Star Shops of Georgetown

January 11, 2016

The holiday season arrived in Georgetown right on time this year, manifested in festive lamppost adornments, shop-window displays filled with snowflakes and cheer and the unmistakable bite in the air from Old Man Winter himself. My boots hit the cobblestone sidewalk with a peppy clickity-clack as I stepped outside the Dolcezza on Wisconsin Avenue on a recent Saturday afternoon, fueled by an aromatic cup of joe.

My mission? Complete the remainder of my holiday shopping list in one hour. Good thing I’m pretty well versed in this shopping-in-Georgetown thing.
First stop? The new Georgetown Olive Oil Company store, to pick up something for my boyfriend’s parents. I first popped into the shop a couple weeks ago after work. I had just picked up a French baguette from the Foggy Bottom Trader Joe’s and was looking forward to finding something yummy to complement it. Upon entering, I was blown away by the vast variety of olive oils that not only exist, but are available in this beautiful shop. The owner, Emil, spent time educating me on the varied health benefits that oils from different regions of the world offer. I sampled a dozen different flavor varieties (a fraction of the 165 in the store).

If this sounds like olive oil overkill, do yourself a favor and go see for yourself why it’s not. After doing a side-by-side taste test of any oil in the store versus a moderately priced bottle you might pick up in Safeway (Emil keeps a supermarket bottle on hand for this purpose), you will become a believer. The three-bottle packs that Georgetown Olive Oil Company is currently offering in hemp gift bags of festive hues make the perfect holiday gift, as a stand-alone or paired with complimentary sea salts, jams and chocolates. Gift Number One, checked off my list.

My trek continued all the way down Wisconsin Avenue to the corner of K Street. Barre3, the studio offering classes designed to balance, strengthen and lengthen the body with moves inspired by ballet, yoga and Pilates, is here. The gorgeous space, defined by hardwood and exposed brick, exudes warmth and a sense of community. Studio owner Jill Warren first invited me to try a class more than two years ago. The Georgetown studio has been a spot for me to rebalance, reboot and embrace mental and physical well-being ever since. I’ve been dying to get my stepmom to give it a try, so what better time to purchase a set of classes for gifting? Gift Number Two — check.

With gifts for my three sisters in mind, I head back up to M Street to the beauty-product store Lush. Lush’s whole philosophy centers around creating products for the hair and skin using fresh, natural ingredients. I stumbled upon the brand a few years ago when I was looking for an effective hair mask that wouldn’t break the bank. Naturally, I consulted with a college sorority sister (who has the healthiest, shiniest locks I’ve ever seen). She recommended Lush’s “Jasmine & Henna Fluff Eaze” mask. One try and I became a devoted convert. In addition to their top-notch hair masks, the shop is chock-full of natural soaps, lip glosses and face masks. This time of year, it is overflowing with an array of perfectly edited holiday gift sets. A basketful of products later, this gift-shop stop is complete.
As I head back up Wisconsin toward home, I make a final stop at fine-stationary store Just Paper & Tea on P Street. The assortment of beautifully crafted cards within make this an effortless one-stop-shop for all of the holiday card recipients on my list. Owners Nick and Carolyn are the embodiment of warm and affable; I feel cheerier and more filled with holiday spirit just for having stopped by.

As I stroll homeward amid groups of bustling holiday shoppers, I look to my left and pause, suddenly seized by the idyllic scene before me. Candlelit tables, crowded by families, friends and lovers, are visible through the windowpanes of tiny Café Bonaparte, creating a postcard-like display. I am struck for a moment by the beauty of the season in Georgetown. The gifts I’ve purchased for loved ones were chosen with care, yet the spirit of the season expressed in smiles exchanged is truly the greatest gift of all.
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Just Paper and Tea: a Perfect Marriage

December 9, 2015

Tucked just inside the P Street corridor off Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown is Just Paper and Tea, the quaint specialty shop offering a finely edited array of — you guessed it — paper and tea. Owners Nick and Carolyn Wasylczuk are celebrating the store’s 26th anniversary this month.

The store opened its doors in November 1989. It was then a paint store, specializing in faux finishing. At the height of this art form’s popularity, they serviced a clientele that included the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Andrew Lloyd Webber (during the peak of his “Phantom of the Opera” fame). The couple would be the first and last contractors working in Webber’s Trump Tower corner duplex, with memories of a bathrobe-clad composer bringing them coffee in the mornings and wine in the evenings.

