Author: sub524

On George Mason and Traveling Mercies

On George Mason and Traveling Mercies

In my last entry I made a grave error. In talking about visiting the monument to the “forgotten patriot” George Mason I forgot what his name was mangled his name, and called him James Madison. Madison was of course the 4th President of the USA. Yes, I had to look that up.

In penance for my transgression, here is a brief overview: Mason was a Virginia landowner of vast estates who had a hot temper and loved wine. He was the father of nine living children, and one of the oldest politicians at the Continental Congress. The main reason he was “forgotten” is because he’s one of three men at the Continental Congress to refuse to sign the Constitution. He felt it didn’t go far enough, and wanted an end to slavery right away. His work on amending the constitution eventually became the basis of our current Bill of Rights. He completely pissed off his once good friend and neighbor George Washington because of his refusal to sign, and both men were pig-headed enough to never reconcile. His writing on individual human rights also greatly influenced Lafayette’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” early in the French Revolution – in fact, the resemblance is so close, you could call plagiarism and not be off the mark. There’s a bas-relief of Mason in the chamber of the US House of Representatives. It’s located above and to the right of the speaker’s chair; he and Jefferson are the only Americans recognized there, in company with great lawmakers across the ages.

So, mea culpa, Mr. George Mason. You do have one of those names though… just saying.

Now as promised in my last blog, on to our misadventures with VRBO and Airbnb. Disclaimer: Prior to this trip, I’ve never had issues with either.

Here’s what happened:

Our first DC rental through VRBO was a gorgeous brownstone off Logan Circle. Great location, three stories, built in 1879, renovated with style. Plenty of room for the six of us, and a claw-foot bathtub. I’d booked it as soon as we found out the cancelled 2020 GWU graduation might happen in May of 2021. So I reserved it 10 months ahead of time. Paid the deposit. All good.

Then came May of 2021, 15 days out from our arrival. We paid the balance due. All good. I communicated with the host via email to check and see if there was a blender on the property. Got a nice reply of “well if there isn’t one, we’ll get you one.” Wonderful!

Then.

SIX DAYS before we were to arrive, (and all six of us had our plane tickets of course), BING my phone indicates an email has arrived. I look at it, look at it again, and burst into hysterics. Why? Because the HOST HAD PULLED THE UNIT FROM THE RENTAL PROGRAM.

Yep. I didn’t know they could do that either if all your money was paid. I checked. Oh, yes they can. VRBO returned our money, and even suggested (bad suggestions) two places we could squeeze the six of us into. But we were in trouble. Even though at this point GWU had postponed their in-person graduation again, lots of other colleges with thousands of kids graduating in the DC area hadn’t. And the Smithsonian museums picked that weekend to start reopening. There weren’t a lot of places for six people to stay on such short notice.

Our son found one, however, which leads me to my next horror story, this one about Airbnb, specifically a company who uses the platform, called Namastay.  I recommend you Namastay away. They own lots of apartments. Don’t use them.

Here’s why: They don’t care about you.

Granted, we had to book quickly, or we would’ve seen the 1-star reviews buried in the comments.

This particular Airbnb was in an apartment building in a changing area, quite close to Union Station in DC. It had a handy Walmart at the base of the building. I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it actually was handy having the Walmart downstairs.

This recently renovated apartment building had a fob to get in the door and make the elevator work. Room keys were electronic. We’d noticed in the comments that Namastay only provided one key and one fob to their unit, no matter that it accommodated six people, who might presumably have different schedules. We were kind of hoping this might’ve changed. No. Oh no. It was worse.

My husband and I arrived in the lobby at 4pm. We said hello to the very lovely front desk receptionist, and let her know we were checking into room 102.

“Oh, that’s Namastay,” she said. “We have so much trouble with them.” If our lives had a handy soundtrack, the music would have gotten scary and dark at this point.

