Murphy’s Love

Dear Stacy, I have been married six years and have two kids: a daughter who is four and a son who will be three soon. On the whole, I am happy with the way my husband and I are co-parenting. He is really involved in the day-to-day around the house, even though we made the decision that I would stop working until the kids get to kindergarten. My issue is that he parents our kids very differently, and not just because of the age difference. I see him being much more affectionate and careful with our daughter, and treating our son like he’s much older than he is. For example, he expects our 2-year-old son to use a fork without making a mess, but caters to our daughter’s every whim, never making her clean up her own toys or messes she makes, not even in an age-appropriate way. He is much gentler to our daughter but doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for our son when he has a boo-boo or needs comforting. I am playing armchair psychologist, but I think this has something to do with the way his parents treated him (very strict) and his two brothers growing up. Anytime I bring this up he takes it as criticism and refuses to talk about it, let alone change his behavior. I’m afraid we’re raising a bratty girl and a lonely boy, and there’s nothing I can do about it. -Fearing a gender-biased household Dear Fearing, First, I want to commend you for paying attention to this dynamic. With the associated chaos of a young family-of-four, many of us might avoid such careful observation in favor of getting more sleep or just zoning out in front of the TV. That being said, the hyperparenting phenomenon that is overtaking our playgrounds and schools has its benefits and its costs. Your kids have two functioning role models in their lives and are not being abused – this really is a plus no matter how you look at it. You are connecting Husband’s behavior to his family of origin, and as a mental health practitioner, I’m also curious about how his childhood experience impacts his parenting decisions. Still, without assigning blame to the In-Laws, there is a lot of confusion about the role of the father in the modern family, and about what it even means to be a man in this culture. Does Husband have male friends who are also fathers of young children? Are they able to talk about the challenges and struggles, the mixed messages, what it means to be a man today, and about how to raise young men? Now, on to the more important issue: the communication between you and Husband. It sounds like he feels a little anxious when you bring up this topic. The sad truth is that no matter how gently you put it, messages from women about male behavior are often read as criticism. I’d recommend you read Love and Stosny’s “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.” I think it might help chart a course for better connection, which can lead you to getting what you both want and need. After that, perhaps Husband might be willing to join a men’s parenting or processing group (for no other reason than an evening outside of the house…) where he can talk about his goals and expectations, and receive feedback from someone who doesn’t share living space. Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to stacy@georgetowner.com.

Murphy’s Love

Dear Stacy: I have been dating the same woman for two years. We’re both about to turn 30 and it seems that everyone expects me to propose to her in the New Year. I do care about her. I even love many of the qualities she has. But I’m not sexually attracted to her at all. I know how horrible that sounds, but it’s true. She’s just not my type. Before we dated I had many failed relationships with women I found more beautiful. When we started dating I knew I didn’t find her physically attractive. I just knew that she was kind and generous, and that I wanted to see if the other stuff was less important as long as we had a deeper emotional connection. Now we’re two years in and, though I feel strongly for her as a best friend, I’m still not interested in being with her physically. I feel like telling her the truth is the best answer, but I also don’t want to be labeled a jerk. I just don’t know if I can stick it out for a lifetime. -Label-Resistant in DC Dear Label-Resistant: Your sentiment is admirable – you don’t want to saddle her with the memory that your relationship ended because of something she really cannot control. But at the same time, you are letting this drag out in a way that will inevitably cause her to think it was her hair/eyes/dress-size that led you to break it off, regardless of the reason you give for ending the relationship. This is not to say that you should stay in a relationship when you don’t feel sexually attracted to the person. That essential piece of couple-hood is hard to overlook. Yes, the fierce magnetism found during those early relationship stages does fade over time, but visual stimuli is central to our biological method of connecting with others. That doesn’t change as we age, and you would be doing her a disservice by forcing yourself to just “stick it out for a lifetime.” To go for the sexist cliché, women are intuitive, and it’s quite likely she already knows you aren’t super-excited by her. There is someone out there, I swear, who does find her attractive. She has the right to find her match, and so do you. So if you are hemming and hawing about the “right” thing to say when you are breaking up, my advice is to say as little as possible, unless she asks. Then offer her as much information as she requests (NOTE: This is different from telling her “as much as you think she should know…” Please let her regulate the amount of detail), steering clear of anything crass, reactive or outright hurtful. Then give her the space to process it, and don’t expect her to be your movie buddy or part of your emotional support network anytime soon. Distance is painful but necessary, and much kinder than prolonging a false relationship. Dear Stacy: It’s the time of year to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions, something I’ve never been successful at maintaining. All my coworkers want us to post our resolutions on the kitchen bulletin board and then help each other along – a pretty good idea, but is it worth it for me to say “I’m going to finally find a boyfriend this year,” and then fail in front of everyone? I don’t get the point. -Office Naysayer Dear Naysayer: I agree with you that New Year’s resolutions often launch with a lot of promise, only to fizzle before the snow melts in March. For some it can be a motivating push to do something healthier, but for others it becomes an annual tradition of punishing, self-fulfilling prophesy. Which is why I suggest you be gentler to yourself and choose something you’ve already started doing (just resolve to do more of it) in the New Year. Big-ticket items like massive weight loss, cold-turkey smoking cessation, and boyfriend-collection are tough to achieve when you’re being watched (or monitored, competitively, via the lunchroom bulletin board). Why swear off sugar entirely, when you have a niece who sells you Girl Scout cookies every February? Why throw out your cigarettes January 1 if you tried doing it that way last March 3, August 21 and September 20, only to relapse the next week? Or why promise your officemates that you will find a boyfriend, if you have been trolling eHarmony and Match.com for the last year without luck? There is definitely something to be said for public accountability when making big life changes – if that’s your reason for joining the office pastime, then go forth. But inviting all eyes on you as you put yourself out there in one of the most vulnerable ways possible – dating in Washington, DC – is a sure-fire way to tank your self-esteem and start 2011 with a whimper. Be better to yourself than that. Maybe make self-care your resolution. I promise you will feel better about this New Year come next December if you do. Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to stacy@georgetowner.com.

