Where To Go? Embassy Row!



Not only is Washington, D.C., our country’s capital, but it is a hot tourist destination. In 2017, the area set a new record with 22.8 million visitors. Top tourist sites are predictable–the Washington Monument, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Memorial. Been there, done that. So what do I want to see when I head to D.C. this weekend? Can’t wait to check off visiting Embassy Row from my bucket list.

Embassy Row isn’t a single building or monument, and you won’t find it marked on a map. It is a nickname for a section of Massachusetts Avenue in NW D.C. where numerous embassies and diplomatic missions are concentrated. The area is bookended by the north side of the U.S. Naval Observatory (the Vice President’s home) and Scott Circle. In a city known for political double talk, it is refreshing to find an accurate name for something. Embassy Row consists of, well, a row of embassies.

And exactly what is an embassy? It is an office or residence of an ambassador, someone sent on a diplomatic mission by one country to another country. As a rule, embassies are located in a country’s capital city; thus, ambassadors to the U.S. can be found in embassies in our capital, Washington, D.C. Consulates or trade missions can be found elsewhere.

Being the world power that it is, the United States has diplomatic representation from almost every nation. Therefore, over 175 embassies or diplomatic missions can be found in Washington, D.C. Political upheaval overseas has increased the number of embassies in our nation’s capital. Over 20 chanceries (embassy business offices) have been added since 1991 due to the breakup of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia.

Cuba, Iran, and North Korea do not have full diplomatic representation with the U.S.. Thus, those countries do not have an embassy here. North Korea is probably too busy building its nuclear capability to be concerned about building an embassy in the U.S. anyway.

Although a large number of embassies are located in D.C., less than half of them.can be found along Embassy Row. So why do I want to go to this area? In the first place, Embassy Row is an impressive and historic location. It is so historic, in fact, that it is protected by the Massachusetts Avenue Historical District.

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, Massachusetts Avenue was THE residential address to have. Mansions were erected on that street to house D.C.’s political and social elite. As the result of the Great Depression, many property owners on what we call Embassy Row today were forced to sell their homes due to financial struggles..

But Millionaire’s Row quickly turned into Embassy Row. The British Embassy was built on Massachusetts Avenue in 1925, and the Japanese Embassy in 1931. Many other countries followed suit. Some countries opted to move into the existing mansions and transform them into embassies rather than building a new structure.

Tourists may take a walking tour to view the impressive architecture of the historic mansions used as embassies. Adding to the fun is trying to determine to what country a particular embassy belongs. The task is easier for some buildings than for others. A statue of Winston Churchill with a cigar flashing a V sign is a dead giveaway for the British embassy. Likewise, the statue of Mahatma Ghandi in front of India’s embassy screams “India.”

Being the advance planner that I am, I’ve already reviewed online maps of Embassy Row. These maps helpfully provide the street lineup of embassies with the street number and nation’s flag identified. I’m definitely checking out #2220 (Guatemala–location of my first overseas mission trip), #2234 (Ireland–home of my maternal ancestors), #2525 (Turkey–evokes memories of a wonderful Mediterranean cruise I took), and #3100 (United Kingdom–Long Live The Queen! Age 93 and counting…..).

Embassy Row is also a draw for me because it can be a magnet for protests. American citizens aren’t typically able to go to a foreign country to express opposition to its policies, but they may be able to get to the country’s U.S. embassy to sound off. Until its retirement, a giant inflatable blue whale was often seen on Embassy Row when Greenpeace staged protests against foreign country’s environmentally unfriendly policies. The Vatican’s embassy is the target of an ongoing multiyear protest by a molestation victim decrying the Catholic Church’s alleged cover up of pedophile priests.

I am one tourist who would enjoy observing freedom of speech being exercised to send a message to a foreign country. Protest scenes allow me the opportunity for  great candid shots to post on social media too.

Seeing Embassy Row in person has been a dream of mine ever since I read the murder mystery, Murder On Embassy Row., written by Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of Pres. Harry S. Truman. Talk about someone who had a behind the scenes look about the goings on in Washington, Ms. Daniel is your woman. I want to see the words from the pages of her book mentioning these embassies come to life before my tourist eyes.