She goes and checks the key/fob situation, as Namastay told us those would be located at the front desk. The receptionist comes back and tells us, “There’s no keys here for that unit.”

Two hours later, pacing the lobby, on the phone with Namastay, who first claim ‘there are a keys, the receptionist hasn’t looked hard enough.’ Then the story changes to ‘the cleaners must have taken it with them,’ and no, they can’t get a hold of them, it’s after 5pm now, and they’re shutting their office. Then the story changes that ‘maybe the cleaners left them in the apartment.’ So the receptionist has to go upstairs and look. No keys.

At this point I’ve pulled up “hotels near me” to see if we can squeeze in somewhere. Not having a lot of luck, as it’s graduation weekend in DC, which of course I KNOW, and why I’d booked our original lodging TEN MONTHS AHEAD OF TIME.

Namastay stops communicating altogether, since you know, they don’t care if we can get into the unit or not. Namastay’s offices are in Memphis, and its drinks time there. The receptionist is about to go off duty. Now there are four of us loitering in the lobby with our suitcases, unsure of what we will do next.

Here’s the good part of this story. The receptionist says, “You know what, DC is my town, and we don’t treat people like this. Hold on.”

She goes in back, has a conversation with the owner of the apartment building, who agrees with her that it’s just rotten that Namastay is doing nothing to help. She comes back with two brown-paper wrapped key cards. “These are what our maintenance men use. We’re going to trust you with them until the Airbnb people can straighten this out.”

So there it is. We ended up having a great time in DC on this trip. We experienced travelling mercies in the form of a kind, thoughtful, vacation-saving receptionist. But now you know why we will be hard pressed to ever chance VRBO or Airbnb again. I bet if George Mason had been around, he would’ve given them each a sound tongue-thrashing and a thump of his cane.

On Eating and Walking in Washington, DC

On Eating and Walking in Washington, DC

This past week my family and I flew into DC for our son’s graduation from his Master’s Program at GWU. Just like last year for his undergrad degree, there was no actual ceremony, but we gathered all the same, getting an Airbnb that was problematic but in a good location. More on the dangers of renting on VRBO or Airbnb in another post. Suffice it to say that NEVER AGAIN will we rent from either one, and that had it not been for the kind intervention of a lobby receptionist, we would have been scrambling for a place to stay.

After our rocky start, it was a wonderful odyssey of being together while eating and walking, with the occasional Metro ride or Lyft thrown in the mix. We’ve all been to DC multiple times and its one of our favorite cities; the monuments and museums, the diversity of neighborhoods, and of course the great restaurants.

A highlight of the trip was being some of the first to step back into the National Portrait Gallery and the American Museum of Art. They have huge collections thoughtfully curated. I always appreciate plenty of cushy places to sit down and contemplate art, and these museums (they are attached and flow into one another) have plenty. In the center of the two is a huge rectangular atrium with flowing water and lots of orchids. Do try and make your way up to the third floor where the conservationists work behind glass, like a zoo exhibit.

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This trip we walked from the Mall around the tidal basin, and saw the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials, along with the “forgotten” patriot, James Madison. They were right, I didn’t know who he was – without really saying so, the memorial lets you know that Mr. Jefferson cribbed a lot of his material from Mr. Madison. I found the Jefferson to be disappointing. As one of our party said, it seems to be last on the list to get repaired. There’s a small museum underneath the giant rotunda. You take a very slow, creepy elevator down. It takes so long that you start to wonder if you will end up trapped and entombed there yourself. The museum (when the elevator door finally opens) is dingy, sparse, with a sad little gift shop. The poor clerk in there was so happy to see people. We bought magnets out of pity.

The FDR monument is fantastic. It is completely outdoors, and is built with giant blocks of stone. Water was planned to move through the whole thing, but that seemed to be a repair that has been indefinitely on hold as well. Bronze statues and carved paragraphs highlight the events and words (All we have to fear is fear itself) of his four terms in office. I was struck by something Eleanor said about him – that it was his disease that gave him both the compassion and the resilience to become the President we needed.

