mahogany dining table, two base pedestals and breakfront are from Hickory Chair Furniture Company's James River Collection, which seeks to recapture "the spirit and details that embody the fine aesthetics of 18th Century design . . . found in the elegantly appointed interiors of plantation homes found along the James River in Virginia."  The furniture possesses a "balance in scale, refinement in shapes and lines, intricate inlays and crisp carvings, acanthus leaves, shells, and ball and claw feet."  Each piece in the collection "is crafted to Old World standards with your finish selection patinas hand-rubbed to a depth that reflects beauty and personalization."

The table extends from 96 to 144 inches in length, and the pedestals "feature hand applied ebonized inlay with bell flowers topped by hand carved scrolls and a fluted column [atop] Antique Brass ferrules with casters."  The breakfront is "crafted of crotch mahogany, satin wood and quartered mahogany boarders, carved teardrop and dentil molding on crown."  Interestingly, most crotch mahogany is sourced from South America and is somewhat hard to obtain. The wood takes its name from the area on trees where limbs separate from trunks or where trunks split, and its outer grain tends to have a delicate feather-like appearance.

The dining set includes 10 chairs produced by Los Angeles-based interior and furniture designer David Phoenix -- 2 Regent Dining Arm Chairs and 8 Regent Dining Side Chairs.  According to his website, Mr. Phoenix's eponymous "collection personifies his own polished and dapper demeanor and exhibits his distinctive thoughtful, American perspective.  He focuses on meaningful, well-appointed choices, transporting us to a time when simple daily rituals were elevated and celebrated."  The Regent Chairs are "a curator’s favorite. With rich exposed wood detail on the back and a graciously sculpted leg, this is the chair for lingering dinner parties."  Mr. Carson's chairs will be upholstered in a luxurious blue velvet fabric.

Also ordered is a Jefferson Sideboard with a cathedral mahogany wood top by Alexa Hampton, who is based in New York City.  According to her website, Ms. Hampton, following in her father's footsteps, designs furniture that "translates the classical principles of good design and decoration into some of today’s most elegant, enduring, and functional domestic landscapes" found in "luxe, beautifully layered urban apartments, expansive town and country residences, private airplanes, and yachts."  The sideboard evinces "hand carved lambs tongue molding frames on doors and concave end panels."  According to Ms. Hampton, it is "based on a mid-20th Century sideboard with which I fell in love and bought, then proceeded to ebonize for added drama.  It is a beautifully detailed piece of furniture . . . that harkens back to a time of real glamour and a piece made for a room that is all about entertainment and timeless forms."

Confronted by his critics, Mr. Carson now says that he does not need or want the custom-manufactured furniture that was reportedly selected by his wife, claims that he did not know that it had been ordered by career employees who no longer work for the department and are entirely to blame for the unfortunate misunderstanding, and insists that the purchase, which is due to be delivered sometime in May, be canceled straight-away.  He also wants us to know that he has not replaced either the carpet or the drapery in his office.  Clearly, the gallant and well-trodden tradition of Cabinet Secretaries quietly offering to pay for any needed furniture and donating it to their respective departments never crossed his mind.  While the equally rooted tradition of whistleblowers reporting wasteful government spending by folks lacking decency and common sense before the fact, and honesty and contrition after the fact, persists.

On a positive note, if the President ever drops for lunch, he and the Secretary will be able to eat their McDonalds and KFC meals in form-over-substance style befitting the swampy-comfy public offices they hold.

Week 9 (February 26 to March 4, 2018)



National Airport Redevelopment Project

Regular readers of the Neighborhood Development page of this website may know that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is building a new communter terminal to the immediate north of Terminal C (Gates 35-45) and a new TSA screening facility at National Airport, which hosts 24 million passengers each year.  This $1 billion undertaking is called Project Journey.  Demolition of Hanger 11 -- which served for eight years as the airport's Interim Terminal while the airport's current main concourse and Terminals B and C were built in the 1990s and more recently housed aircraft maintenance hangers and administrative offices -- started last October (see photos at left of the Hanger 11 site before and after demolition).