Finally, I want to go to Embassy Row because I am intrigued with the world of intrigue. I’m a huge James Bond fan and have read numerous spy novels. If foreign diplomats are on Embassy Row, you can’t tell me there’s not some spying going on. Why, I’ll bet some of the Secret Service agents  tasked with protecting the embassies are secretly spies as well. Perhaps I should wear a trench coat and sunglasses while touring Embassy Row to get me in the mood for the area.

As I am checking out the Embassy Row embassies, I’ll be keeping an eagle eye out for diplomatic license plates on the cars I see. The State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions issues these licenses whose  initial letter is  “D” or “S.”. I’m guessing “D” is for diplomat and “S” is for spy. The next two letters on the plate indicate the country. I’ll be on high alert if I spot a license plate that reads “S4RU.” (Spy For Russia?)

The Russian Embassy is not, however, on Embassy Row. It’s located on Wisconsin Avenue instead. Perhaps the Russians are trying to keep their distance from 007’s Brits who are over on Massachusetts Avenue.

I may not run into the Spy Who Loved Me while checking out Embassy Row, but I’ll love being in an area where stories of intrigue have been set, real life drama is played out, and freedom of speech is alive and well. While the U.S. government conducts business in Washington, D.C., embassies of almost 200 other countries do business do too. It’s a small world after all, especially on Embassy Row.

JUST WONDER-ing: Have you ever heard of Embassy Row? Were you aware that so many other countries have a base of operations in our nation’s capital? Do you believe the espionage is occurring there or is that just something that happens in a James Bond movie?




Holy Smoke!


Look! Up in the sky above Paris. It’s smoke. No, it’s HOLY smoke! The historic Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday.

While people enjoy reading about hot topics, the cathedral fire is one hot topic which will not be pleasurable. Notre Dame is more than a tourist attraction or a religious site; it is a symbol of France itself. In fact, France owns Notre Dame, but the Catholic Church has  the exclusive right to use it for religious purposes in perpetuity. [“In perpetuity” is a fancy schmancy legal term meaning continuing forever.]

Because of the fire, there’s one less item on my bucket list. I won’t be able to travel to Paris and gaze upon this UNESCO World Heritage site which attracts approximately 13 million tourists every year. Notre Dame boasts nearly double the tourists visiting the Eiffel Tower–which at last report was still standing.

What’s so special about Notre Dame? Well, for one thing, it is old. Really old. Its cornerstone was laid in 1163, and the structure was built over the course of 200 years; it was completed in 1345. Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles were added in 1240 to serve a less scarier than might be expected purpose, i.e., to act as rain spouts. The Gothic cathedral’s wood and lead spire was built during a mid-19th century restoration. Its towers were the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

Not only is Notre Dame extremely old, but it has seen and been a part of numerous historic events. The church was desecrated during the French Revolution. (Apparently eating cake and destroying holy sites were the thing back then.) Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France inside Notre Dame in 1804 and married in the cathedral as well. Notre Dame’s bells were rung to mark the end of both World War I and World War II.

Speaking of bells, fire bells rang when the fire was first reported to emergency services as a blaze in the cathedral’s attic. More than 400 fireman ultimately responded in an attempt to extinguish the inferno. French President Emmanuel Macron even postponed a major speech to his nation to rush to the scene as rescue efforts were ongoing. Those efforts resulted in Notre Dame’s famous 18th century organ and its 8,000 pipes surviving the inferno.

Hopefully, Emmanuel, Marie, Gabriel, Anne Genevieve, Denis, Marcel, Etienne, Maurice, Jean-Marie, and Benoit-Joseph came through the disaster unscathed. No, those aren’t church employees, they are the cathedral’s ten bells. Given the extent of destruction, I am sure this was not simply a five alarm blaze but a ten bell blaze.

Notre Dame is not only old and historic, but it’s an architectural gem. Architects view Notre Dame as the finest example of French Gothic architecture. The structure is famed for its carved stone gargoyles, the flying buttresses which hold up its walls, and its stained glass windows. Thankfully, Notre Dame’s three thirteenth century rose windows survived the blaze, although they may be a bit rosier thanks to the heat of the fire.