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MLKs monument makes it look like he is striding out of a mountain and it has his wonderful words and thoughts carved into the walls surrounding it. The whole walk around the basin was pleasant and not too strenuous. That said, we were walking an average of 20,000+ steps a day (roughly 10 miles a day) so you might want to take that last sentence with a grain of salt.

Another jaunt was to Georgetown and the oodles of cute townhouses all snugged up against one another, painted in various colors. The waterfront was enjoyable, if a bit stinky, and I finally got to cross off a bucket list item – climbing up the 75 steep “Exorcist Stairs.”

Taken by my son Steven, who had run up ahead of me. Show off.

We had our share of coffees and snacks as we did our walks, and ate at local faves such as the Old Ebbitt Grill by the White House. It’s a stuffy dark wood place where I had a great Caesar Salad. We also popped up to Union Market where you can get your choice of street food. My kids opted for Miso soup and a tasty breakfast, while my husband and I shared a really good eggplant parm sandwich.

Other tasty places were Poets and Busboys (hint: get the Vegan Nachos and share – they are pictured at up top) and the fun Fisher’s Farmers Bakers by the waterfront where I had the most delicious sandwich of Brie, Avocado, and Roasted Veggies on a fantastic apple walnut raisin bread. I did not share. Don’t forget to grab some chocolate there too – they sell it by the half pound. However, highlights of the eating portion of this trip were all found by our graduate. He picked several winners. The first was chef Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, which featured Mediterranean mezze plates and fortified sangria. We shared plates, ate, and talked for three hours as the staff whisked away empty plates and replaced them with more tasty bites and an endless supply of flatbread. I’ll dream of the lemon sorbet for a long time.

The second was located just off of the DuPont Metro stop, Mission, which had a fun bar scene vibe, and lots of outdoor seating if you wished it. The food was tasty tacos (the vegan mushroom ones were outstanding) as well as some good sizzling fajita platters. You are not going there for the service, or the comfortable seating, so just enjoy your tangy margaritas and the company.

The topper for me was our final fancy meal, at Rasika. It’s Indian food to the nth degree. Stunningly delicious food and impeccable service made this my favorite meal. I even hopped off my vegetarian diet to have the Halibut Malai in creamy yellow curry as my main dish. I love a good curry, and this was by far the best I’ve ever eaten. It came with its own side of fluffy basmati rice. The kids all had super spicy dishes that made my nostrils quiver, such as Lamb Mirchi Korma, and Chicken Tikka Masala. Sides included delicious truffle Naan and a variety of chutneys. If you go you MUST get the side dish of the crispy spinach called Palak Chaat.* Palak, I learned from our quirky waiter, is a type of spinach you can find at Asian markets. I’d fly back to DC just for that dish. We went all out on the desserts here, sampling a black rice pudding with an edible silver garnish (ooo lala) and a spectacular apple/cardamom sorbet.

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Needless to say, with all that eating, it was a good thing we clocked about 60 miles of walking on our 6-day trip. Side note: folks seem ready to travel, the planes and airports were packed. And even though we had our shot cards laminated and ready to show if asked, nobody did.

*Here is a version of the Chaat from THE CURRY GUY: just click the link to get to it.

 Spinach Chaat | Crispy Spinach Snack THE CURRY GUY (greatcurryrecipes.net)

On Perfect Moments and New Phones

On Perfect Moments and New Phones

My new phone is passive aggressive. It supposedly uses facial technology to open. Or that’s the idea anyway. Sometimes it “recognizes me,” but mostly I get “no match” when I stare into its heartless little lens for facial recognition. Doesn’t matter if I give it a stink-eye either. Time after time I’m forced to plug in my PIN to get access to this possession that seems to own me, rather than the other way around.