The construction phase starts this week Monday, when one or more of the four travel lanes immediately next to the arrivals area of Terminals B and C will close from time to time over the next year or so.  The Washington Post reports that, "By spring, the stretch of the lower-level roadway that provides access to the airport will be a round-the-clock work zone with more widespread lane shutdowns, the kind that will probably create traffic backups.  The work will not affect the upper-level access road used for departure drop-offs."  The immediate area around Terminal A should also remain mostly unaffected, but cars leaving Terminal A may find it easier to exit the airport via the departure rather than the arrivals level of Terminals B and C.  None of the airport's parking garages are expected to be affected.

Adds the Post, "The authority says that despite traffic-control measures, there’s no way around the construction. Drivers should prepare for backups and heavier traffic near the terminals.  Motorists also should anticipate changes to traffic patterns.  Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft could be diverted to pick up customers on the departures level instead of arrivals.  Metro might be your best bet for avoiding the construction zone."  Or not.

Later this year, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority resumes aggressive track maintenance on all its lines.  For example, Metro states that on August 11-26 it will be "working around the clock to . . . rebuild the track infrastructure, including installation of new rail, new fasteners, and repairs to the concrete pads that support the rails . . . [on] the tightest curve in the entire Metrorail system between . . . [the] McPherson Square and Smithsonian" stations, resulting in "significantly reduced service on [the] Orange, Blue and Silver lines."  Those two weeks you will want to take the Yellow Line to and from National Airport.

Then on November 2-5, "Metro will improve/upgrade several switches outside Reagan National Airport, as well as install new concrete pads beneath the rails along the aerial structure at the airport station" resulting in the closure of the National Airport and Crystal City rail stations on those dates.  And it gets worse:  "Immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend [November 26-December 9], Metro will begin a continuous 14-day capital project on the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River.  The project will include structural repairs, and rail infrastructure improvements, such as grout pad reconstruction and fastener replacement along the entire bridge."  As a consequence, there will be no Yellow Line Service between Virginia and the District, and riders will have to use the Blue Line instead.  During this two-week period, Yellow Line service will run only between the National Airport and Huntington stations.

As we learned during Metro's 2016 SafeTrack project, the work schedules above are subject to considerable changes of all types.  Bottom line, plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get where you are going.  And it will be more difficult to use National Airport as a short-cut over the railway tracks to Crystall City.



Proposed Firesale of National Airport and GW Parkway

Last week, as part of its proposed $200 million infrastructure plan, the Trump Administration floated the idea of selling a few of the Federal government's crown jewels to the highest bidder to help fund various unspecified projects that may or may not rhyme with border wall.  Potentially on the auction block?  Dulles Airport, the Dulles Access Road, National Airport and the George Washington Memorial Parkway among other valuable assets.

It is unlikely that privatization of these assets will ever come about.  According to the Washington Post, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, which has managed the two airports for the past 30 years, holds a lease on the airports until the year 2067, owns all capital improvements that it has made and continues to make at both airports since 1987, and has issued $4.5 billion in bonds to finance those substantial upgrades.  And can you imagine a private-sector owner selling the naming rights to and attempting to monetize the Amazon GW Parkway via E-Z Pass?


Week 8 (February 19 to 25, 2018)

Property Assessments at Watergate

For 2018, the city kept last year's property assessments at Watergate unchanged for 95 homes and decreased them between 2% and 5% for the remaining 5 homes.

For 2017, the city increased property assessments on 90 of Watergate's homes by 8%, left them unchanged for 8 homes, and made specific one-time adjustments to the remaining 2 homes.

To put this in context, the Consumer Price Index, All Urban Consumers, Housing, Not Seasonally Adjusted shows increases of 2.86% from year-end 2016 to year-end 2017, and a 3.04% increase in the preceding 12-month period.



City's FY 2019 Budget

On February 20th, at a public meeting to be held at City Hall, Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks formally presented to the City Council his proposed $742 million operating budget for FY 2019, the municipality's fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018 and ends June 30, 2019.  The city's operating budget for the current fiscal year is $728 million.

Mr. Jinks's budget does not include a proposed increase in the all-important tax rate.  Last year, the City Council raised the residential property tax rate a whopping 5.7 cents to $1.13 per $100 in assessed value.  The City Council could still raise the tax rate later this spring when the budget is finalized, but here are several reasons why they will not do so.

