Tag Archives: bethesda

Parking Space Wars

Many of the homes on my quiet, narrow, suburban street have no driveway or garage (including ours) which means that cars are always parked along both sides of the street. Some of the homes have several drivers and often each driver has his or her own car and understandably everyone wants to park as close to their front door as possible.

Our across the street neighbor, when we first moved in, once knocked on our door in the middle of a party we were having to complain that someone had parked in front of her house. We had the offending car moved and made sure to never park in front of her house again.

A few years ago, after a teenager on the street got his license and a car to go with it, a parking space battle broke out. Sometimes one of the three cars from the home with the teenager would park a little over the next door neighbor’s property line and the neighbor would complain to whomever would listen about their parking spaces being infringed upon. The teenager or one of his parents would then park elsewhere on the street and another neighbor would complain. Finally they began parking on a side street and walked the half block to their own house in order to make peace with the neighborhood.

Because we live on a corner, our parking space is even more limited than other neighbors’ because one is not supposed to park within 16 feet of an intersection (which we discovered when we got a ticket for parking too close to the stop sign). We have three cars, but park at least one of them on a side street in order to not annoy our neighbors (although Andrew parks in front of a neighbors house all the time — they have a large parking area and have said they don’t mind him parking there).

The latest of the parking space battles is the silliest, I think, but then I’ve never been one for appearances. A neighbor who moved into a McMansion about a year ago apparently doesn’t appreciate another neighbor parking her old Cadillac in front of their house. About a month ago a large pile of branches found its way into the street in front of the new neighbor’s house. It is possible that the neighbors, being new, didn’t know that the county didn’t pick up branches over 4 feet long. it has been speculated that the neighbor put them there to prevent the old Cadillac from being parked in front of their home. I walked by the other day and was somewhat amused to see that the Cadillac was there, but behind the pile of branches.

Today I saw the branches were gone but the Cadillac has not been moved. The new neighbors do have a driveway and a garage, so their parking is taken care of. I doubt the Cadillac owner is parking in front of the McMansion out of spite — I just think it is easy for her do do so. I’m not well acquainted with either of these neighbors, but hope their battle, if indeed it is a battle, works itself out.

We’re not the only street with this problem in the area. My son once parked in another Bethesda neighborhood to help a friend’s family move furniture from a flooded basement to higher ground. When he returned to his car he found a nastily worded note on his windshield complaining about his parking in front of someone’s house.

My advice? Chill people. Life is too short for such pettiness.

Suburban Parking

One of the many things that surprised me when we moved into our house in 1993 was the fact that we had to buy a parking permit to park on the streets of our neighborhood — including in front of our house. Residential parking permits (as well as visitor permits) cost $35 per vehicle and are good for two years. Cars without parking permits can be ticketed, and often are.

I understand the reason — we live near a hospital with limited parking areas as well near NIH — which also has limited parking spots. People working at or visiting these locations would park in our neighborhood, taking our parking spots if parking restrictions were not enforced.

That knowledge does not make it any easier to take though, especially when the parking permit office is not very conveniently located and has short hours. And then there is the red tape.

This summer I noticed that our car’s parking permit had expired in March. In addition we’d not yet gotten a sticker for the car we inherited from Dean’s mom. We were using the visitor pass for the third car which was a bit of an issue when we had visitors, or when the neighbors wanted to borrow the pass because they were having more than one visitor.

So I made plans to visit the parking permit office and get a permit for the car. I knew I needed the license of the car and the registration and needed to fill out a form. I got a little lost going to the parking permit office, but eventually found it. If you’ve ever been to a DMV you’ll get an idea of what this office was like on the inside. Also a Greyhound bus station. Two surly women sat behind windows in a cluttered, florescent bulb-lit office.