I am overly dependent on my phone. The landline was cut long ago, and my computer is also being uncooperative these days, so I’m forced to use the phone and all its glorious apps for multiple things. Interestingly, I hardly ever use my phone as an actual phone. I take more pictures with it than calls. Once it grudgingly opens, the suspicious little phone takes lovely snaps, but there are days that I miss the delayed gratification of taking a picture and not knowing if it turned out okay until I take ALL the pictures on the roll, then get it to a developer.

When the kids were small, 15 or so years ago, we’d take our film to Costco to be developed and get doubles of everything, not knowing what would be good and what would not be, and to include the better extras in letters (!) to my parents. Even back then, ruffling through the giant bin of developed photos belonging to multiple people, I marveled at the trust inherent in that just-leave-it-out process. I mean, I could’ve grabbed someone else’s photos no problem, and the same could have happened to us, but there was never an issue. We didn’t want those other people’s photos, just ours thanks.

I’ve been attempting to purposely break free from technology since the start of the year. Maybe the phone knows this, and its non-admittance is its form of a sit-in. Long walks and swims help, but I still find myself called back to the screen more often than is properly healthy. I did have a perfect moment of peace the other day. I was sitting on our couch in the late afternoon with a cup of tea, reading a mindless novel (oh okay, you will totally judge me for this but it’s Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, the whole Twilight saga from Edward’s point of view.) I was neither tired nor hungry nor thirsty, nor hot or cold. The window was open, and a cool breeze lightly ruffled the fluffy edges of our single blanket that survived The Fire four years and two weeks ago.* I could hear the light tinkle of the neighbor’s wind chimes. Someone had started cooking their curry for dinner, that wonderful scent just a whisper in the air.  At my feet my old dog, who is still hanging in there, was snoring in her contented old-dog way. In our own kitchen, I could hear the sounds of our youngest son prepping to make dinner, the dim music from his earbuds leaking through as he pulled out pots and pans. I breathed in, and out, and watched the edges of the blanket move gently in the breeze, and for that bit of time, all was well.  I recognized it for what it was, an exquisite moment from the gift of life and savored it. I remembered a bit from the classic play “Our Town” where the dead warn Emily to pick an ordinary day to return to, not an important one, that the pain of the beauty of an ordinary day would be almost too much to bear. I hadn’t fully understood that warning before, but in that moment, I did.

I pay a price for them, though. Soon after they happen I am gripped with anxiety that something in that peaceful picture will be ripped away from me soon. It’s the aftermath of The Fire, this belief that at all good things will be taken away. It comes along less often than it used to. Time does heal. Maybe it’s time I take a cue from my phone, and when those thoughts arise, firmly state, “No Match,” and refuse to let them in. Not even if they give me the stink-eye.

*ON SALE! You can read in detail about The Fire and donate to animal shelters at the same time! “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything is available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback – its part of Kindle Unlimited at the moment and discounted too!

 Amazon.com: On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything: Uncovering Resilience and Finding Joy after Disaster Strikes eBook: Upton Bracey, Stacey: Kindle Store

On Nostalgia and Things I Could Do Without

Since I’m the middle of writing a new novel, I welcome distraction. Going for a walk or cleaning the fridge have new appeal. So does thinking about anything other than my new characters. In my mental wanderings this week, a few things popped up. Specifically; nostalgia for items that will never have a comeback, things that puzzle me as to why they exist (and I wish they did not), and finally, two secret cooking ingredients.