Murphy’s Love

Dear Stacy: I’m a 56-year-old divorcee dating an about-to-be 66-year-old widower. We have been dating for nearly a year and spend most of our free time together. I attend his work functions, and we have mutual friends in common. My companion’s birthday is around New Year’s, and he is planning to retire from a high-profile law practice soon thereafter. There will be a major celebration in his honor, and he has asked me for my opinions about venues and entertainment (I’m an event planner.). But I will not be invited to the party because his three grown children will be there, and he has not introduced us yet. Although he told me they knew he was dating, it has come to light recently that they do not know he’s been in an exclusive relationship with me since January. He has no plans to tell them and shuts down the conversation every time I bring this up. I know he’s not ashamed of me; his friends and coworkers all know my name. I think he’s just not willing to upset the kids’ memories of their mother, who died 10 years ago. I’m trying not to feel embarrassed by the situation, but I really don’t like the way this makes me feel about the children, his deceased spouse, or him quite frankly. Any advice? -Feeling Backburnered in Burleith Dear Burleith: I understand where you’re coming from. He’s only willing to bring you into his life to a certain point, and that is painful and somewhat embarrassing now that there’s a very public event about to showcase those boundaries. Of course you are struggling with your feelings about his wife and their children, but, if you’ve been reading my columns at all, you know where this is going; I think we need to focus more on your feelings about him and vice versa. You say that he shuts down communication each time you try to broach this subject. First, I’d suggest that you decide whether this relationship is important enough for you to work through, and if it is hightail it to a couples counselor ASAP. People only “shut down communication” when they are feeling threatened by another person’s demands, so take the time to learn how to have this conversation sans the fight and flight. If that doesn’t work, we have to start looking at your motivation for staying in a yearlong relationship with someone who lied about whether his kids knew you existed, who asks for your event planning work product without payment or invitation to said event, and who responds to your emotional needs by cutting off communication. If those red flags aren’t enough to get you to slow down, then I’d recommend spending some time with your own relationship needs and expectations. Is this what love has always looked like to you? Is that still good enough? I’m rooting for you to say “no more” to being taken advantage of in this way, but this kind of realization is a process. Finding someone to talk it through is always a great start. Dear Stacy: I’m in love with my married boss. He knows it and flirts with me incessantly. I used to think this was his way of moving toward a relationship or an affair, but it’s pretty obvious he just enjoys playing this game. While I truly hate that part of him, I’m still in love with him, and this saga continues. Please don’t tell me to quit my job; I love what I do, and I’m very good at it. Plus, the economy makes it hard to find something comparable. I’m just miserable each day and want some ideas for how to make life more bearable. -In Love with the Boss Dear In Love: To summarize: You say you are in love with him, he’s an incredible jerk, and you do not want to quit your job. Well, there’s a very simple fix: Just fall out of love with him. It’s not going to be easy. You have maintained your affection for this person, despite his obvious disregard for your feelings, so I’d conclude that willpower is your strong suit. But if you refuse to take yourself out of the same situation that generated these feelings, you are going to have to redirect that determination toward keeping safe from harm. I’d start with blinders and earplugs at the office. If those efforts don’t appeal to you, please consider finding someone to talk to about why you fell in love with him in the first place. What does the unavailable, manipulative boss-figure represent to you? Is your unrequited fantasy powerful enough to override all your natural, self-care impulses? You are reaching out in an advice column, which shows some sense of self-advocacy, but I know you can be more effective. A friend, a family member, a therapist; just make sure the person is able to hold the mirror tightly so you can truly see the impact of your decisions. Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to stacy@georgetowner.com.