When I approached one window the woman at that window was about to go on break, so I had to use the other. I handed over the paperwork and after some typing, writing, looking up things on her computer, the woman behind the window asked for my driver’s license. I handed it over and the woman looked at the paperwork and back at my license and said. “You don’t own the vehicles.” I explained that they were in my husband’s name and she replied, “But you don’t have the same last name.” I agreed, but showed her that our checks had both of our names on them. She said that the owner of the car would have to obtain the permits. Or I could bring a copy of his driver’s license. She did sell me a visitor’s pass though.

Several weeks later, after our vacation, my first fall trip to Illinois, and a healthy dose of procrastination I went back to the ugly office with the surly workers. This time I was prepared with a copy of Dean’s driver’s license. It went smoothly this time — the woman behind the window was not surly in the least. It may or may not have been the same woman.

I got home, put the stickers in the cars, and announced my success to Dean.

“But what about the truck?” he asked, “its permit has expired too.”


I think I’m in love

If you know me or read my blog, you may or may not be aware of my love-hate relationship with Bethesda. We moved to Bethesda from a friendly neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. I was a relatively new mom, staying at home for a while with my toddler and infant. I found it impossible to make friends here — the two local parks, where I’d hope to meet like-minded women with their own young children, held either perfect-haired women that always traveled in pairs (plus kids) or their nannies, most of whom didn’t share a common language with me. The few women in the neighborhood with similar-aged children worked long hours, and didn’t have time to make new friends.

It took until the kids were well into their elementary school years and hours of volunteering for school and community organizations before I began to finally lose the feeling of a “fish out of water”. I think that part of my problem (and I fully accept it was my problem) was that I was the first in my family to not be a blue-collar worker. While that would not have been a problem in an area with other folks like me, Bethesda is a white-collar town.

I still like finding people with a similar backgrounds to me. That’s normal, right? I also like finding people who have the same feeling about Bethesda I do. When I mention that I don’t love Bethesda, most people give me a look of disbelief — how can I not like living here? What about the restaurants? What about the schools? What about the neighborhoods?

So, when I discovered the brand new publication, Bethesda World News (via Susan Coll‘s blog) I rushed to the library where I found the last copy.

Bethesda World News is sort of like The Onion, but features stories about Bethesda. Funny stories about Bethesda. Funny and not-quite-real stories about Bethesda. I especially liked the story titled, Bethesda Elementary Discovers First Ungifted Child. The article describes the taunts other children chant to the child: “Johnny reads on grade level. Johnny reads on grade level!” Another headline, Woman Spotted on Woodmont without Pedicure, made me laugh out loud.

While there is little on the website for the publication, I’m hoping they’ll put up their stories. I also hope that they don’t run out of ideas — but that could take a while. There’s a lot to make fun of in this town.

If you’re on Facebook, you can find them here.

The Girl who Stalked a Tree*

Monkey puzzle tree in Ireland
Monkey Puzzle Tree in Ireland


Summer 1976. Near Leeds, England. She stood staring at the absurdly strange-looking tree, unable to believe it could possibly survive outside a fantasy world. She didn’t like breaking rules, but she wanted to trespass on the lawn that hosted this tree and touch it to make sure it was real. The tree was quite tall and shaped somewhat like a fir tree and, from a distance, seemed to have needles similar to that of a fir. But that was as far as the similarity went. The only tree she could think of that looked at all like this tree in front of her, was a Norfolk Island Pine.

This tree looked like it might have been around when the dinosaurs were top dog.

Her companion told her that the tree was a monkey puzzle tree. He added that it was thought to be  impossible for a monkey to climb a Monkey Puzzle Tree, hence the name.

Summer 1987 or so. Berkley, California. She and her husband, strolled leisurely around the neighborhood where her husband’s cousin lived. Something about the houses or the streets or the lawns that looked more like gardens reminded her of England and being reminded of English gardens reminded of the long ago monkey puzzle tree.  To her surprise, shortly after thinking about monkey puzzle trees, she saw a one  in front of one of the houses in the neighborhood and pointed it out to her husband, repeating what her companion had said about the tree eleven years earlier.

