Scarf love

Dear J: 
After the snowy debacle that was the District of Columbia’s winter this year, I have been yearning to throw all things long-sleeved and woolen into a bin under my bed.  But there is one traditionally cold-weather fashion item that I will keep around during the upcoming season of heat and humidity: the scarf.  Obviously, french women have known about the amazing practice of year-round scarf-wearing for decades, but we in the US only seem to have discovered it last year.  It really is the perfect summer accessory – and let me tell you why.

My favorite part of summer is getting to wear sleeveless shirts, short skirts, dresses, sandals – basically, I love that it is the air keeping me warm, not layers and layers of material.  And there is that freedom of dressing for fun and not to protect myself from the bitter, harsh, freezing elements (as you can see, I am still suffering some post-traumatic stress from my Boston-wintered past).

But of course, as much as I idealize it, summer is not perfect.  There is still frigid air conditioning, torrential rain, and other temperature fluctuations.  Sometimes a lady needs a little extra protection from these elements, making the summer scarf the perfect accessory.  Not only is it practical in keeping you warm on those cool early summer evenings, but it looks great and acts as the perfect substitute for a chunky necklace.

Here are some of the summer scarf choices I am considering (or, depending on the price point, unrealistically dreaming about) for this season:

Pretty in Pink

Urban Outfitters' Scarves

Wish: Bright and chic Hermes

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Someone nice please buy this house

Dear J:

Riggs Place, between 16th and 17th Street, is an idyllic example of Dupont Circle living.  It is a tiny, leafy block of row-houses tucked between two main thoroughfares.  When I moved to DC last summer, this block served as the beginning point for all of my downtown escapades.  As you know, my old friend Todd was one of the only people I knew in this city who was not related to me.  It was Todd’s long tours around the city that convinced me to escape my unpleasant life in Boston and move here.  And it was my visits to his adorable Riggs Place basement apartment that introduced me to one of my favorite buildings in the city – the Toutorsky Mansion.

It is an expansive, brick castle that takes up the whole corner of the street, but the Toutorsky Mansion has a quiet presence and almost disappears behind the iron fence and trees that surround it.  I cannot help but stare at it longingly and dramatically as I pass it each day on my way to the gym.

enhanced by J

Until a few weeks ago, I had no knowledge of the Mansion’s past.  And, of course, because of its overgrown and abandoned-looking appearance, I made up a lovely little history of the building for myself:  It was passed down from generation to generation from the original owner, a wealthy tycoon.  But the years had not been kind to this family and the last elderly owner lived alone in the building, his family’s fortune squandered.  Unable to afford its upkeep, he lived among its tattered furniture, the ghosts of their original gilded selves.   At last, he dies.  The house is abandoned.  The property remains in escrow, the subject of an estate feud, left to decay further as distant relatives pick over the last crumbs of a dynasty.

Or not.

A couple of months ago, I was greeted one morning by this story.  Finally, a name for the building – one bestowed by the Russian nobleman who bought the mansion in the 40’s and turned it into a music academy.  Finally, a real history – one that certainly earns its place as a contributing property to the 16th Street Historic District.

The 18-room Toutorsky Mansion was built in 1891 by William Henry Miller, the first graduate of Cornell University’s School of Architecture.  The exterior was built to mimic 16th-century Flemish architecture, and the interior is a combination of Jacobean, Georgian, Gothic, Colonial, and Victorian styles.  The oak foyer and staircase, which are adorned with two hand-carved winged griffins, has been estimated at $700,000.

Miller built the home for U.S. Supreme Court justice Henry Billing Brown, a man with an obvious distaste for minorities.  He is most famous for writing the opinion for Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that justified segregation.  Unwilling to limit himself to one type of race bias, he also voted for the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first US law that banned a class of immigrants by race or nationality.

A variety of inhabitants followed: The Persian Legation, The Zionist Organization of America (Golda Meir is said to have drawn up plans for Israel here), and plain old Johns Hopkins students.  The arts community held events, meetings, and performances here.  And, of course, there was the Toutorsky Academy of Music, run by the dashing-sounding man (he fled Russia after fighting for the losing side of the October Revolution) and his Mexican opera-singer wife.

enhanced by J

This is a description of what the place looked like when the Toutorskys owned it:

Among the furnishings were collections of dolls; swans; World War I medals, decorations and uniforms; stuffed wild animals; Persian carpets and tapestries; heavy antique furniture; and 21 pianos, including a Bechstein concert grand on which Franz Liszt had played.