Murphy’s Love

Dear Stacy: My girlfriend is pressuring me to get married, and I don’t know what to do. We’re both 28 and have been dating exclusively for five years. She is the love of my life, but I just don’t see the need to get married, at least not yet. Both her parents and mine are divorced—less than amiably—and I always promised myself I wouldn’t get into that situation. My girlfriend and I each have our own places but spend most nights together. I think moving between houses is kind of fun, but she hates it. We have all the commitments of a married couple—holidays, vacations, friends in common—but without the messy issues of combining households and finances (which she’s not so good at, by the way). I don’t want to ruin a good thing by forcing myself down the aisle. How can I explain this without sounding like a commitment-phobic jerk? So far, I’ve avoided the issue as much as I can. – Anonymous Dear Anonymous: I’m curious why you find nightly sleepovers to be so fun. Are you a camping nut, or is it just easier to commit on a part-time basis? If you’ve both been together for five years and this drop-in arrangement hasn’t started to wear thin, I’d guess that more is going on here than you’re letting on, maybe even to yourself. You offer a few clues: two children of divorce, lingering conflicts between both sets of parents, concerns about Girlfriend’s financial savvy. At the same time, thinking that you are fulfilling the most important commitments of a married couple, yet not living together, suggests that your expectations about marriage are off. If you didn’t have a great model for marriage growing up, that certainly might help explain things. But if you want a healthy marriage—whether in name or in spirit—it means agreeing to a life that embraces it all: moving under one roof, communicating even when you don’t want to, making money decisions together and helping each other with common goals. This kind of commitment comes with big risks but promises big rewards as well. You might feel uncertain whether you’re ready to invest the kind of emotional capital it takes to build a healthy marriage, but it sounds like Girlfriend wants to try. Admitting that you’re worried is admirable, but protecting yourself by avoiding the issue is downright cruel. Talking with your partner is the next step you need to take — to share your worries over sharing the same fridge, your fear of repeating your parents’ divorce, and the anxiety you feel about her shopping sprees. Whatever you do, you need to stop playing possum. It’s disrespectful to you both and prevents you from hearing her vision of a happy marriage. You might be surprised to find out that it’s not far from your own. Dear Stacy: I’m a newlywed. My husband and I dated for three years before we were married last spring, and I get along great with his family. His sister is several years younger than we are and lives in the area. Up until the wedding, she and I had no issues, but ever since my bachelorette party, I haven’t been able to shake her. She has friended all of my bridesmaids on Facebook and has insinuated herself into my circle of girlfriends. She shows up for our ladies’ nights and is constantly asking questions about how my marriage is going. She’s really a nice person, just so much younger and clueless about what’s appropriate and what is not. I want my friends to be my friends and my family to be my family. How do I disinvite her without being disowned? –Crowded in Clarendon Dear Crowded: Defriending a family member sounds like a topic for Oprah to address. But I sympathize with your situation. Breaking up with a friend can be treacherous; breaking up with family can require a lawyer. Hopefully we can come up with something a little less dramatic. It sounds like Sister-in-Law (SIL) looks up to you and your friends, admires your marriage, and generally wants to be close to you. This is not unusual Little Sis behavior when you’re in grade school, so I’m going to prescribe a grade school-type intervention: boundary-setting. Kids need limits so they know what to expect and won’t launch into worry-based over-functioning. It sounds like SIL may be a little anxious and trying to figure out what’s appropriate SIL behavior. Tell her. Show her. Help her. I don’t mean that you block her from your life. Just be gentle and firm about who is invited to ladies’ night and who is not. Also, show an interest in how she’s relating to people her own age. She may really be after your wisdom and advice but just doesn’t know how to ask for it and has opted to try osmosis instead. With some sisterly guidance and some time, you may not need to delete your Facebook account entirely. Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist, practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to stacy@georgetowner.com