July 9, 2008. Killarney, Republic of Ireland. Driving around the roundabout that led out of Killarney and onto the Ring of Kerry, she shouted, “A Monkey Puzzle Tree!” and pointed out the passenger’s side window. Everyone in the car got a good look at the tree, and she made a note to take a photo on the way back.

Later that day, after visiting waterfalls, a stone circle and a town called Sneem, the driver pulled the rental car into a parking lot and let her out so she could snap a few photos of the Monkey Puzzle Tree.

Chapter 1
July 25 – August 15, 2008

Upon arriving back from her wonderful trip to Ireland, Dona turned on her Dell Dimension 8400 and began uploading her many photographs of the trip to the photo sharing site, Flickr. She’d kept a journal of her adventures and planned to transcribe the journal to a blog she started on the online blogging site, WordPress.com. She set up the blog and began to type.

Days later, after many cups of coffee, Dona came across the photograph of the monkey puzzle tree. Dona took another sip of coffee and opened up a new tab in her Firefox browser and, into the search field of the browser, typed

"monkey puzzle tree"

The first result on the Google search page was for the Wikipedia article about the Araucanria araucana, more commonly known as the monkey puzzle tree. After reading the article and saving it as a bookmark (Dona does not have a photographic memory, unlike some fictional characters), Dona wondered if it was possible to grow a monkey puzzle tree in her town of Bethesda. Through numerous searches, and cups of coffee, Dona discovered that where she lived in Maryland was in zone 5 for plant hardiness and that the monkey puzzle tree could grow in zone 5. She also read some bulletin boards after searching

"monkey puzzle tree" maryland

and discovered that there was a monkey puzzle tree in Gaithersburg, a town not far from Bethesda. She wondered where it was, but could find no clue even after many searches.

Chapter 2
Months later

Dona needed to make a Christmas list and had lately been thinking about monkey puzzle trees. She wondered if one could purchase a monkey puzzle tree nearby so she typed

"monkey puzzle tree" bethesda

into the search field on her browser. She didn’t find any for sale at the local nurseries, but did discover that a 30 ft. monkey puzzle tree graced the lawn of someone in Bethesda. The listing gave the name of a couple, but no address. Dona’s first thought was to use low technology. She got out the white pages of the phone book, but the name of the owner of the property on which the monkey puzzle tree stood was not listed. Then she searched online, but still could not find the couple who owned the monkey puzzle tree.

Chapter 3
More Months Later

Once again Dona thought about the Bethesda monkey puzzle tree and wondered if she could find more information by searching for the owner’s names separately.  Somehow she was led to an Internet link that led her to believe the monkey puzzle tree was in the neighborhood across from her son and daughter’s high school. She opened Google Maps and tried to see if she could see the monkey puzzle tree from the satellite view. No luck; but then she’d never seen a birds’ eye view of a monkey puzzle tree. The next day she drove around the school neighborhood intently at the trees in people’s yards, trying to find the monkey puzzle tree, but had no luck except that the cops didn’t come and ask her what she was doing staring in people’s back yards.

Chapter 4

Dona opened her RSS reader and noticed that Mali posted a blog post, listing things that made her smile that morning. One of the things was a cabbage tree and Mali conveniently provided a link to a photo of a cabbage tree for readers that had never heard of one. Dona followed the link and then began thinking about the monkey puzzle tree in Bethesda once again.

She searched Google, using various search terms including, again, each name of the owners of the tree. She found a few results that she’d not seen before. One was to an entry in an online guest book for a funeral home signed by one of the owners of the house that hosted the monkey puzzle tree, but it listed her city as Rockville** and her husband’s name was the short version of his full name.  Another result was to a home that sold in 2007. Dona hadn’t thought that they might have moved — and give up ownership of a monkey puzzle tree? What were they thinking? A third (using the husband’s shortened name) was to another online guest book for a funeral home in which the husband mentioned being a neighbor of the deceased and mentioned a name of a street which was adjacent to the one the house that was sold.


Dona hopped in her black Camry and drove past the house. There, in the front yard, was a 30 foot tall monkey puzzle tree.