Can’t you just imagine it?

But contrary to my insistence that the Mansion’s current haunted aura, wildly overgrown grass, and ugly drapes must mean that it has been abandoned, apparently it is currently being operated as a B&B.  It is obvious from the pictures that some big renovations have been done and that the stuffed jaguars and violas are long gone.  Not shockingly, the B&B is losing money and is back on the market (for $4.9M).

I am worried.  Based on the post-Toutorsky ownership of the home, I am suspicious that the next owner will destroy its historic features for good.  As one of the seller’s realtors says:

We haven’t had anyone interested in preserving the original nature of the home as there has already been a considerable amount of interior renovation from the original house in the efforts to turn it into a luxury bed and breakfast.  Clients are looking at the mansion for office space, embassies, private homes and condo conversions.

So, to all of the mansion-seekers:   If you are the kind of person who has $5.0M laying around and are also the kind of person who loves the maintenance and preservation of historic architecture, please buy this home.  Otherwise, leave my house alone!

Love,

Pb

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Holmes on Homes

Hey Pb,

I think it is time for a TV rant.  Get excited!!  Today I will introduce you to the greatest home improvement show on earth.  (That’s right, a reality TV show — Clothes, food, and home improvement are the only acceptable reality TV topics in my book.  Sorry Jersey Shore fans – I just don’t get it!)  The best home improvement show out there is: HOLMES ON HOMES!!!!

He (Mike Holmes) is Canadian (eh) – and he does say things like “aboot” – but I can’t help it!  The roomie (Nutella) and I are obsessed!  He can do no wrong.

So Holmes goes in and does crazy awesome repairs on houses for owners who have been majorly screwed by other contractors.  And as you have heard at length, Nutella and I are having major issues with our heat (a/k/a it decides to stop working on the coldest nights in the dead of winter), which might add to our obsession with this show.  But I think it is really because the show is AMAZING (not to overstate it or anything).

Here is why you should become as in love with this show as I am!!  Mike Holmes is this general contractor who goes into people’s homes who have been severely screwed over.  Example:  Retired couple tries to renovate their house.  The contractor says it will take 6-8 months.  Four years (that’s right, YEARS) later, they are still bunking at their daughter’s house.  NOT COOL! Holmes goes into these homes and finds crazy code violations, poor construction, cut-corners, and other terrible (and dangerous) issues. His whole motto is “Make it Right” – and he does, even if he has to tear the house down to the foundations.

OK, once again, I can’t seem to keep this short but I hope you get the point. He is just this really classy guy with a strong moral code and crazy awesome skills!! Give it a try.  It’s on HGTV and I guarantee you will love him too (unless you are totally lame, which I know you are not!).

Until Next time, I’m J saying “Make it Right” or else Mike Holmes will come and humiliate you on TV!

Love,

J

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Dear DC city grocery stores

Dear J:

Because I love to cook, and because I do not vet my recipes based on the weight of their ingredients, grocery shopping as a DC city dweller without a car can be heavy-bag-hauling misery on a normal sunny day.  So I certainly had no fun trudging my ugly Uggs for 10 blocks through inches of powdery unshoveled piles of snow, strapped with two bags filled with my food for the week.  I envy your parking spot and Suburu.

While I enjoy the myriad of grocery store options in my DC neighborhood, to Harris Teeter, Safeway, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes I say the following: 

1. If a customer lives in the city and shops at your store, it is likely that they don’t own a car…and if they do, they aren’t going to use it to drive a few blocks.  So as much as those underground parking lots are a nice idea, they are probably a waste of space. 

2.  Your customers do not have time to shop a couple of times a week.  And most do not have housewives or maids to do it for them.  You would make a lot more money if you made it easier for people to lug home larger amounts of groceries.

So, here is my proposal:  I will spend more money at your store if you adopt a business model that many stores in European grocery stores use. 

DELIVER. MY. GROCERIES.