This is a city council election year.  The mayor has announced that she is running for re-election.  The vice mayor has declared that he will challenge her.  At least three of the remaining five councilors have already stated that they also are running for re-election.  Seven political newcomers have disclosed their intent to run for a seat on the council.  This year's recently-completed assessments of single-family housing and multi-family condominiums and apartment buildings (representing more than 75 percent of the city's property tax base) are up nearly $1.3 billion or 4.4% in the aggregate.  That amounts to $14.7 million in additional city revenues this year using the current tax rate.  The increase roughly matches the proposed increase in next year's budget over this year's budget.  However, city taxpayers should be prepared for another unpleasant increase in the tax rate a year from now.

2018 MetroStage Flyer




MetroStage, our "Off-Broadway On the River's Edge" neighbor one block to the north, is staging a trio of Spring Solo Performances "celebrating work by women, about women, starring women."  The series starts this week and continues through the end of April.  Here are the details (you can also click on the flyer at left to enlarge):

Resist -- A Revolutionary Cabaret (February 24-25)
Stories and songs from music's revolutionary women
Conceived and performed by Roz White

George -- Don't Do That! (March 8-25)
The music and magic of Joyce Grenfell
Devised and performed by Catherine Flye

I Did It My Way -- In Yiddish (April 13-19
Written and performed (in English) by Deb Filler

Normally, MetroStage schedules full-on repertory performances at this time of year, but there was a possibility that they would have to vacate their current perrformance space due to the planned redevelopment of the Craddock/Smoot Lumber Site where they are located (click here for more details on the Neighborhood Development page of this website).  Their upcoming move to the redeveloped Crowne Plaza building a couple blocks to the south has been pushed back by 12-24 months (click here for more details).  Please support MetroStage as they have been so supportive of Watergate in allowing us to hold board meetings there!




Shamrock Shake

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, McDonalds is bringing back to participating stores its minty Shamrock Shake for a limited time, February 21st through March 17th.  First introduced in 1970, the iconic green concoction was, especially for those growing up in the seventies, the epitome of cool. Shamrock Shakes have two basic components.

First, there is the vanilla reduced fat ice cream, which is milk, sugar, cream, corn syrup, natural flavors (one assumes vanilla), monoglycerides and diglycerides (emulsifiers that produce a more stable foam structure with smoother body and texture), cellulose gum (a thickening agent used to give food a thicker and creamier consistency), guar gum (a substance made from guar beans that is used to thicken and stabilize food products), carrageenan (a somewhat controversial food additive extracted from red seaweeds and used for its gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties), and vitamin A palmitate (an antioxidant and a source of vitamin A that is added to low fat milk and other dairy products to replace the vitamin content lost when milk fat is removed).

Second, there is the shamrock syrup, which consists of high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, more sugar, natural flavor (one assumes mint), xanthan gum (a thickening and stabilizing agent), citric acid (added to enhance flavors and as an emulsifying agent to keep fats from separating), sodium benzoate (a preservative), and Yellow 5 and Blue 1 (food dyes that produce a greenish hue when combined).

A medium Shamrock Shake (garnished with whipped cream) costs $2.89 and has 560 calories (140 calories from fat), 16 grams of total fat, 91 grams of total carbohydrates, 12 grams of protein, and no dietary fiber.  In full disclosure, that is about 25-35 percent of the recommended daily caloric intake for most adult women with average metabolisms, and 20-25 percent of the recommended daily caloric intake for simarly situated men.  Available now at the McDonalds located nearest to Watergate at 1000 North Henry Street.  I checked so you don't have to.  Go indulge yourself as in younger days.

Week 7 (February 12 to 18, 2018)



Presidents' Day

Presidents' Day is a federal holiday now held each year on the third Monday in February.  It originally celebrated the birthday of America's first president, George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732 and served as Jefe-in-Chief from 1789-1797, but now honors all our country's former presidents.  This year, Presidents' Day falls on February 19th.  Here are a few things that you can do that day for free:

Mount Vernon, General Washington's historic estate, will be open to the public from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm without the normal $20 admission.

