How to Create a Virtual Time Machine

Want to create a virtual time machine that can travel back to your childhood? 

STEP 1: Pick a year
STEP 2:  For that year, answer the following questions.  You can rely on memory & memorabilia, but research (whether poking through the attic or looking things up online) will help enrich/deepen the experience.

Presto!  You've created a virtual time machine journey back to that year.  Enjoy!
  1. Books you read
  2. Board games you played
  3. Non-board games you played (ex: cops & robbers, hopscotch)
  4. Toys you played with
  5. Stuffed animals you loved
  6. Sports you played or enjoyed
  7. Television shows you watched
  8. Commercials/advertising you remember
  9. Music you listened to
  10. Movies you watched
  11. The neighborhood you lived in
  12. Neighborhood events
  13. The community you lived in
  14. Community events
  15. Your relatives (the ones most immediately involved in your life)
  16. Your siblings
  17. Your friends
  18. Your pets
  19. The political situation
  20. World events
  21. Causes you supported
  22. Trends in architecture
  23. Trends in fashion
  24. Trends in hairstyles
  25. Transportation (ex: cars, bikes, big wheels)
  26. What did things cost?
  27. What school did you go to?
  28. What classes did you take?
  29. Who were your teachers?
  30. School events
  31. Family milestones
  32. Personal milestones
  33. Inside your home
  34. Household furnishings/products
  35. Outside your home (yard & beyond)
  36. Vacations
  37. Summer vacation
  38. How you celebrated Christmas
  39. How you celebrated Halloween
  40. How you celebrated [insert other memorable holiday]
  41. How you celebrated your birthday
  42. Your hobbies
  43. Your likes (not noted elsewhere)
  44. Your dislikes (not noted elsewhere)
  45. Memorable food
  46. Memorable restaurants
  47. Family traditions
  48. Cultural traditions
  49. Memorable sounds
  50. Memorable smells


10 Cool Things About Living in Washington, D.C.

Think it's "business as usual" living in the nation's capital? The experience of living in D.C. is sometimes awesome, sometimes frustrating, sometimes surreal, but always an adventure!
  1. Tons of Free Culture. Lots of cities have museums - we have the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives.  Lots of cities have theaters - we have the one in which Lincoln was assassinated.  Lots of cities have free concerts - ours feature the National Symphony Orchestra.  Lots of cities have parks and trees - we have cherry blossoms.  Lots of cities host universities - our city hosts no fewer than five major institutions (Georgetown, George Washington, American, Howard, Galludet).  Lots of cities have monuments - but usually not over 2000 of them.  Need more proof? Didn't think so.
  2. Our News is the Nation's News.  Love going to other parts of the country and reading what passes for the "local" newspaper.  Typically, the articles have to do with issues important to that particular state or community (farm subsidies, education bills, what have you). Our local newspaper, on the other hand, is the Washington Post, which seldom leads with anything having actually to do with D.C.  Oh - and you have to love the advertisements.  While others in the country get car commercials, our newspapers, television and radio stations are peppered with commercials about major military system procurements, homeland security technologies, upcoming legislation and the rights of unions - lobbyists availing themselves of the local media to get their messages out to the various agency officials who might be in a position to influence their cause.
  3. See News Being Made.  Why rely on a newspaper, though, when living in D.C. gives you the opportunity to see news being made first-hand?  There's nothing quite like the rush of witnessing Congress in full session as they debate something heated, watching the Supreme Court justices mercilessly grill intimidated advocates, or lining the road in mute solemnity as row after row of motorcycles thunder past on Memorial Day.
  4. 535 Bosses.  Though, technically, D.C. has a mayor and local government, the city is basically run by Congress.  Which means that whenever Congress wants to try something - affirmative action, school vouchers, banning needle distribution, looser gun control laws, HOV/parking waivers for electric cars, etc. - they don't have to ask DC residents permission first ... they just make it so.  Adding insult to injury, DC residents don't even have the right to choose Senators or Representatives to speak for their interests: you see, DC isn't a state, and therefore not permitted representation in Congress.  And people wonder why this city is so screwed up.
  5. Diversity.  You want to talk about diversity?  Try living in a town that plays host to approximately 170 foreign embassies!  Over the years students from dozens of countries - everything from Cameroon to Denmark, Egypt to Guatamala - have passed through my classroom.  Our Congressmen may still prefer doing business over big steaks, but in doing so they're passing up literally 1000s of amazing ethnic restaurants that exist throughout the city and its suburbs.
  6. Cool Traffic Obstructions.  Other cities struggle with traffic tie-ups due to accidents, construction, or overtaxed infrastructure.  How many cities (with the possible exception of New York) have traffic reports that regularly include updates on the progress of motorcades, marathons, and political protests throughout the city?
  7. Living at Ground Zero.  Part of excitement of living in DC is knowing that you're basically ground zero for irrational people wishing to express their discontent with the U.S. government in violent - often explosive - ways.  Pretty much every school, business and agency in the city lives in constant anticipation of imminent attack, which certainly keeps you focused on living life to the fullest. 
  8. Interesting Neighbors.  Another cool thing about living in DC - trying to guess what your neighbors do for a living.  DC plays host to a host of super-secret agencies and entities - not just the CIA, FBI, NSA, and Pentagon, but a host of other agencies so secret you wouldn't recognize the acronyms if you saw them.  Which means that in almost every neighborhood you're going to get half a dozen folks who are suspiciously vague when asked about what they do for a living.  Moreover, not all of them are necessarily working on our side of the curtain.  ("You say you're a 'cultural attache'?  Yeah, right!") 
  9. Tourists.  I sometimes lose track of the fact that in other cities, you aren't stopped almost every day on your way to/from work to take someone's picture, explain the historical significance of nearby attractions, or give directions to the Museum of Natural History.  Once I was actually asked: "Do people actually work here, or are people in suits hired to make the city look real?"  Good question.
  10. Living Life in the Shadow of History.  This is the literal truth, as I'm reminded every day I pass teams of young adults playing league softball literally in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, or lugging grocery bags past townhouses that used to house great civil rights leaders, or building snowmen on the grounds of the Capital building.  It's kind of daunting, trying to live a normal life in the proximity of so much that is larger than life! 