In addition to its age, history, and architecture, Notre Dame is famed as a repository of religious relics and works of art.  In a testament to man’s determination, a human chain, which included the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, formed to remove these items from the blazing structure. One relic saved was The Crown of Thorns which is believed to be a piece of what Jesus wore when he was crucified. Many rescued items were moved to the Louvre for safe keeping. Hopefully, the Louvre is more fireproof than the cathedral.

Notre Dame, situated on a small island in the Seine River in the center of Paris, is the setting for various creative works. It was the stomping grounds for Quasimodo, Notre Dame’s bell ringer in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a French Gothic novel published in 1831. Today the video game “Assassin’s Creed Unity” prominently features Notre Dame. I don’t know anything about the game, but hopefully it didn’t involve burning the structure down.

It’s too soon for the cause of the fire to have been pinpointed. The cathedral was undergoing an extensive $6.8 million renovation, so the fire potentially may be linked to that ongoing activity. Scenes from the fire clearly showed scaffolding around the structure. Those are two things I definitely want to avoid–being on a scaffold and in a fire! And forget doing both at the same time.

The flames have been extinguished, but a smoldering mess remains. The cathedral’s spire collapsed Monday evening, and its roof was ravaged. The medieval wooden interior of the structure was gutted. But in a vivid picture of hope and faith, the golden altar cross remained standing in the charred cathedral. The fires of hell and of  Notre Dame could not overcome it.

French President Macron has already vowed Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Actress Salma Hayek’s billionaire husband and his father announced plans to donate $113 million (of course, they’ll donate in Euros) towards that goal. Multiple millionaires have likewise pledged money for a rebuilding effort. Money towards rebuilding has poured in like water hoses turned on the burning cathedral; $600 million Euros were raised overnight.

The rebuilding effort will be aided by the latest and greatest technology. Before his death, art historian Andrew Tallon made 3-D laser maps of every detail on Notre Dame. Additionally, game artists and historians working on “Assassin’s Creed Unity” spent about two years getting the details of the cathedral just right, including where pictures hung on the walls.

While Notre Dame can be rebuilt, it will never be what it was before the fire. In a matter of a few hours, hundreds of years of history were wiped out. Let’s not take for granted sites of historical significance whether in Paris or somewhere in the U.S.A. Appreciate these sites while you can because you never know how long we will have them. Disaster can strike without warning at any time.

Notre Dame is a church, and a very important one, but the cathedral is just a building. People of faith make up the real church, and that church will withstand all sorts of disasters. A symbol of its endurance is the golden cross on the soot-tinged altar at Notre Dame. That cross survived the Notre Dame fire, but The Cross miraculously overcame death at Easter. Holy Smoke!

JUST WONDER-ing: Do people today value historical sites? Have you been to Notre Dame? If so, what about it spoke to you? Did you want to go to Notre Dame but never got the chance? Would you go if/when the cathedral is rebuilt?




The Last Straw


Little things such as the tongue can cause big problems. Another one of those little things that causes trouble is something you have placed your tongue on numerous times. That little thing is a plastic straw. If some activists have their way, the next plastic straw you put your tongue on will be the last (plastic) straw. Those who care about our environment are chanting, “DOWN WITH PLASTIC STRAWS!”

I confess, I’ve never given much thought to plastic straws–at least until this past weekend. As I was eating in a restaurant,  I felt a strange texture in my mouth. The straw in my glass of ice tea felt weird on my tongue. Why was that? Well, it wasn’t a plastic straw; it was a paper straw. Other than the fact that the straw had a different feel on my tongue than I was used to, it was no big deal to be using a paper straw. But my encounter with the paper straw started me thinking about plastic straws and why they are being vilified by environmentalists.

What possible harm could an innocuous tube that helps us slurp sodas and suck up shakes do? Well, just one straw isn’t much of a problem. But when 500 million or so are used by Americans alone each day (per the National Park Service) and then tossed, the extent of the resulting harm may shake you up.