The City of Alexandria hosts the world's "oldest and largest" George Washington Birthday Parade from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.  The parade will be preceded by an 11:00 am band concert at Market Square in front of City Hall.  The parade route starts and ends near Windmill Hill Park on the south side of Old Town, processing north along Fairfax Street and then south along Royal Street.  The turn-around point is on Queen Street between Fairfax and Royal Streets, and that is the closest viewing location from Watergate of Alexandria (6 blocks away).  Click on the parade route map to the left to see a full-size version, or click here to see the route map as a PDF.

The following city-operated museums will be open to the public at no cost: 

Week 6 (February 5 to 11, 2018)

2018 is the Year of the Earth-Dog



Lunar New Year

The official calendar in China, the Gregorian Calendar, is the same one used throughout the western world.  It is a solar calendar that takes its name from Pope Gregory XIII who introduced it in 1582, has 12 months and 365 days in so-called common years, and includes a realigning leap day in most years divisible by 4 (except those divisible by 100 but not 400, which occurs three times every 400 years).  The principal (religious) purpose of the Gregorian Calendar is to ensure that Easter falls each year on a date that roughly corresponds to the vernal or spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (click here to read more about equinoxes and solstices in Week 12 of last year's Headlines).  What you may not know is that all solar calendars, which are based on the annual cycles of the sun, evolved from lunar calendars, which are based on the monthly cylces of the moon.

While China formally adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1912, and the calendar has been in wide use for civil purposes since the Communist Party's ascension in 1949, a traditional Chinese Calendar remains popular in China and much of Asia, and within Chinese communities throughout the world, for marking important dates such as religous festivals, cultural events, national holidays, and other important occasions such as weddings, funerals and new ventures.

While the Chinese Calendar can be traced to the 14th century before the Christian era, the current version is less than 5,000 years old and dates back to only 2637 BCE.  It is a lunisolar calendar based on astronomical observations of the sun's longitude and the moon's phases, has 12 months and 353 to 355 days in common years, and features 13 months and 383 to 385 days in leap years (which occur about once every three years when it is projected that there would otherwise be 13 new moons over a twelve-month cycle).

The Chinese Calendar rotates on a 60-year repeating sexagenary cycle that incorporates two sets of symbols called stems and branches.  The first set of 10 celestial symbols (heavenly stems) -- representing five yin-yang pairs -- includes growing wood and cut timber, natural and artificial fire, earth and earthenware, natural and wrought metal, and running and standing water.  The second set of 12 terrestial symbols (earthly branches) features animals that many westerners associate with the Chinese zodiac and includes rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and boar/pig.  Many of us are familiar with Chinese years being named for the animals alone (for example, "Year of the Tiger").  However, each year of the Chinese Calendar is more fully represented by a heavenly stem paired with an earthly branch.

For example, each 60-year cycle begins with wood-rat, then progresses to timber-ox, fire-tiger, fire-rabbit, earth-dragon, etc., and eventually ends with water-boar before starting all over again with wood-rat.  Because of the way that the two sets of ten stems and twelve branches cycle, about half of the possible combinations never come together.  The Chinese partly explain this phenomenom by asserting that some yin-yang pairings are just not meant to be.  The current 60-year cycle began in 1984, making 2018 the Year of the Earth-Dog (see chart at left).  It probably sounds much better in Mandarin or Cantonese.  Coming up soon in 2021 is the Year of the Metal-Ox.  That looks to be a particularly head-strong and auspicious year.

This week marks the start of the countdown to the first day on the Chinese Calendar -- the Lunar New Year.  Here are the critical dates:

February 8thSpring Festival, a day for praying, honoring one's ancestors, and cleaning the home to sweep away any bad luck in advance of the new year.

February 15thNew Year’s Eve, when families gather for a reunion dinner, the most important meal of the year.

February 16thChinese New Year, which is celebrated with firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.  No home cleaning takes place on this day lest good fortune be swept away.

March 3rdLantern Festival, where traditional displays of (mostly) red lanterns hold back the darkness and ends the new year's celebrations.