Murphy’s Love

Dear Stacy: I am about to tell my parents about my new boyfriend, “Tom,” and I could really use your help. I’ll cut to the chase: I’m 26 and he’s 48. We met online, and he lives in southern Maryland. We were just friends at first, but then things turned romantic and we have spent hours talking on the phone and IMing about the challenges that lay before us. He was in a long-term relationship when we first met, so our in-person meetings were more like once a month. But now he’s single and we are ready to tell our friends and family about our relationship. My parents are kind of conservative. They live in Ohio and visit quite often. It’s been tough to hide my relationship from them, but now that Tom is free and I am planning to move closer to be near him, it’s time for them to know. My dad has never liked my boyfriends – no one’s good enough for his “little girl.” Can you help me formulate a plan? What’s the best way to give this kind of info – write a letter or just introduce him at dinner? I know if they were patient, they would like him. Tom and my dad even went to the same university, so they have that in common. I’d like to ease them into this – any ideas? -Star-crossed in the Palisades Dear Palisades: You admit you have been hiding this relationship, so I’m going to skip over the obvious questions about your emotional maturity in choosing a cyber-based coupling with someone so much older and inaccessible. While the truth probably lies somewhere between you having daddy issues and him being your cosmic soul mate, I’m not going to judge and am sure you already have your defenses about those issues well-established. So let’s spend our time with the hiding question instead. Unless you are completely upfront about the reasons you kept the Parents in the dark, this will continue to be a dramatic interpretation of a relationship, and never the real thing. We hide things from our families when we aren’t comfortable with the consequences of others’ knowing. We also hide things when we are ashamed of what we’re doing. Where does this relationship fall on that continuum? It sounds like your parents visit often because they love and care about you (unless you aren’t mentioning their habit of regularly rebuking their child in a booth at Clyde’s because they just can’t get crab cakes in Ohio). Have you been embarrassed by the choices you’ve made in your relationship? Then owning up to those feelings might be the best place to start the conversation. I am talking about agreeing to some level of vulnerability here. Open self-assessment can feel like a relief when we’ve been under so much pressure (you know, like hiding a nearly six-month relationship and a covert plan to move to another city), but it also has the benefit of disarming your “opponent.” If you and Tom want to take this pairing public, it’s better to start from a place of openness, or at least make that the norm from now on. At the same time, online relationships don’t always have the best track record for translating into face-to-face romances, so please be sure before you bring your parents into the equation – and definitely before you break a local lease and hire Mayflower. Has Tom met your friends? What are your expectations in moving closer to him? Have you found a job there? Maybe take some time to make this a more reality-based relationship before you invite the whole family (and their opinions) to the party. Dear Stacy: I am a person who has a very hard time making decisions. I ask a lot of people for advice, hoping something will resonate, but then end up even more confused than I was in the first place. I wish this was limited to big issues, like dating and career, but sometimes I can’t even make a choice about a restaurant or whether to buy a pair of shoes. I just keep thinking about what might come along instead, and how my life could be impacted if I make the wrong choice. It’s starting to drive me crazy, not to mention the friends and family I’m constantly bombarding with questions. I need someone to set me straight. -Compass-less in Kalorama Dear Kalorama: So you want to work on your over-questioning nature, by asking another person a question. While I hate to play into this regularly scheduled drama, this is an advice column, so I suppose questions are the starting point. What do you get when you ask others for their opinions? Do you get the counsel you say you need, or do you get something more basic, like the opportunity to finally have someone else’s full attention? I’d guess that you are not too comfortable asking for what you need from others, and that playing 20 Questions has been the quickest route to some coveted one-on-one time. Please don’t be embarrassed. Many of us have come to believe we don’t deserve to be the center of someone else’s attention unless we’re in a crisis. Who can blame you for creating that crisis every now and then? But shoes are not a crisis. Chipotle v. Pizzeria Paradiso is not a crisis. And you aren’t going to lose everything by making a single choice. I’d imagine that you have built up a tolerance for your own gut