*with apologies to the late Stieg Larsson

**The house is technically in Rockville, but is listed as North Bethesda some places

Google Street View Clues

I’ve been waiting for Google Street View to arrive in our neighborhood for quite a while. It was close-by — in the business area of Bethesda, but it had not made it to our immediate neighborhood until very recently. I discovered it had when I tried to figure out where the neighbor who needed a tutorial in how to delete unwanted emails lived. I noticed that Pegman made the neighborhood streets turn blue when I lifted him off his little tower — the universal sign that we were now on street view.

When I told Dean about it we spent an hour or so trying to figure out when the Google street view camera came through the neighborhood. It was like a mystery. We first looked at our house, of course, and found some clues:

It was warm, but not hot outside because our bedroom window was open (but we had the air conditioning off and the windows open most of the summer, so this is not really a clue):

Window Clue
Window Clue

It was this past summer because our new neighbors’ cars were parked in front of their house:

Neighbor Car Clue
Neighbor Car Clue

It was a few weeks after the 4th of July because we found this flag, but no others (the local real estate agent puts flags in front of each home for the 4th of July):

Flag Clue
Flag Clue

It was early in the morning because of the way the sun was shining:

Sun Clue
Sun Clue

It was not a Friday because the Fish Guys were not at Bethesda Community Store:

No Fish Guys Clue
No Fish Guys Clue

It was not a regular weekday because the entrance at NIH was barricaded:

NIH Clue
NIH Clue

It was probably not a Sunday because this construction worker is getting ready to work on a house:

Construction Worker Clue
Construction Worker Clue

It was probably sometime in August. The leaves on the tulip poplars started to drop early this year, and I saw several yards with yellow tulip poplar leaves in them. I cannot tell if our house repairs were completed — the basement windows, with one blurry exception, are not visible in the photos and the back porch is too far away to tell if it had been repaired. The one big clue for me is the branch on our across-the-street neighbor’s curb — I remember seeing a fallen branch in the street, thinking that I should move it, getting distracted by something else, then seeing the neighbor had moved it. I asked her about it the next day at a neighborhood coffee get-together and she said she thought it came from her tree.

Branch Clue
Branch Clue

I checked my emails and found reference to the neighborhood coffee get-together. It took place on August 1st, 2009. So, I’m thinking now that the Google Street View camera car came through on Saturday August 1st.

Here is a bonus picture, although not a clue:


I’m lucky it’s just low water pressure

Turned on the shower this morning and I got a trickle of water and assumed Dean was showering or running the dishwasher. I felt sorry for myself and wondered why Dean would use water when I needed it.

Turns out he wasn’t doing anything with water. The weather was — there is a massive water main break a couple of miles from us — along a road I’ve often traveled. 18 cars are stranded, according to the news reports. My mom called this morning to say it was on national news. I can hear the helicopters — probably transporting people to and from the hospital up the street.

I think these people have it a little worse than I do.

Watermain Break on River Road

A few things

  1. I finished Loving Frank. The middle got a little bogged down, but the ending was quite interesting. Disturbing, but interesting. It’s really made me want to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright and gave me an appreciation of him and his work that I didn’t have before. I highly recommend the book.
  2. Dean and I went out last night. We were going to see a movie, but the movie we were going to see was sold out at the time we wanted to see it. So were all the other movies at that theater. So we went to a bar for a couple of beers then to a restaurant I thought was a favorite of mine. The last few times I went to Jaleo in Bethesda I left disappointed. It is very expensive and the food isn’t that good. Last night we were again disappointed. Too bad, I like the idea of tapas. We’ll not be going back.
  3. We’re not going anywhere for Thanksgiving, nor having anyone over. We may not even do a turkey since I’m the only person that likes turkey in this family. Maybe we’ll see a movie.
  4. It’s ginko ginkgo ball season. You can probably smell it from your house. P.     U.
  5. What does P. U. mean anyway? Is it supposed to be pew?
  6. Ok. that’s it.