24/7 Wall Street, which produces mainstream financial news and opinion, recently ranked the best U.S. communities in which to live based on the same socio-economic factors -- education, poverty and life expectancy -- that the U.N. Development Programme uses to prepare its global Human Development Index.  Eight D.C. area communities made the list, with Alexandria ranking 16th.






Virginia Senate Passes Bill Allowing Men to Drive Inebriated on Private Property

On February 8th, the Virginia Senate voted 37-3 to approve a bill, SB 308, that would allow Virginia men to drive while inebriated so long as they do so on their own property.  Because the bill was rushed through the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, no one knows whether legislators will later amend the bill to include drunk women, whether the bill applies to shared-ownership property such as private roadways in planned communities and condominium parking lots, and whether the bill covers transgender menThe bill was introduced by Richard Stuart, a Republican lawyer who has represented the 200,000+ residents of Virginia’s 28th Senate District since 2008.  That district includes a part of Fredericksburg and some or all of eight surrounding counties.  In 2015, Mr. Stuart was elected to a third term without facing either a primary or general election opponent.  Voting for Dummies begets Drunk Driving for Dummies.


Week 5 (January 29 to February 4, 2018)



Alexandria Restaurant Week

More than 60 Alexandria restaurants are participating in this year's annual winter Restaurant Week that features $35 three-course dinners for one or $35 dinners-for-two from January 26th through February 4th.  Half of those eateries will also be offering lunch specials during the week. 

Don't know where to go?  Try Sunday in Saigon, which opened last year next to Trader Joe's and is offering a 2-course lunch for $15 and a 3-course dinner for $35 (click here to see its Restaurant Week menu).  Or Arlandria's "cajun, creole and seafood" mainstay, RT's Restaurant, which is offering a truly indulgent 3-course lunch for $20 (click here to see its Restaurant Week lunch menu).

Arlandria Restaurant Tops Washington Post's Cheap Eats List

In case you missed it, Tim Carman, the Washington Post's self-appointed $20 Diner, named Royal Nepal, a farm-to-table eatery that opened last March at 3807 Mount Vernon Avenue (near East Glebe Road) in the Arlandria neighborhood of Alexandria (see photo at left), as his favorite cheap eats of 2017.

Says Carman, "I stopped at more than 100 restaurants in 2017, returning three, four and occasionally five times to make sure I had sampled widely enough to issue a fair opinion of the place. Sure, there were duds along the way, but more often than not, I encountered cooking informed by tradition, training, family history and the sheer love of the cuisine. . . .  My favorite dish of the year was produced in chef/co-owner Subash Rai’s [Royal Nepal] kitchen:  crusty, yogurt-marinated lamb chops served atop a slab of pink Himalayan salt. I gnawed on those bones like a dog."  Arf!

Click here to read Carman's full review of Royal Nepal.

Week 4 (January 22 to 28, 2018)



Town Hall Meeting

On Saturday, January 27th, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, our two representatives to the Viriginia General Assembly, Senator Adam Ebbin (see photo at far left) and Delegate Mark Levine (see photo at near left), are holding an Alexandria Town Hall Meeting at the Mount Vernon Community School, located at 2601 Commonwealth Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22305.  The event is open to the public.

Nest Cam Season 3

Washington's resident celebrity bald eagles, Mr. President and The First Lady, have returned to their nest high up in a Tulip Poplar tree amidst the Azalea Collection at the U.S. National Arboretum located just ten miles directly up-river from Old Town, Alexandria.  The 24/7 live-streamed high-definition newly-updated nest cams at dceaglecam.org went live on New Year's Day to start Season 3 of the most compelling reality programming available on the web.  For a recap of what happened during the first two seasons, please visit the borderline-obsessive Nest Cam page of this website.  On January 20-21, the nest cam mysteriously went dark immediately after the federal government shut down due to Congress's failure to pass a short-term funding bill over uninvited immigrants -- like this eagle pair.