instinct, to the point that you may not even notice when it’s giving you direction anymore. It’s time to learn to start trusting yourself again. This is not to suggest that you should go it alone on everything. A personal “panel of experts” is an important tool – I usually run this column by my own consortium including The Sister, The College Roommate, and The Trusted Colleague. But the truth of adulthood is that every other person in the world is less qualified than YOU are to make a decision for YOU. Start small: plan a date with your significant other, take charge of the Thanksgiving Day festivities – but make sure to build in the opportunity to pause and review your choices, noting the less-than-catastrophic outcomes. Make a list of your successes and check it often. Retraining your brain to appreciate your own sense of direction is going to be a process, but it’s going to be worth it, especially when someone – gasp! – asks you for some advice. Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to stacy@georgetowner.com.

My life on horseback

Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A polo handicap is a passport to the world.” In my opinion, it is a passport to life. I was born in Stratford upon Avon, which is in the Warwickshire countryside. I sat on my first horse at 18 months old and took my first riding lesson at the age of six. Little did my parents suspect that buying me my first pony at age eight would lead me to what I am now — a polo player. My pony and I learned to compete together in gymkhana, jumping, and cross country. I even tried a little dressage. But the day I went to watch a polo match with a friend I knew I had to play. I took one lesson, and I was hooked. Polo is like life — although it’s a team sport, it’s ultimately down to you. You get up. You compete. You miss shots. You hit great ones. You sometimes fall off, but you rise and go on. At that time, I was working for a U.K. company as a sales and marketing executive. They wanted me to open their Washington DC office. I first asked if there was a polo club before I said yes. I met my husband playing arena polo on a freezing January night. I knew he was my type of man — a polo addict. My husband and I now live on a horse farm with our polo ponies, in Virginia. Our team, Los Tigres, plays in local leagues during the summer. In the winter we travel to play polo in places like Zambia, England, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Dubai, and Jamaica. [gallery ids="99200,103424" nav="thumbs"]

How Can You Tell if it’s Time to See a Therapist?

  -Life is messy and often confusing. Sometimes you’re up, and then you’re down. You have a plan, and life throws you a curve. Life can feel like it’s just too much, and it can make you question, “Is this all there is?” No one is happy all the time. No one’s life is perfect. So how can you decide that your particular situation is one that might be helped by psychotherapy? You might be lucky enough to have a close friend or family member who has had a positive experience with therapy and is comfortable enough with it – and with you – to make the suggestion. Other people can often see your distress more clearly than you can yourself, so consider their recommendation seriously. But even if no one has said anything to you here are some signs that it’s time to see a therapist: • When the same kinds of problems recur in your life. You may have conflicts at work or repeated “misunderstandings” with your friends. You may have disappointing romantic relationships or frequently feel that you don’t fit in. Or you might notice that people become annoyed with you, and you don’t really understand why. The key here is that when a problematic situation becomes familiar and you recognize that you’ve been in the same spot before, that’s when it’s time to see a therapist. • You’re having trouble sleeping. • You notice a change in your usual sleeping, eating or drinking habits. • You’re having trouble concentrating or motivating yourself to do things. • You’re irritable or anxious and searching for something to blame it on. • You feel physically unwell, but your doctor says you’re okay. • The things you used to enjoy are not much fun anymore, and nothing else positive has taken their place. • You’re trying to figure something out or to move forward with a work or family issue, and you’re stuck. The list is by no means exhaustive; rather, it is meant to be suggestive. Besides paying attention to the way you are feeling and thinking, it is important to recognize that certain life situations, while normal and even desirable, can be so stressful that they put you at risk. It’s easy to understand that a death in the family or the breakup of a relationship makes you emotionally vulnerable, but it is also the case that life transitions, such as leaving school and starting work or moving to a new city, are challenges that shake up your life and make new demands at the same time as they remove you from your old friends and other supports. These transitions can often be navigated more smoothly with the help of a therapist.