When asked why the store now specializes in just paper and tea, Nick queries, “Why not?” Carolyn is a former stationary buyer, and tea is an integral part of her family background, being of Asian descent. “She does all the printed materials,” says Nick of their work partnership. “If it were up to me, I’d still be printing the first piece.”

What is it like to work with your spouse? Carolyn has a quick answer. “I can’t work with anybody else,” she says. “Everything we do, every decision we make, we pass by each other.”

Just Paper and Tea is an American Express Small Business, which encourages cardholders to think big but “shop small.” Last year, American Express spruced up several of the shops at this section of P Street for Christmastime. This year, the company paid for artist Aniekan Udofia to paint a mural on an outside wall of Just Tea and Paper in the alley, easily seen from Wisconsin Avenue.

Nick and Carolyn’s repertoire of work includes everything from designing wedding invitations for a newly reunited military couple to birthday luncheon invitations for Pope Benedict. “We feel very lucky in that we love what we do,” says Carolyn. “We get to see people at their happiest.”

“In today’s world of evolving technology, the written word is power,” adds Nick. “You can delete an email.” He pauses. “You can throw away a letter — but you won’t.”
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LLS Woman of the Year: Katie Simmons Hickey

August 17, 2015

“Every time I watch that video, still, I get choked up,” Katie Simmons Hickey says softly.

She’s referring to her own fundraising video, created to inspire contributions for her candidacy in this year’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Woman of the Year competition. The 10-week annual fundraiser, which concluded last month, raises funds for LLS blood cancer research. Candidates like Hickey competed on behalf of children who are local blood cancer survivors, the Boy and Girl of the Year.

Hickey’s video features the 2014 Girl of the Year, 9-year-old Rylie, known to friends and family simply as “Rue.” During the course of the three-and-a-half-minute video, Rue shares how the most difficult part of being diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of 6 was making friends — “because I was bald ’cause of the chemo and everybody pointed at me and they were just kinda confused. So it was really hard for me to make friends,” she earnestly explains.

It’s the kind of video that, once you see it, you can’t pretend you didn’t. And if you were having a hard time understanding why the work of organizations like LLS is important, it becomes glaringly apparent in the face of a doe-eyed child who just wants to make friends like everybody else.

“I met Rylie at Kick-Off Night and I wasn’t 100 percent committed at that time,” says Hickey, referencing the evening that became a defining factor in her decision to accept her nomination. “Listening to her story from her mom and her dad, her brother and even Rylie, herself, was kind of the icing on the cake. There was no way I was turning back.”

And turn back she did not. “I was in it to win it,” says Hickey. “I’m very competitive by nature. I always have been since I was young. [I thought,] I’m not doing this unless I win it.”

Hickey’s competitive nature came in handy. The National Capital Area Chapter broke records this year, raising over $1.8 million for blood cancer research. Leading the 22 other candidates was Hickey, who took home the title of “LLS Woman of the Year,” raising over a quarter of a million dollars — $277,202.59 to be exact — making her First National Runner-Up.

“The last week I was a nervous wreck because I didn’t think we had it. I was pushing every day, stepping out of my comfort zone asking people for money, asking clients, friends and family,” says Hickey. “I had to step back and remind myself it wasn’t for me, it was for the kids and families.”

The kids and families affected by cancer are, of course, the reason LLS exists. “These kids are the true meaning of inspiration,” says Hickey. “To see them show up [to fundraising events] two days after chemo, smiling.” She trails off. “It was such an inspiration to see.”

It was the thought of the kids and families that kept Hickey going through some of the more grueling moments of the taxing, 10-week fundraising schedule, as well as her own personal reasons. Her best friend, Colleen, has been in remission from cancer for 14 years, and this past October Katie and her husband lost their son, Gabriel.

From this hardship, Hickey mustered strength. “I just knew I couldn’t give up,” she says. “No parent or patient is given that privilege. I’ve seen families go through it. It’s heartbreaking.”