NOSTALGIA

I miss real keys to hotel rooms. You know, the ones that if you forgot to turn them back in, you could “put in any mailbox to return.” Part of the fun of staying in a hotel was those keys, the way they snicked the door open as opposed to the little chirrup you get now from the electronic ones. If you go into the way-back machine, there were even bigger keys to bigger locks that had teeth in them that looked like they could open a castle door. Those needed a hard turn and gave a solid thwock as it moved the heavy lock. You knew you were safe on the other side of those doors. Another thing in favor of the old-fashioned ones is that you could opt to hand it to the desk person on the way out, so you wouldn’t lose it, say at the beach. They’d put it in your numbered slot behind the desk, and pass it back with any phone messages that came in when you returned. I don’t know about you, but we regularly left things behind at the beach. Everything from hair ties to sunscreen would sift away into the sand. When the kids were young, it was the sand toys that went missing. I feel bad about that now, adding to the ocean plastic and trash problem with our inability to hold onto the things we brought with us. But you wouldn’t lose your room key back then, for sure, as it was living back at the front desk of the hotel. Now with its credit card size and disposable nature, hotel keys are easily misplaced and forgotten. Just as easily replaced of course by the machine they have at the desk, but in the end just not as satisfying as a real key. I will say I rather liked the waterproof plastic bracelets we were given in our last outing to Mexico that both opened the doors to the hotel and were also scanned at our meals. You couldn’t lose those either.

Another thing I am nostalgic for, in a pink hazy memory way for how it was, rather than the actual annoying reality are the Thomas Brothers Guides. Those in the know, raise your hand. If you lived in a large city, you HAD to have one of these or else wander, lost and doomed for the rest of your days. The Thomas Brothers Guide was a large, spiral-bound map book of every single address in the city. You went to the back, and looked up the address of where you wanted to go. It would give you a page number and grid letters and numbers such as G-20 for that address. Then you would go to the page number and look up G-20 on the grid, and somewhere in that square was your address. You’d figure out by flipping map pages how to get from where you were currently to there, and write down directions on a piece of paper. Party invites would include the page number and grid of the address you would need to find. If you were verbally giving directions, you’d say you lived in B-15 on page 82. I swear the seat-back pockets in cars were created specifically to hold your Thomas Brother’s Guide. Yes. I miss them. It was like a treasure hunt, and there was real satisfaction in successfully arriving at the destination using this technique.

The final thing I am nostalgic for (this week) is when movies at the movie theatre didn’t have ads. You heard me. No, really. You’d get your popcorn, grab a seat, and then watch previews, and then the movie. No ads. I really miss this one.

THINGS THAT I COULD DO WITHOUT

1. Infant Shoes. The ones people put on defenseless babies when they are still far from crawling, let alone walking. Yes, they are absolutely precious in that way that all wee things are. They are however, not needed. I’m guilty of having bought a pair of these once for a baby shower before I had my own kids. The cute factor got me. But when I had my own, I realized how impractical they were, as well as being pain-inducing if the kid had some on and was kicking you as you carried them.

2. Long, Dull Stories Before the Recipe. I don’t mind a few words like, “My grandmother made this for us when we were kids,” that’s fine. But OMG someone get these folks an editor! There are sometimes buttons for “skip to recipe,” but these stories are not that interesting. And most good recipe-folks are not good writers. Just saying.

3. Ads Before Movies at the Theatre. *sigh*

TWO COOKING SECRETS

1. Worcestershire Sauce. Yes I had to go look at my bottle in the fridge (sparkling clean, thanks to aforementioned avoidance of ‘staring-at-my-computer-screen,’ also known as ‘trying-to-write’) to spell that one correctly. Brits add all sorts of extra letters to their spellings. Extra U’s add special panache; colour and flavour. That aside, if you have a savory dish, I recommend you add a generous splash of this magical sauce, it makes everything taste better, and your friends will love it. Turkey Chili benefits greatly from this addition.

2. Buttermilk in Baking. This is a relatively new discovery for me, but after seeing several recipes using buttermilk in cakes, I have incorporated it into more things – when milk is called for I will add buttermilk instead. It’s wonderful.

Of course if you are vegan, don’t do either of these things. I have no idea what is in Worcestershire sauce, it’s a secret and could be boiled innards for all I know. Oat Milk will do almost as well for your baked goods. And it’s sustainable.

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