Graduating Green

As citizens around the globe continue to put efforts into preserving the environment, individuals living and working on college campuses are among the leaders of the pack. With energetic and invested students and supportive faculty, many campuses in the D.C area are paving the way for future environmentalists by making their campuses green. The Georgetowner took a look at the environmental efforts at three local universities — Georgetown, American, and George Washington — and compared just how green these well known campuses are. From recycling to transportation, food to solar energy, we found that each of these three schools thrives in some area of environmental preservation. Georgetown University --- Green: Recycling Not So Green: Long Shuttle Routes Georgetown University’s budding recycling program is what makes its green efforts unique. Ever since Recycling Manager Bill Del Vecchio took over the recycling department three years ago, the University’s recycling program has grown immensely. Along with the help of Georgetown’s student environmental advocacy club Eco-Action, Del Vecchio established a recycling outreach program and tracked which areas of campus were most populated to ensure that additional receptacles were placed there. (All the receptacles look the same and are therefore easy to identify.) It appears to be paying off — the recycling rate at Georgetown rose from 12 percent in 2007 to 45 percent in 2010. Cardboard, plastic, batteries and electronics are only a few of the items that Del Vecchio says are recycled. “Since I’ve been at school, our recycling program has expanded and developed beautifully,” Eco-Action president Kristin Ng says. “When I started here, we had to sort out all of our plastics and only certain things could be recycled. Now, after a huge renovation of the system, it’s super easy to recycle anything on campus.” Georgetown received a large grant for recycling in the fall of 2009, at which point the university replaced many of its outside bins with Big Belly Trash Compactors. These solar powered trash compactors are attached to two recycling bins, making recycling a convenient and prevalent option around campus. Recycling bins can also be found in all faculty member offices, and next year the University will place bins in the rooms of all on-campus residence halls and apartments, says former Eco-Action treasurer Jonathan Cohn. In addition to day-to-day recycling, the University encourages students to preserve their unwanted items through its annual move-out drive. This event allows students to donate items around their dorm rooms that would have otherwise thrown out. As a result of the University’s efforts, Georgetown moved up in this year’s Recyclemania, a competition that measures colleges recycling rates over a 10-week period. Georgetown ranked 37 out of 267 colleges and universities in the grand champion category. Though technology has been helpful in improving recycling at Georgetown, Del Vecchio says that student and faculty support is what makes the program top notch. “Faculty, staff, and students all participate in recycling and understand the importance of environmentally sound practices on campus,” he says. Beyond recycling, the University has also made strides in improving sustainability through the installation of energy monitors in every residence hall. These monitors allow students and faculty to see how much energy their hall is using at any given point. The university also built a LEED Silver-certified business school building in the fall of 2009. Despite its many green initiatives, Georgetown still has work to do towards improving sustainability, particularly for campus vehicles. Former Eco-Action member Carter Lavin notes, for instance, that the shuttle bus route to the Dupont Circle Metro stop is unnecessarily long. Because West Georgetown residents complained about the busses constantly passing through the neighborhood and shaking their door frames, all University buses going to Dupont Circle during off-peak hours leave from Reservoir Road and take a left on Wisconsin, which, Lavin says, prolongs the route substantially. --- American University --- Green: Transportation Not So Green: Lack of compost system for food Amid the lists and descriptions on American University’s sustainability Web site lies an overarching slogan declaring that “The American Dream is Green.” Thanks to both the University’s active environmental club Eco Sense and its sustainability department, AU’s green initiatives are continuously expanding. The Sustainable Endowments Institute acknowledged AU’s achievements when they gave the University an “A” for environmentally friendly transportation on its 2010 green report card. AU’s green transportation policies significantly help lessen fuel consumption on and around campus, according to former Eco Sense treasurer Stephen Bronskill. A complimentary shuttle service takes students to and from the nearest Metro stop. “The shuttle is used for the vast majority of students commuting into D.C.,” Bronskill says. AU Sustainability Director Chris O’Brien notes that the University provides several incentives for students and staff to use public transportation, such as payroll deductions for employees who take Metro. “Use of the free campus shuttle has doubled in the past 10 years, showing that more and more people are choosing to take Metro and then our free shuttle to campus rather than drive personal vehicles.” O’Brien says. If traveling by train isn’t an option, students and staff can turn to the on-campus Zipcar service, which enables students to rent a car for specific time slots rather than purchasing and bringing their own car to school, making for fewer cars polluting D.C. streets. In a further effort to keep cars off the road, AU offers a condensed work week option for staff members and 10 complimentary bikes for students to rent. “We have a very impressive and innovative bike lending program that allows students to rent bikes for the day,” Bronskill says. “The plan is so successful that there are plans to double it in size.” But AU’s green ambitions extend far beyond environmentally friendly transportation options. The University’s Climate Action plan lays out four basic strategies that will help the University to become carbon neutral by 2020. Eco Sense President Jennifer Jones also notes that Bon Appetit, the company that supplies the food at AU, frequently uses locally grown organic food and that students run a community garden. Still, she says, there are steps the University could take to become more sustainable, including initiating a compost program for pre- and post-consumer food scraps. Though Jones knows that students and faculty still have work to do in terms of improving green practices, she says she is confident in what the future holds for AU in terms of sustainability. “There is always room for improvement, especially because environmental information is progressing so quickly,” she says. “But between the Department of Sustainability and Eco-Sense, there are a lot of people at AU trying to make us more sustainable.” --- George Washington University --- Green: Food Not So Green: Lack of alternate energy sources For those looking for an environmentally friendly lunch spot, the George Washington University’s dining hall may be the perfect location. The University, which recently received an “A” for environmentally friendly food on their 2010 green report card, strives to serve locally grown, organic foods whenever possible and works to ensure that dining hall products don’t produce excess pollution. The fact that GW spends 160,000 annually on locally grown foods such as apples, tomatoes and onions indicates that purchasing these foods is a major priority. The University’s organic purchases are also plentiful, with a total of 250,000 worth of organic foods bought and served yearly. But GW doesn’t just buy locally grown foods, they also compost them. The University currently composts all pre-consumer food scraps on the Mount Vernon Campus, and will strive to begin post composting next year, according to Sophie Waksow, the stakeholder engagement coordinator with the Office of Sustainability. In an effort to alleviate pollution caused by excess petroleum, the University has decided to place biodegradable plates in certain campus dining halls. The switch, Green GW President Justin Fink notes, was initiated by a group of students and faculty, and is expected to eliminate close to 600 pounds of petroleum-based serviceware from campus. “On campus, our dining services have been become increasingly more environmentally conscious over the years,” Fink said. “This past year, leaders of environmental student organizations and administrators have collaborated with Sodexo, our main food provider, to put in place a program to use biodegradable plates and hopefully flatware as well.” In addition to its green dining options, GW’s buildings are also very environmentally friendly. In September 2009, GW opened South Hall, the first LEED Gold-certified University building in D.C. history. Among its many green attributes are walls with high insulation and bamboo paneling as opposed to hardwood floors, GW Today reported. Student involvement in environmental initiatives is no rarity at GW. There are a total of 12 student environmental groups on campus, many of which have individual Web sites. Though Fink points out at that the university should improve its green efforts by introducing alternate energy sources like solar energy or biodiesel on campus, Waksow says that students’ continued commitment to environmental preservation indicates just how energized the GW student body is as a whole. “While universities have a relatively small physical footprint, we have a large impact on the current dialogue and the next generation of leaders,” she says. “GW has a culture of political and civic engagement: our students exercise their leadership skills in sustainability through their activities outside the classroom and in their careers.” [gallery ids="99187,103289,103297,103294" nav="thumbs"]