The hours of hard work that Hickey and her team of supporters — including her 3-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter, husband, mother and former-nanny-turned-campaign-manager — spent stuffing envelopes, scrawling mailing addresses, posting on Facebook and planning fundraising events is apparent in the tremendous results they garnered.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Hickey says of being named LLS Woman of the Year and First National Runner-Up. “It’s exciting. I’m ecstatic that my name will forever be tied to Woman of the Year for this region. It’s still a shock to me. I’m grateful and humbled that I’ve been given the opportunity to make an impact on LLS. Seeing the kids’ faces, knowing you’ve worked to help find this cure.” She pauses, seemingly grasping for words that ultimately escape her, possibly because they don’t exist.

“It’s inexplicable,” she finally says. “Nothing I’ve ever been involved with can ever come close to that.” [gallery ids="102149,133049" nav="thumbs"]

Meridian Salutes Embassy Social Secretaries

August 16, 2015

It was a social crowd – both in nature and by trade – that gathered at Meridian House July 30 for a reception that honored embassy social secretaries for their valuable roles in promoting cultural diplomacy. The evening’s guest of honor, Special Assistant to the President and White House Social Secretary, Deesha Dyer, told attendees that first lady Michelle Obama is her “unwavering mentor,” and added, “She inspires me in all I do.” Meridian International Center Director Stuart Holliday presented Dyer with a silk scarf, custom-designed by iconic D.C. jewelry designer Ann Hand. [gallery ids="102282,127753,127748" nav="thumbs"]

Tony Bennett Gets Birthday Surprise From Lady Gaga

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga dazzled sold-out audiences at the Kennedy Center, July 31 and Aug. 1, concluding their seven-month tour for their jazz album, “Cheek to Cheek.”

“You might be wondering why he’s singing jazz with the girl who wore the meat dress,” Lady Gaga said of her work with Bennett. “I assure you, I’m a much better jazz singer than I am a pop singer.” The duo sang a combination of duets and solo performances, featuring jazz standards that included “But Beautiful” and “The Lady Is A Tramp.” At the end of Saturday’s show, Gaga surprised Bennett with a multi-tiered cake and serenade for his 89th birthday on Aug. 3.

Arts advocates Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto were awarded George Washington University President’s Medals July 30 at the Corcoran building, home to GW’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. The evening also featured a private, one-night-only exhibition of 18 pieces of Bennett’s art. Yes, Lady Gaga showed up for that.
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Le Décor: Red, White, and BBQ

July 16, 2015

What better place than the nation’s capital to host a patriotic picnic — or a red-white-and-booze-filled holiday feast — on the 4th of July? From table settings to outdoor décor, these summer-inspired products will delight your guests this celebratory weekend and on every outdoor occasion, right into fall.

1. You put mint in your cocktail — why not in your candle? This soy wax Mint Produce Candle makes an aromatic addition to any patio picnic table this summer. $24.95, [Paper Source](

2. An icy pitcher of lemonade — or, if you prefer, Pimm’s — is all the more delectable in this opalescent glass Miruna Pitcher. $36, [Anthropologie](

3. With plenty of farmer’s markets to choose from in the D.C. area, this adorable ceramic Farmer’s Market Basket lets you serve the fruits of your — or someone’s — labor in a most original way. $20 (large basket),0[ Anthropologie](

4. Fresh-squeezed juice and homemade sweet tea taste better when sipped from a Mason jar. These red Jam Jar Juice Glasses will have you coming back for seconds. $19.95 (set of four), [Paper Source](

5. Keep your drinks and food chilled in style with the wood-coated Castine Cooler. $449, [Ballard Designs](

6. Whether it’s hot dogs and hamburgers or haute-cuisine hors d’oeuvres, this beautifully crafted Resin Tray with leather handles is perfect for all your hosting needs. $325, [Calypso St. Barth](

7. Without tunes you don’t have a party. This Turquoise Beach Radio, an AM/FM smartphone speaker, lets you play DJ no matter where the party takes you. $49.95, [Paper Source](

8. With these nostalgic Hot Dog Trays, you’ll think you’re standing in line for the rollercoaster at the county fair. $5.95 (set of 8), [Paper Source](

9. Replace your worn-out picnic-table cover with Gingham Plates. Serve your guests on these outdoor-friendly plates, made of sturdy melamine. $26.95 (set of 4), [Paper Source](

10. Adding to the light of the evening fireflies, the glow cast by this beautiful trio of Mineral Tealight Holders will inspire your guests to enjoy their sparkle all summer night long. $50, [Calypso St. Barth]( [gallery ids="117525,117492,117519,117499,117505,117529,117512,117534,117538" nav="thumbs"]

Memorial Day Benefit: K9s for Warriors Saluted for Serving Veterans

June 22, 2015

The Capitol Hill Club hosted the Fourth Annual Memorial Day Kick-off and Veterans Tribute, honoring veterans and veterans in Congress and benefiting K9s for Warriors, a nonprofit dedicated to providing service canines to warriors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or trauma as a result of military service post 9/11.