It’s not that hard.  I shop, I pay, and I place my bags in a box.  Have a teenager bring the box to my apartment within the next 20-30 minutes (I’ll even tip).  I get to walk home happy and free, unemployment goes down a little, everyone is happy!   

What do you think, J?

Love ya,

Pb

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Yummy Yummy Yummy, I got Rice Pudding in my Tummy:

Dear Pb,

Not a surprise given my “special” relationship with all things sweet and dessert-esque, I love rice pudding! Yes that’s right, I admit it, I will shout it from the rooftops, I, J, being of sound mind and pretty good judgment (if I do say so myself), LOVE RICE PUDDING!!!  There may or may not have been a year during college where I ate rice pudding on a daily basis (there was), and although I have matured (slightly), I still love rice pudding. Ok, I think you get the point. . . anyways. . . when the girls and I went to NYC for an impromptu MLK celebration, Nutella (of course that is not her real name, jeez, try to keep up) brought us to what can only be described as Mecca for the rice pudding lovers of the world: Rice to Riches.

Rice to Riches by Nutella, doodled on by J

Rice to Riches is exactly what you hope and dream it will be, a shop completely devoted to rice pudding. Now I don’t know about you, but I have only ever eaten the standard (or more appropriately, classic) rice pudding and I was skeptical about the whole concept of flavored rice pudding.  Well I tell you my sistah, I have seen the light!  Although I love my classic rice pudding, Rice to Riches is now an official must-do activity for me in NYC!

The picture featured above was taken by my lovely and talented roommate, Nutella!  For the four of us we ordered 3 flavors (which I admit was a bit overzealous).  I chose Almond Shmalmond, which you, Pb, would love because it is a subtle flavor, not too sweet (I know, shocking that I wouldn’t buy the sweetest option out there).  I must admit, I was a tad overwhelmed by all the options and ended up getting the flavor the girl behind the counter recommended (which was actually fantastic).  Nutella and Cinnamon (very good, another pseudonym, you are catching on) had Fluent in French Toast which was fabulous, and much sweeter.  And finally, Paprika (you got the hang of it now?) ordered Take me to Tiramisu.  It was good but I don’t love the taste of coffee so I wasn’t in love with this flavor, but that’s a personal preference.

Ok, I know I am dragging on but all I really wanted to say was that what we really need is for someone (wink wink, nudge nudge, to all our readers) to open a similar establishment here in DC! Ok folks, make it happen!! And I will do my part and gorge myself on rice pudding whenever possible.

Bye Bye (for now),

J

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Just Say No: Book Clubs

an original doodle by J

Dear J:

I don’t think you’ve ever been in a book club, but because you are so smart and popular, it won’t be long until you’re invited to join one.  Sounds like a great girly idea, right?  Bonding with your friends over witty literary banter while eating crudite and sipping on wine…you can feel sophisticated while appeasing your guilt over all the bad TV you watch (you know what I’m talking about, J).

Well, here is my advice: don’t do it!  Book clubs are never fun.  Trust me on this.  The long list of reasons why is more boring than the book clubs themselves (think: hating your new friend because she thinks “Like Water for Elephants” is a deep philosophical metaphor for our times).

I offer you a solution that the DC girls have come up with and which we are beginning shortly.  The Vanity Fair Club.  Pick one article (preferably a sexy or scandalous one), read it, casually discuss.  Everyone drink cocktails!

Love  ya,

Pb

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Obsession: American Apparel’s thigh high socks

Dear J:

As you are well aware, I think winter was created by the devil.  Please do not bundle me up in heavy down filled garments and fur-lined footwear.  So, as  you can imagine, it was a great day indeed when I passed the American Apparel store on F Street and saw a winter garment that made me glad, not sad:While I do normally admire American Apparel’s bold and slightly insane offerings (think metallic suspender swimsuits), as a slightly-over-30 working stiff, I am usually limited to their T-shirt and leggings options.  So, it was pretty exciting to find something that met the bold/slightly insane category but was still work appropriate (hidden under my lawyerly skirt, of course).  After my test run, I am happy to report that they are VERY warm and comfortable, stay up perfectly all day, and are a slightly sexy way to make the winter blues go away.  They look exactly like tights and are not as short as they look in the pic, so they’re definitely ok under any kind of skirt.  And best of all, at $17 a pair, quite affordable.

Love ya,

Pb

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