Plans Underway for 13th Taste of Rappahannock

Plans are underway for Headwaters Foundation’s 13th Annual Taste of Rappahannock, widely considered one of the county’s most popular fundraising events. This year’s event, which will be held at Belle Meade Schoolhouse on Sept.11, beginning at 6 p.m., promises to be an exciting evening. “We’ve hired Red Apple Auctions of Alexandria to help us with both the silent and live auctions, and they have some great new ideas that we are implementing,” said Toni Egger, executive director for Headwaters. Nearly 50 one-of-a-kind items will be auctioned. Already on the bidding list and sure to cause competitive bidding are a week at Le Silence, a charming, five-bedroom farmhouse in the scenic countryside of Burgundy, France, a trip to Cancun and a theater weekend in Washington, D.C. Guests may bid on other experiences, such as a helicopter ride and accompanying gourmet picnic, a cooking workshop and dinner with well known chef and writer Hi Soo Hepinstall, a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting at Copper Fox Distillery, original art from a number of Rappahannock County’s most accomplished artists, and more. Rappahannock County’s students have always been the primary beneficiaries of the Taste, and this year, more than ever, they will be a part of this time-honored event. Students will be involved in every aspect of the evening, from greeting and chatting with guests to serving hors d’oeuvres to helping prepare and serve a wide selection of dishes of locally sourced foods. A musical ensemble from Rappahannock High School will provide live background music. During the formal dinner program, one student will share how his experience with Headwaters has made a difference in his life. Funds raised during the annual Taste of Rappahannock are crucial to underwriting the enrichment programs offered to students by Headwaters throughout the year. This year’s “Challenge” will, in fact, be a challenge — thanks to generous donations by Rappahannock resident Mitzi Young and the late Took Crowell — and should generate significant contributions. High level challenge donors will be honored with a champagne reception. The funds raised this year are more important than ever, as Headwaters looks to expand its outreach efforts. In addition to supporting its robust, long-lived programs, including Farm-to-Table, Starfish Mentoring,, and Next Step, and its supportive teacher mini-grants and complimentary staff development efforts, funds are needed to develop new programs. “Rappahannock County has a new school administration with new ideas and programs they will want to launch. We want to be ready and able to help,” Egger said. “We would like to create an opportunity fund so that we can respond to developing needs and ideas for programs at all levels of school.” In the planning stage is an after-school program for elementary school children. Egger said that a survey will be sent in August to elementary school-age children and their parents. “We want to learn from the parents and students what they would like to see in an after-school program before we build it and will incorporate their thoughts and suggestions,” Egger said. “We hope to start such a program in January.” She credits Headwaters volunteer Philip Strange for outlining a proposal for the effort. Demand for tickets this year will likely be greater than ever, in part because of advertising support in Flavor magazine, which reaches some 50,000 people throughout the region, including D.C., Maryland and northern and central Virginia. Details of this year’s Taste are online at Headwaters Foundation’s Web site, www.headwatersfdn.org. Event Co-Chairs Cheri Woodard, Terri Lehman, and Ashleigh Cannon Sharp said that invitations to the 13th Annual Taste of Rappahannock were sent out in early August. Tickets are $150 for individuals. Patron tables of 10 are $2000. Sponsored tables are $1200 and include two tickets to the event. No doubt, the event will sell out as soon as invitations reach the mailbox. To participate, e-mail your name and address to Toni Egger at director@headwatersfdn.org or call Toni at 540-987-3322. Tickets are $150 for individuals and tables may be sponsored. Event sponsorships are also available. The Grand Prize: One week at Le Silence, a charming five bedroom farm house in central Burgundy’s Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan. The property, originally part of the famous Manoir de Ruères, is situated in the quiet hamlet of that name midway among the historic cities of Avallon, Saulieu and Vézelay. Within easy driving distance, one may find the renowned wine regions of the Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits, Côte d’Or and Chablis, and somewhat further afield, Beaujolais and Sancerre. Several of the world’s greatest restaurants are within a half an hour, including Marc Meneau’s L’Espérance and the late Bernard Loiseau’s Côte d’Or; and smaller but superb establishments abound nearby. Though 220km from Paris, Le Silence is connected by a near-by major auto route (circa 3 hours driving time), and for those wishing a long day or two in Paris, by a high speed train from nearby Montbard deposits you at the Gare de Lyon in one hour and one minute. The immediate environs of the house boast many of the poignant monuments to the World War II French Resistance, and the region is dotted with memorials to brave Americans and Britons who perished supporting them. The Musée de la Résistance in nearby Saint-Brisson is especially moving. The house itself, which has been in the Wimbush family for nearly 30 years, sits on four hectares of wooded farmland. It has been substantially modernized and is fully equipped. For local color, fine food and wine, history and culture, and the upmost tranquility, Le Silence is hard to match. This is a unique opportunity for one or several couples, or a larger extended family. Bidding starts at $5,000 (for use of the house only; does not include travel). [gallery ids="99190,103304,103307" nav="thumbs"]