Emceed by CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett, the May 19 reception was attended by several Members of Congress, including Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), all veterans, all of whom addressed the audience.

Zinke, a freshman congressman who served as a Navy SEAL, from 1985 to 2008, called today’s servicemembers “magnificent,” highlighting the “enormous sacrifice these men and women are making every day.”

Citing the hostile reception that many U.S. warriors received upon returning home from the Vietnam war, Coffman, who possesses 20 years of combined service to the Army, Army Reserve, Marines and Marine Reserve, urged the crowd of supporters and politicians to “make sure our veterans that are returning home today are never treated like those returning from Vietnam.”

Rangel, a recipient of a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, prompted attendees when speaking to vets, “Instead of just saying thank you, say ‘Can I help you? How are they treating you?’ ”

The attention being paid to veterans’ mental health and wellbeing upon returning home from combat is relatively new, when compared to America’s lengthy wartime history. “When you leave the service,” Rangel said, “they teach you to be proud, but you can be lonely.”

Loneliness, depression, substance abuse and other problems of physical and mental health are all symptoms of PTSD that some veterans encounter upon returning home from military service. As greater recognition of the mental effects of war has come about in recent years, organizations like K9s for Warriors have come to the aid of afflicted servicemen and women.

Captain Jason Haag, a Purple Heart recipient who served three tours of combat duty leading Marine Corps troops across Iraq and Afghanistan, is a recipient of a K9s for Warriors dog named Axel. Haag gave a moving speech to the audience, crediting Axel with saving him from the despair he felt upon returning home after his third tour of duty. “Axel awakens me from my nightmares still today,” said Haag. He shared that he has lost nine friends to post-war suicide – a startling number, greater than those he has lost on the battlefield.

Haag shared that K9s for Warriors has a 100-percent success rate and in 2016 will save 200 veterans’ lives, as well as 200 dogs’ lives – 95 percent of the organization’s dogs are rescued from shelters. Axel was just two days away from being euthanized before being saved by the program.

Special guest, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie and the only fighter pilot ace of the Air Force since Korea, was honored. Ritchie received the Congressional Gold Medal the following day, an award bestowed by Congress and one of the highest civilian awards in the U.S.

After Ritchie’s speech, guests delighted over a performance of “O, America!” by Irish tenor Anthony Kearns and regaled while sipping spirits courtesy of the Beer Institute, the Wine Institute and Beam Suntory.
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Who Is Taking Home a Rammy This Year?

The 33rd Rammys are going down this Sunday to honor the best of the metro area’s restaurant industry. Of the 21 categories up for grub — er, uh, grab — four of them will be selected by the voting public. The rest will be selected by a panel of judges from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, the presenter of the awards.

As one might expect, there are a number of contenders from Georgetown, including: Seasons at the Four Seasons — for Upscale Casual Brunch; Bourbon Steak — for both Cocktail Program of the Year and Service Program of the Year; Pizza Paradiso — Beer Program of the Year; LaGina Lewis, of Farmers Fishers Bakers — for Employee of the Year; Agnes Chin, of the Grill Room at the Capella Hotel — for Pastry Chef of the Year; and Fiola Mare — for New Restaurant of the Year.

Rather than attempt to poll the public in advance, and because I’m a big fan of brunch anyway, “upscale” or “everyday casual,” I thought I’d give you my own choices for the categories the public gets to pick. Drum roll, please …

Favorite Gathering Place of the Year: Evening Star Café

While it requires a trip across the river to visit this Alexandria neighborhood gem, the friendly service staff and cozy, small-town-diner ambiance make it worth the trip. Evening Star’s two separate bars stocked with craft beers make it an excellent spot to meet friends and enjoy a brew.