15 Cheap Ways to Improve Curb Appeal

When it came time for my husband and I to sell our last home, we knew we had to squeeze every last dime out of the sale that we could manage. At the time I did a lot of research on how to improve curb appeal, and it paid off: in a flat market, we attracted several buyers who bid up our asking price almost 10%!  Here's a summary of the tips we found most helpful.
  1. De-clutter.  Start with what's obvious and easy: remove everything from your lawn/porch/deck/carport that doesn't belong there.  This includes cars, toys, bikes, trash cans, etc.  Next, remove the items that technically belong but that have, over the years, become eyesores: old lawn furniture (especially those ubiquitous plastic adirondak chairs!), flags, yard tools/rakes, tables, fencing, and lawn ornaments of any sort.  (Yes, that includes gnome statues, ceramic animals, and wood cutouts of any sort.  There's a reason you never see these things in the yards of wealthy people.) The front of your house should be kept clear and tidy at all times.
  2. Power-wash.  Borrow or rent a power washer and use it to clean everything: your house, your driveway, your carport, your deck, your roof, fencing, pathways - basically anyplace where dust, mold, mildew, sap and/or water stains accumulate.  You'll be surprised how shiny and new your house will look after a good scrubbing!
  3. Clean/repaint/repair your gutters.  Gutters outline your house.  Buyers are looking for an outline that's straight, clean, and pleasing.  No one wants to see trees growing in your drainsprout. 
  4. Weigh your windows.  Mismatching curtains/window treatments can make the exterior of your house look junky.  If you have off-color drapes showing through your windows, buy inexpensive white liners to hang underneath.  Horizontal window treatments (blinds, shades) should be drawn to the same length - either fully open, fully closed, or half-open.  Broken/mismatching screens are also unsightly; consider removing them entirely if they are detracting from the curb appeal of your house. 
  5. Trim, Prune & Clear. Unless you live in the woods, your front yard should not look like a forest. Prune bushes, cut down scraggly trees, and clear away leaves/sticks/branches. Pay particular attention to branches near or touching the roof: these absolutely should be cleared away.
  6. Hide your guilty lawn secrets. If your yard is a sea of weeds, then you certainly don't want to call attention to the fact.  Kept the weeds neatly mowed and/or trimmed back.  If areas of your yard are barren, muddy, or otherwise unsightly, consider concealing them beneath mulch or stone.  Ornamental borders can be used to create beds, paths, and other features.
  7. Paint.  Painting your trimwork is a quick and pretty inexpensive way to spruce up the look of your house.  If you can afford to, however, consider giving the whole exterior a paint job.  Pick a color that's not too bold but don't be afraid to pick something other than white; ideally, you want a shade that is faithful to the house's location, architecture, and character, but that will blend with the landscape and other other houses in your neighborhood.  If in doubt (at all), consult a professional.
  8. Spruce up your front door area.  For better or worse, your front door is the focal point of your house, and nothing says "neglect" like an entranceway that's crumbling, stained, painted an ill-advised color, or out of character with the rest of the house.  Since the title of this entry is "10 Cheap Ways to Improve Curb Appeal," am not advocating a major rebuild here.  However, do recommend attending to the following:
    1. Power-wash door area to remove stains, cobwebs, etc.
    2. Caulk (or re-caulk) gaps
    3. Clean crumbling areas and repair if possible (this includes moulding, rails, pillars, retaining walls, stairs, etc.)
    4. Touch up (or repaint) painted surfaces
    5. Make sure screen door is in good repair
    6. Replace doormat if worn
    7. Remove plants/limbs that may be encroaching
    8. Polish hardware; or, replace dated/inappropriate hardware
    9. What you can't fix, conceal!  Plants in decorative pots make excellent camouflage
    10. Hang a tasteful wreath on your door
  9. Add shutters and/or trim. If you have shutters or trim, make sure what you have is in good repair, painted, and hanging properly. If you don't have shutters, consider getting them. A window without shutters looks a little like a face without eyelashes or eyebrows - functional, but stark and unfinished. You needn't spent a fortune on expensive shutters. Assuming you don't live in a hurricane/tornado zone and so are never actually going to use them, you can get by with inexpensive options.
  10. De-emphasize sidewalk/driveway flaws.  Tidy walkways/sidewalks/driveways by pruning back weeks/overgrowth, killing weeds that are growing through cracks, and making repairs as feasible.  If your driveway has enough fissures to rival Mt. Pinatubo, consider paying to have them resealed: this is a fairly inexpensive process that will create a nice, seamless look.  If your concrete continues to look stained even after cleaning, consider concrete stain. 
  11. Create symmetry. Studies show that people find symmetry inherently pleasing.  Are there ways that you can add symmetry to your yard, entrance, or facade?  Consider adding fixtures, trim, potted plants or landscaping features to enhance symmetry. 
  12. Create a distraction with flowers.  If you have the kind of soil that supports flowers, plant them.  If you don't have that kind of time, though, build a few quick raised beds (create beds out of railroad ties & fill them with planting soil) or array flowers in containers in key areas around the driveway, mailbox, porch, and front door.  Nurseries often sell "ready to display" container gardens that add instant beauty wherever they're installed.  Window boxes are another option, particularly if you have just a few windows and want to set them off to good advantage.
  13. Improve the your evening curb appeal.  Consider investing in low wattage lighting to illuminate paths or other features of the house.  But first, make sure the lighting you already have installed is adding rather than detracting to the appeal of your house.  Remove unsightly spotlights, reconsider "novelty" colored bulbs, and clean/repair/replace fixtures that have become outdated or unappealing.
  14. Beautify your mailbox.  A small thing, but with the potential to make a big impact.  First, make sure the architecture of your mailbox compliments the architecture of your house.  (If not, design one that does.)  Next, spruce up your mailbox by repainting the box and/or post, repairing broken/weathered items, ensuring house numbers are straight and appealing, and adding landscaping around the post. 
  15. House number.  A small thing, but also a chance to add that "finishing touch" to your curb appeal project.  Choose numbers that blend with your home's color and character.