Back to Visions…

So Dean and I went back to Visions Restaurant last night. We left home, not knowing where we were going to eat dinner. We looked at the menu of a Latin/Spanish restaurant that we’d never eaten at and at the menu of the New Orleans’s Bistro. We also considered Red Tomato (one of my favorite restaurants in town). After wandering around a bit, we saw that we were on the street near Visions Restaurant. Dean knew I wanted to try it again and said he’d be happy eating there, although he may have preferred somewhere else.

The food at Visions is excellent. I ordered the Arugula Salad and can honestly say it was the best salad I’ve ever eaten. The bitterness of the arugula was offset by the sweetness of the cranberries and smoothness of the goat cheese. Simply wonderful. I want some right now. For breakfast.

For dinner I ordered the spicy shrimp. It, too was very good. True to the name, it was spicy, but not so much that I couldn’t eat it. (although I did end up taking half my plate home — the portion was huge). Dean ordered the Rib eye and proclaimed it delicious. I tasted it, and agreed with him.

I did get to meet Chef Tony this time, but only, I believe, because I asked to meet him. I noticed he paid visits to other tables and expected him to come to ours, but he didn’t until I asked our waiter if she could ask him to come see us. It makes me wonder if perhaps we looked unapproachable in some way (are we too old? were we too underdressed? Did we look like we were always deep in conversation?). Perhaps he now only visits regular customers. Chef Tony was pleasant when we did meet. He shook our hands and recognized my username. He said he liked to meet everyone he feeds.

The thing is — the reason I first went to the restaurant was because it seemed like a welcoming place — and, don’t get me wrong — the wait staff is very welcoming. As soon as you walk through the door you feel like you’re home. I just had never really been anywhere where the chefs made frequent table side visits, and was hoping to have that experience. Silly reason for wanting to go to a restaurant, but there you have it. Sometimes my reasons are not altogether sane.

The food and welcoming waitstaff will entice me back to Visions, perhaps for lunch next time — I see they have my favorite. salad. ever. on their lunch menu too. I’ll just have to give up the idea of chefly visits.

The only thing I’d suggest to Visions is to clean up its web site. Right now it is sort of a mess and much of it is not accessible — meaning it cannot be accessed with a screen reader. I’d suggest Chef Tony learn about WordPress and use a WordPress blog with an elegant template to create his website. The site is packed with valuable information, but the information is a little hard to locate and not exactly pleasing to view. I have no idea how it is updated, but I suspect Chef Tony would find a WordPress blog easier to update.

But — the website is a minor thing. Chef Tony and Chef Iddi are masters at their craft. They are excellent chefs who know how to put together an intriguing menu and create the kinds of dishes you have dreams about. They also know how to hire and train friendly people to work in their restaurant.

Mmm, I think I’ll go have some Spicy Shrimp pasta for breakfast….

White-crowned Sparrow

Back in 1983 or so, Dean and I spent the summer in Southern California. Dean had a summer job at Rand and we got to stay in various homes in the area — house sitting for other employees of Rand. I’d just begun to “bird” in earnest and California held a wealth of birds I’d not seen before. I especially remember seeing my first California towhee and California thrasher. I also saw dozens of Anna’s hummingbirds and several Bullock’s orioles. I don’t have my California list in front of me, but it goes on and on.

One place we stayed was near the Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. The house overlooked the city of Los Angeles, had a courtyard and was full of Real Art. The couple who lived there were high up in the Rand administration and somewhat wealthy. They had a woman who came in and cleaned their house — daily. This woman and I talked a lot — she loved cats (as did I) and she was an avid birder. She invited me to accompany her on an overnight trip to see some of the few remaining California condors in the wild, but I declined for a reason I don’t recall, but could kick myself now.

Her favorite bird was the white-crowned sparrow. In fact her license plate read wht crwn or something like that. She said it meant white-crowned sparrow. I’ve wanted to see one ever since, but never did. Until yesterday morning.