Upscale Casual Brunch: Seasons at the Four Seasons

When a waffle just won’t cut it, or I’m feeling a little “upscale” for brunch, Seasons at the Four Seasons delivers the best Ropa Vieja Shredded Flank Steak Chachapas (translation: Venezuelan Corn Pancakes) this side of the Potomac. And let’s be fair, the “upscale” category belongs to Georgetown …

Everyday Casual Brunch: Liberty Tavern

Liberty Tavern is a favorite of mine for many reasons — excellent food and great service, with a tavern ambiance. Try meeting some friends for brunch and order the house-smoked salmon or the thick-sliced French toast with banana and pecan maple syrup, then stick around awhile for a fresh-fruit Bellini or a manmosa or two … or three … You’ll come back.
Favorite Fast Bites: Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza

It’s a short trip up Wisconsin Avenue to Friendship Heights, and Pete’s is my favorite spot for a fast and delicious bite of New Haven Style Apizza. It’s served cafeteria-style: order at the register, wait to be served on a tray, then select a seat. In addition to New England-style pizza, Pete’s offers antipasti, pastas and brews.

President Surprises, Dems Win Baseball Game

In Washington, House and Senate members play hardball in politics everyday, but on a steamy, late, spring evening in June, after months of preparation and grueling 6:30 a.m. practices, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle gathered around the diamond at Nationals Park to play partisan ball of a different kind. 

It was the 54th Annual Congressional Baseball game, held June 11 – a storied political showdown that pits Democrats against Republicans in a time-honored fight for victory on the field – and later, bragging rights throughout the halls of Capitol Hill.  This year’s game had been especially highly anticipated as the Democrats and Republicans were playing a tie-breaker game, each party entering with a overall record of 38-38-1.

Only one person could heighten the drama and excitement of the game: the President of the United States. Yes, the real president, Barack Obama, did show up at the game – especially when he needed votes for a critical trade bill, as a few staffers noted.

Baseball fans who attend Nationals games at the South Capitol Street stadium are used to seeing a few presidents, especially those racing presidents, George Washington, Tom Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Bill Taft.

It was a major surprise for the crowd of around 10,000 gathered for the Congressional game, when Obama arrived during the third inning, toting two dozen bottles of White House-brewed beer, reserved for the winning team. The president wore slacks, a dress shirt and black Ray-Ban sunglasses, visiting both parties’ dugouts and staying about a half hour before leaving, as the Democrats led 3-1.

While the Dems continued their lead, extending their six-game winning streak by taking home a victory after the tie-breaker was dispelled with a final score of 5-2, it was the recipients of three D.C. area charities who really came out on top.  Though members play to win and bragging rights are coveted, over the years the ballgame has evolved into a fundraiser, raising money for the Washington Literacy Council, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. 

This game was truly a win-win for all, no matter your politics.
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New M Street Location for Nava

Just south of Dupont Circle, Nava Health and Vitality Center’s new 1800 M St. NW location opened May 15. It’s the third of Nava’s integrative medical centers, joining those currently open in Chevy Chase and Columbia, Maryland. The location’s official grandopening celebration will be held June 17.

Established in 2014, Nava uses a unique integrative approach to health and wellness. All under one roof, each Nava location seeks to treat the individual as a whole, not as a group of symptoms. The new M Street center offers a soothing, modern and tranquil environment for patrons, designed in neutral tones that have an immediate calming effect upon crossing the threshold.

“By bringing our integrative approach to health to new audiences within the D.C. area, we’re offering alternative practices that most people haven’t been exposed to before. And we do it in concert with their physician,” said Bernie Dancel, founder of Nava Health and Vitality Center and CEO of parent company Ascend One Corp.

“In looking for new retail locations, we want to be in markets that have a high population of health-conscious individuals who know that wellness is more than just the status quo. It’s about understanding your body and feeling your best at any age,” he said.

Nava’s medical protocol draws from Eastern, Western and alternative methods, with a foundation grounded in science and developed from years of clinical experience and proven principles. Service offerings include sports performance and recovery therapies and treating the effects of aging — all of which work holistically to help resolve client issues such as weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, chronic pain, digestive issues and low sex drive.

“We believe people should know exactly what’s going on with their bodies and be provided with a personalized roadmap to feeling their best,” said Dancel. “We know what we’re doing works, and now our clients are seeing it too.”

It would appear that Dancel is correct, as the brand plans to add a fourth area location in Rockville, Maryland, later this summer. Nava is exploring additional locations in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, along with an expansion into the Florida market.
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