Book Look - The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman

A novel about the staff of a small, international newspaper headquartered in Rome in the 1950s is ordinarily the last place I'd look for authentic character studies. Why pick a setting so strongly associated with universal stereotypes - wisecracking reporters, neurotic editors, cold-hearted publishers, profit-obsessed owners, experience-hardened expat Americans, food-obsessed Italians - if you don't intend to avail yourself of them? Have to wonder if this is a challenge Rachman deliberately set himself in choosing a newsroom as the setting for this collection of short stories, each exploring in penetrating yet authentic detail the character, motives and impulses of one of the newsroom's staff?

The title "The Imperfectionists" is well chosen, as each chapter/character study focuses on how the choices we make in life are seldom idealistic, seldom simple, seldom laudable, seldom "perfect" ... and yet inevitably true to the motives and impulses that shape our fundamental natures. We choose marriage not because we love but because we embrace convention, fear loneliness, need help coping with the challenges of a foreign language; we choose to delude ourselves not because we're ignorant, but because we deliberately choose ignorance; we attempt noble things (establishing newspapers, writing great stories, championing feminist causes) not out of an idealistic sense of duty, but driven by passions infinitely more personal. The portraits that emerge are at once unfamiliar yet authentic, unsentimental yet compassionate, and organically witty without ever lapsing into deliberate irony or sarcasm.

Can understand why this has made all the critics so breathless. What Rachman does, he does splendidly well. He's a lovely writer with the gift of defining characters organically, through dialog and action rather than tedious expository text. Will I remember this book 6 months from now, though? I suspect not. For while the book's theme is deftly, competently, and entertainingly presented, not sure it comes as much of a surprise. The reason it's so easy to empathize with the folks in these stories - even the obnoxious ones - isn't just because Rachman is good at what he does; it's because, like the characters in this book, most of us have all at some point in our lives realized that the choices we make, the choices that define us, are seldom guided by idealism, sense or logic ... but that we are nevertheless powerless to choose any other way.

A Thousand Words: Apostrophe Man