Week 3 (January 15 to 21, 2018)

Papal Keys, Conopaeum and Trintinnabulum


Pope Francis Bestows Honor on St. Mary's Church

On Sunday, January 14th, the Most Reverend Michael Burbidge, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, concelebrated early morning Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Old Town, Alexandria.  At the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Burbidge announced that his Holiness, Pope Francis, had exercised his canonical authority to designate St. Mary’s Church, which is the oldest Catholic Church in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a basilica, making it the 1,762nd basilica in the world, 84th basilica in the United States, 2nd basilica in Virginia, and 2nd basilica in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

In the Catholic tradition, a basilica is a church formally recognized by a Pope for its antiquity, dignity, religious relics, architectural significance, or historical importance as a center of worship.  There are four “great” or “major” Catholic basilicas, all of which are all located in Rome – the Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran (also known as the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran), the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican (also popularly known as St. Peter’s Basilica), the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (also known as the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major).  The rest of the basilicas throughout the world are referred to as “minor” basilicas.

The first-named basilica in Virginia is the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, which was built in 1858 but traces its roots back to 1791. It became a minor basilica in 1991 upon the 200th anniversary of the parish’s original establishment as St. Patrick’s Church.

The first D.C.-area basilica is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is adjacent to the Catholic University of America and is the largest Catholic Church in North America.  Construction of the shrine began in 1920. It opened unfinished in 1959, was named a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and was finally dedicated on December 8, 2017 following the completion of the stunning Trinity Dome.

The original St. Mary’s church was built in 1795 at Church and South Royal Streets.  According to parish records, support for its construction came from President George Washington; his military aide Lieutenant Colonel John Fitzgerald; Thorton Alexander, the scion of Alexandria’s founder, John Alexander; Colonel Robert Hooe, the then Mayor of Alexandria and one of the central political figures in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, which firmly established the doctrine of judicial review in the United States; and John Carroll, a Jesuit priest who served as America’s first bishop and archbishop, and who founded Georgetown University, the oldest and best Catholic university in the United States.

In 1810, St. Mary’s moved to its current location at 310 South Royal Street, a dozen blocks away from Watergate of Alexandria.  The current church building was completed in 1827.  Henceforth, the church will be known as the Basilica of Saint Mary.  St. Mary’s new-found status as a basilica carries with it two special privileges – the right of the church to display the papal insignia of the crossed golden and silver keys of Saint Peter representing the power of loosing and binding (see photo at far left), and the right of the basilica’s rector to wear a special mozzetta (a short cape with a small ornamental hood) over his other vestments or ceremonial garments.  In olden days, basilicas also had the privilege of displaying two other papal symbols (see photo at near left) the umbraculum/conopaeum/pavilion (an umbrella or canopy often sewn from red and gold velvet fabric) and the trintinnabulum (a small golden bell).  But alas and sadly, such exhibitions of papal regalia are no longer widely encouraged. 

Basilicas also tend to attract pilgrims, which is a very old word for tourists.  So, Old Town's secular leaders should find something to like in this week's honors.


Gravelly Point

Washington National Airport opened on June 16, 1941, just months before the U.S. entered World War II.  It is built on 861 acres of land atop the site of the historic Abingdon Plantation (which was owned by the Alexander family for whom the City of Alexandria is named), mudflats near Gravelly Point, and landfill dredged from the Potomac River. 

Twenty years ago, in 1998, the U.S. Congress -- against the wishes of local government officials, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority that operates National Airport, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that operates the National Airport Metro Station -- renamed the airport to honor Ronald Reagan, who served as our nation's 40th President from 1981-89.

On June 13, 2016, nearly 75 years to the day that National Airport opened its doors, Congressman Jody Hice, who has represented Georgia's 10th Congressional District (stretching from Atlanta in the west to Augusta in the east) since 2015, introduced a bill to change the name of Gravelly Point Park to Nancy Reagan Memorial Park to honor the former First Lady, who died in March 2016. 

The park (marked with a small red crosshair in the center of the satellite image above right) is situated just a few hundred feet removed from the northern end of National Airport's primary runway, making it a popular spot for folks to watch airplane arrivals and departures (see photo below).  The park also offers stunning waterside views of the airport terminal and Washington, D.C. (see photos at right).

Mr. Hice's original bill died in committee at the end of the 114th Congress on January 3, 2018.  A few days ago, on January 13th, Mr. Hice re-introduced his bill in the current 115th Congress. 