Gardens of Hunt Country

Said to be commissioned sometime around 600 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar as a gift to his wife Amytis, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and perhaps one of the earliest botanical works of art. With lush trees and fragrant plants imported from her native Persia and planted in elevated stone terraces to resemble the mountainous terrain where she lived as a child, the gardens were intended to provide a homesick Amytis with a sense of comfort, peace, and familiarity in a place so different from her homeland — emotions that every garden should evoke in its keeper. Whether it’s the palatial gardens of Versailles, an intimate courtyard retreat in Georgetown, or a smaller-scale balcony garden consisting of containers filled with overflowing greenery and colorful blooms, anyone who has spent time in a garden understands the positive impact such a space has on one’s overall attitude and well-being. If you already have a garden, or have toyed with the idea of creating one, the gardening events on tap this spring in Virginia’s Hunt Country will no doubt inspire your inner gardener. Secret Gardens April 17 through 25 is Historic Garden Week in Virginia — your annual invitation to take an up-close and personal peek behind some of the most exclusive garden gates in the Commonwealth, and in some cases, a glimpse into the magnificent homes that share the landscape with them. Organized by member clubs of The Garden Club of Virginia and celebrating its 77th season, this statewide celebration is frequently referred to as “America’s Largest Open House” and is the oldest event of its kind in the United States. More than 30 home and garden tours will take place in Virginia during Historic Garden Week, with proceeds going toward the preservation and restoration of historic gardens and grounds throughout the state. Several tours are within close proximity to Washington, D.C., including two in Virginia’s Hunt Country — the Loudoun and Fauquier Garden Club tour, and Winchester-Clarke County Garden Club tour. A mix of old and new awaits you on the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club tour, where you’ll have the opportunity to visit five outstanding residences — some constructed prior to the Civil War. Leave the hectic pace of the city behind and travel west through the scenic countryside, where lush green fields and historic stone walls make the journey just as beautiful as the destinations. Properties on the tour include Innisfree, Marly, Waverly, Middleton and Pennygent. Make your way along pea gravel paths and cobblestone walkways as you are treated to exceptional gardens overflowing with annuals, perennials, espaliered fruit trees, and terraces wrapped in wisteria. The Winchester-Clarke County Garden Club tour showcases five remarkable homes dating from the 18th century to the early part of the 21st century. Erchless, Rosemont on the Shenandoah, Caveland, Apple Hill and Randleston Farm are all extraordinary residences, each unique in their own way. One residence has a circular main floor plan, with no square rooms, while another has a history that dates to the Roaring ’20s. This is an outstanding and eclectic collection of properties that you’re sure to remember long after your visit. A Festival Blooms in Leesburg Promising to be bigger and more impressive than ever, the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival celebrates its 20th year the weekend of April 17. Attracting more than 35,000 visitors over the two-day botanical extravaganza, this event is set to fill the streets of downtown historic Leesburg with a garden party you won’t want to miss. There’s something for everyone, so come early, bring the entire family and plan to spend the day. Over 100 vendors are slated to be on hand to equip you with everything you need to envision, and ultimately cultivate, the outdoor space of your dreams. It’s unlikely you’ll even recognize the streets of this quaint historic town, as they have magically been transformed into elaborate landscaped gardens, flower and plant exhibits and more — all certain to inspire you and get your creative juices flowing. Talk with landscape professionals that can help you design that perfect patio, walkway or garden area. Stock up on supplies or buy that must-have plant with over-the-top blooms that will look just perfect in your garden. Be sure to stop by the Town Green, where experts will be presenting demonstrations on a variety of topics. Learn about composting and pick up other eco-friendly gardening tips and techniques that will ensure your garden is “green.” When it’s time to take a break, grab a bite to eat from one of several food vendors and enjoy the entertainment on the Loudoun County Courthouse lawn where various artists will treat you to music ranging from classic rock to reggae. New this year is a garden of a different sort — a wine and beer garden — featuring many of your favorite Loudoun County wineries and breweries. Face painting, crafts, and entertainment will be in full swing on the children’s stage, so make sure the “junior gardeners” in your family don’t miss out on any of the fun. Whether you’re avid gardener, or just beginning to dabble in plants, the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival is an excellent opportunity to connect with landscape professionals, enhance your gardening knowledge, and enjoy some great springtime weather. Le Petit Jardin There’s no doubt you’ll be anxious to take all of those great gardening ideas you picked up at this spring’s events and turn them into reality. If you have never gardened because you thought you didn’t have enough time or space, think again. For many of us, time constraints or limited space just mean that we have to garden on a somewhat smaller scale. Starla King, owner of Signature Gardenscapes (www.signaturegardenscapes.com) — a company specializing in smaller-scale residential landscape, says sun, space and soil are the keys to any beautiful garden. Once you assess these three important elements, you are ready to begin creating your own personal outdoor oasis. To get you started, King offers these helpful tips for creating and maintaining gardens in small spaces: • Always consider how much sun or shade the planting area will receive each day. If your garden area is primarily shade, don’t get a plant that needs mostly sun. It will probably still grow, but will be spindly, unhealthy-looking and never mature to its full potential. Likewise, a shade-loving plant will burn to a crisp in a full-sun area. • Determine how much space you have for your garden before you purchase plants. Plants will try to grow to their intended size even if you don’t give them enough room. Buy plants whose size at maturity matches your available space. For example, if you have a three- to five-foot garden space, don’t buy five plants that will each grow to three feet wide. You will end up with 15 feet of plants in a five-foot space. Instead, consider five plants that grow to one foot wide, or three plants that mature to two feet wide. • Check the soil condition. New garden beds may require that some topsoil or soil conditioner be mixed with the earth. If in doubt, check with your garden center or plant nursery. For containers, just use a good quality potting soil. • Visit a garden center and start your search for plants that appeal to you. Check the plant labels or ask for assistance to ensure the plants you select are conducive to your sun, space and soil conditions. • Consider how your plants will look together before you buy them. Place them in your cart and see if their colors and textures complement each other. Do you think they look good? Buy them! If you’re not pleased with how look together, try different plants to obtain the overall effect you want to achieve. • At home, plant and care for your new purchases according to instructions on the labels and enjoy! So now you’re ready — get out there and get gardening. And remember, whatever your source of inspiration, be it a grand garden on a magnificent country estate or container garden tucked humbly in the corner of a balcony, make certain the garden you create is what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were to Amytis — a place of comfort, contentment, beauty and familiarity. Coming Up In Country: Plan now to make sure you don’t miss these annual gardening events happening this spring in Virginia’s hunt country. Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival April 17, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Downtown Historic Leesburg www.leesburgva.gov Historic Garden Week: Loudoun and Fauquier Garden Club Tour April 18, 1 to 5 p.m. April 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.vagardenweek.org Historic Garden Week: Winchester - Clarke County Garden Club Tour April 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 25, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. www.vagardenweek.org Philomont Garden Phair April 24 and 25, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Featuring plant growers, local artisans, garden-themed retailers and more. www.philomontgeneralstore.com [gallery ids="99108,99109,99110,99111,99112,99113,99114" nav="thumbs"]