I’d just slipped a half a bagel into the toaster and was waiting for it to pop up so I took a look out the kitchen window. There, hopping among some spilled seed was a large sparrow with black and white stripes on its head. And no yellow spot between its eyes nor white at its throat. My first thought was white-crown! I ran to get the camera and of course it was gone when I got back. I thought I might be seeing one soon since one had been spotted a few streets away according to the Maryland birding email list to which I belong.

I sort of feel like my long ago connection with the birdwatching housekeeper in the Santa Monica Mountains was rekindled for a while when I finally saw the bird she cared enough about to pay extra for vanity tags.

Dinner and a Walk

The Dinner

Friday night the kids were busy with their various activities — Clare to the mall with a friend and Andrew had a Rugby game, so Dean and I took the opportunity to go out to dinner.

We’d gotten our latest (last?) Bethesda Magazine in the mail a few days before and read a couple reviews of local restaurants. Visions was mentioned, as was Dean’s favorite restaurant — Black’s Bar & Kitchen (formerly Black’s). The magazine also held a $10 off coupon that could be used at a number of restaurants in the area during May. We looked at the list and decided to go with a restaurant we’d not eaten at before, Trattoria Sorrento. Besides we were both in the mood for Italian.

We were given a choice of sitting in a light and lively area of the restaurant or a darker and more formal area. We chose the lighter area mostly because the host told us there was a party of 40 or so expected in the formal dining room.

We immediately felt at home in the restaurant. It was obvious the folks sitting just behind our table were either part of the family or good friends of the owners. Another couple dining near us seemed to be either regulars or good friends of our waiter because of the familiarity they exhibited towards one another.

The waiter was very friendly — not in an over-the-top and fake way, but just down-home family friendly. He told us about the specials, took our drink order after explaining that the woman sitting behind us was Sunday’s entertainment. On Sundays the restaurant hosts Opera Night and the guests are treated to an opera singer or two while they dine. We’re not opera fans, but I’m sure the folks who are enjoy the performance.

For dinner I chose sea bass which was prepared with a kind of puttenesca sauce. I don’t recall the actual name of the dish. Dean ordered veal ravioli. Prior to our entrées we shared a Caesar salad which was good. Nothing special, just a normal Caesar salad.

My entrée was delicious. The sauce was perfect — not too salty. The fish was very good, mild and flaky, but not dried out. My only complaint was a fishy taste once, that might just have been some skin. Unfortunately it ruined the rest of the meal and I gave my dinner to Dean, but I’d actually eaten enough by then.

Dean’s dish, according to him — I don’t eat veal — was not so good. He thought the filling was too salty and the dough on the ravioli overcooked. He ate most of it, but left three small ravioli — unusual for him. He was content to finish my fish, though — so my fishy tasting bite was a good deal for him.

We shared a bottle of Meridian Pinor Noir. It was fine, and priced pretty good at $26.

We’ll probably return to Trattoria Sorrento at some time, but probably not soon. We’ve got a lot of other restaurants to try in Bethesda, and even feeling a part of the family isn’t enough pull for an unsatisfactory dinner.

The Walk

rhododendronsnowball treeAfter dinner we went to McGrillis Gardens for a walk at dusk. The rhododendrons were in bloom as well as a bush* with snowball shaped flowers. As we neared the back fence Dean claimed to hear spring peepers on the other side of the fence, near the newly built McMansions and after disagreeing with him at first, I finally conceded that he was right.

I heard my first Rufous-sided Towhee of the year (FOY in birding jargon). At least I thought that is what I heard, but it turned out to be an Eastern Towhee. See, some silly bird committee decided to re-name this bird from an interesting and descriptive sounding moniker to a boring and nondescript one.

All-in-all, it was a pleasant evening. It’s nice to get out once in a while. Of course I could eat out several times a week, but with college looming we need to be a little more frugal. Eating in Bethesda — heck, just living in Bethesda, is not inexpensive. Having a free and open area to wander around in after dinner is a treat that we don’t take advantage of often enough.

*speaking of Bush, his sister lives around there somewhere…according to AARP Magazine and my Aunt Ginny’s Internet sleuthing.