This week, on January 17th, the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation on a strict party-line vote that did not consider local viewpoints, and then forwarded the bill to the full House where it is expected to pass in a similarly partisan fashion over the objections of minority-party Democrats.

It's a shame that Mr. Hice has disregarded what Mr. Reagan said at a Spirit of America Rally held in Atlanta on January 26, 1984:  "The best view of big government is in the rearview mirror as we leave it behind."  Sadly, it's none for the Gipper.  Click here to read an interesting Washington Post column about the history of Gravelly Point.




Week 2 (January 8 to 14, 2018)

10 U.S. Counties Losing The Most Weight
1.  Arlington County, Virginia
2.  Prince William County, Virginia
3.  City of Fairfax, Virginia
4.  Monroe County, Indiana
5.  City of Alexandria, Virginia
6.  Dodge County, Georgia
7.  Monroe County, Florida
8.  Sierra County, New Mexico
9.  Madison County, Mississippi
10. Craig County, Oklahoma

10 U.S. Counties Gaining The Most Weight
1.  Somerset County, Maryland
2.  Clarendon County, South Carolina
3.  Murray County, Oklahoma
4.  Indiana County, Pennsylvania
5.  Leslie County, Kentucky
6.  Ashley County, Arkansas
7.  Evangeline Parish, Louisiana
8.  Seward County, Kansas
9.  Calhoun County, Florida
10. Phillips County, Arkansas



Now Back to Reality

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which serves as our national public health institute, reports that 36.5 percent of all U.S. adults are obese.  This is of concern because, according to the CDC, "People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol."  However, as the CDC optimistically notes, "Even a small weight loss (just 10% of your current weight) may help lower the risk of disease."

Here are some general obesity trends identified by the CDC:

  • By region, the South has the greatest prevalence of obesity, followed by the Midwest, Northeast and West.
  • By state, the highest rates of obesity are found in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia, and the lowest rates of obesity are found in Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  Click here to see the CDC's color-coded obesity map of the U.S.
  • By education, obesity rates decline as educational levels rise.
  • By age, obesity rates rise as folks get older.

This week, 24/7 Wall St., which produces mainstream financial news and opinion, published the results of a deep dive into the CDC's county-level obesity data.  The report notes the 10 U.S. counties losing the most weight in the past few years (Northern Virginia is doing quite well) and the 10 U.S. counties gaining the most weight (see charts at left).

Obesity is based on one's body mass index, a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters.  Click here to determine your BMI using the CDC's BMI calculator, your height in feet and inches, and your weight in pounds.  The calculator will also tell you whether you are considered "underweight," "normal," "overweight" or "obese."


Old Dominion Boat Club

Construction of the Old Dominion Boat Club's new clubhouse at the foot of Prince Street on the Potomac River, which fronts Waterfront Park and is across the street from Chadwicks, was completed in late 2017.

It was previewed for members at a New Year's Eve party held on December 31, 2017, and formally opened to its members on January 12, 2018.  The old facility closed on December 25, 2017 after a final event held on Christmas Eve, and will be turned over to the city on January 31, 2018.

Please visit the Neighborhood Development page of this website to learn more about the tortuous development of this new building, which was forced by Alexandria's relentless threats to seize the property via eminent domain, as well as the city's plans to raze the current building and develop a new Fitzgerald Square Park over the coming years.



Week 1 (January 1 to 7, 2018)

Happy New Year!

Eggs offer a simple and enduring symbol for the start of a new year.  They represent creation, life, hope, fertility, renewal, growth, health, wealth and the vast world around us. 

As found in nature, they are delicate yet protected, sheathed yet accessible.  In the kitchen, they are versatile and can be boiled, scrambled, fried, poached, basted, coddled, baked, beaten, whipped, emulsified, foamed and combined.  Eaten, they are nutritious, delicious and satisfying.

Every culture seems to have created some version of an egg custard or flan, the most sublime expression for an egg.  For example, Chinese chefs in Hong Kong and Macau bake bite-sized Dan Tarts -- delicacies served with tea at Dim Sum.  It's the perfect start to a happy new year everywhere.  Wishing you a happy new year.



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