Plastic straws are manufactured as a single use product, i.e., it’s one use and done. The life use of a plastic straw is a matter of minutes–however long it takes you to get to the bottom of the drink it’s helping you get into your mouth. While it’s useful life is fleeting, the plastic straw sticks around as garbage for a long, long time. A discarded plastic straw will still be here WAY after you and I are gone.

Recycling plastic straws is not a viable option because their thin design makes them too small for most recycling machinery. So straws are left to decompose, but plastic has difficulty doing so. When plastic does start to break down, it releases toxic chemicals such as BPA. I’m no chemist, but I’m concerned because two of the three letters in BPA almost spell “bad.” GASP!

And where do plastic straws go to decompose–or at least attempt to decompose? Sadly, many of them end up polluting our oceans. According to the Wildlife Preservation Society, plastic straws are routinely among the top ten items most collected in beach cleanup programs. They, along with cigarette butts, must be too heavy for the average beachgoer to deliver to a waste receptacle just a few feet away.

Those plastic straws not thrown in the trash by responsible beachgoers or cleaned up during beach cleanup events, are floating in the ocean. So, what’s a few straws floating among the waves?  Well, according to the World Economic Forum Report, at the current rate of accumulation, the amount of plastic in the oceans will outweigh all the fish there by 2050. Holy mackerel!

And these straws do not harmlessly float in the sea. They pose hazards to marine life who ingest them or become entangled with them. A video of a sea turtle having a straw removed from its nose went viral on the Internet. I dare you to watch the graphic video (found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wH878t78bw) and still feel compelled to use a plastic straw. The poor sea creature was in obvious pain because we humans simply must have a plastic tube to be able to drink our beverage of choice. Heaven forbid we simply lift a cup to our lips and drink directly from it.

So why are we using plastic straws anyway? A history lesson will explain it. The original patent for a drinking straw was filed in 1888 by Marvin Chester Stone. He was mass producing paper straws by 1890. A large scale plastic production infrastructure was in place during World War II, but once the war ended, manufacturers needed a new market for plastic. Post-war, it was actually cheaper to produce plastic straws than paper ones; the plastic straws were also more durable than paper, i.e., they wouldn’t tear when put into a to go lid. Therefore, manufacturers transitioned from arming the country for war to arming the country to drink beverages.

Now that Americans are aware of the harm to our environment caused by plastic straws, why are we still using them? Money not only makes the world go round, but it determines the type of straws we are offered. According to paper straw manufacturer Aardvark Straws, a paper straw costs a penny more than a plastic straw to produce. A penny may seem like a paltry amount, but for large corporations who use huge quantities of plastic straws, this cost adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars. The almighty dollar is more important to them than the Earth’s environment.

Fortunately, some businesses get the damage caused by plastic straws and are doing something about the problem. Starbucks, Marriott, and American Airlines are all phasing out plastic straws. Starbucks plans to have plastic straws phased out by 2020.

Governmental entities are also getting on the ban the plastic straw bandwagon. In 2018 California became the first state to enact a statewide ban on plastic straws in sit down restaurants. Customers can request a plastic straw, but they get a paper one otherwise. On January 1, 2019, a ban on the use of plastic straws in restaurants and other service businesses began in Washington, D.C.  The cities of Seattle, Miami Beach, and San Francisco have plastic straw bans in place.

Don’t like the idea of a paper straw? Paper straws do have some drawbacks. Paper can dissolve, it can tear, it can be bitten through, and it may not afford the flexibility, strength, and safety that disabled users need. There are other alternatives to plastic straws such as bamboo and wood straws. Some straws are made for multiple uses, but you’d have to remember to take it with you. That may not be an option for you if you regularly misplace your car keys.

Some lifestyle changes require a drastic change in behavior. Switching to a straw of a material other than plastic is not one of them. Care about Earth? Don’t want to harm marine life? If you must choose between paper and plastic, choose PAPER. This choice may be a life or death one for sea creatures. Come on! Suck it up and ditch plastic straws!

Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever used a paper straw? Would you be willing to try one if you haven’t? Would it be that difficult for you to switch to a non-plastic straw or even drink a beverage without one?





The Tooth Fairy–A False Tooth Story?


The mysterious creature sneaks into your house while everyone is sleeping. She quietly enters the bedroom of your innocent child and approaches him closer and closer. Reaching quickly towards the child’s head she (GASP!) pulls a tooth out from under his pillow and replaces it with paper currency or a small treat. What kind of horror movie is this? It’s not. It’s the beloved tradition of the Tooth Fairy.

Many years have passed since the Tooth Fairy interacted with my family. But now that my grandson is six, she’s BAA-AACK! And it appears that she’s a little rusty as well. With shoulders drooping, Liam informed his mother that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t come to get the first baby tooth he lost. OOPS! Fortunately, the Tooth Fairy got up to speed while Liam was getting dressed for kindergarten; cleverly, she had put the money left in exchange for the baby tooth in the pillow case.  Good save, Tooth Fairy!

In case you grew up under a rock here in the U.S., let me fill you in on the fantasy figure we refer to as “The Tooth Fairy.” This creature is found in Western (or Western-influenced) cultures. The Tooth Fairy’s job is a simple one: take the baby tooth placed under the pillow by the child who lost it and exchange it for a small gift or money. Unlike Santa, there’s no concrete description anywhere of what the Tooth Fairy looks like or wears. In fact, we don’t even know if the Tooth Fairy is a he or a she, although a poll determined that most people think the Tooth Fairy is a she.

While the concept is simple, it leaves me (with a wondering mind) full of questions. Why does the Tooth Fairy need/want to collect teeth? Where does the Tooth Fairy get the money to exchange for the baby teeth or to buy small gifts to exchange for them? Are baby teeth income which need to be reported by The Tooth Fairy to the IRS? Why is the Tooth Fairy not called the Teeth Fairy since she collects teeth? Who trained the Tooth Fairy to do her job?

Sadly, my research turned up no answers to these questions, but I did learn some interesting facts about the Tooth Fairy. I know you are CHOMPING at the bit to hear them, right?

According to author Michael Hingston, every recorded human culture has a tradition regarding the disposal of a child’s lost baby teeth. Northern Europeans observed the tradition of paying a tooth fee when a child’s first tooth was lost. Nevertheless, the most widely practiced ritual is one in which lost baby teeth are offered to a mouse (La Petite Souris in France) or a rat. The hope is that the child’s adult teeth will come in as big and strong as a rodent’s. YUCK! Give me the Footh Fairy over a rodent any day.

The idea of a Tooth Fairy is one that is comforting to parent and child alike. The child gets a treat in a time of pain and loss. Yes, the loss of a baby tooth can be traumatic’ my daughter cried hysterically when she lost her first tooth thinking something was wrong. The parent is also traumatized when faced with a child in pain and the reality that their child is no longer a baby but is growing up. The Tooth Fairy makes the growth milestone more pleasant since the child is treated and the parent is relieved that the child is not so grown up that he doesn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy.

The Vikings didn’t care about kids losing their baby teeth. They were concerned about saving their own skin. In Norse culture, children’s teeth were said to bring good luck in battle; thus, Scandinavian warriors would wear children’s teeth on a string around their necks. Nope, that’s not a child-friendly tradition.

According to a website maintained by Colgate, a company that knows a little something about teeth, the Tooth Fairy legend is believed to have originated in the U.S. in the early 1900’s. The concept soared around the time that Disney began releasing pictures about fantasy figures such as Pinocchio and Cinderella.  A study conducted by Rosemary Wells, a professor at Northwestern Dental School, found that the Tooth Fairy was viewed positively or neutrally by 97% of parents. What parent would be against a fantasy figure bringing their child money? I mean, really….

The Tooth Fairy is such a positive figure that the Royal Canadian Mint issued Tooth Fairy quarters. These special edition coins were only produced in 2011 and 2012. Now that would be a cool gift to leave a child under his pillow in exchange for a baby tooth–a Tooth Fairy Quarter from the Tooth Fairy.

Parents need to be prepared to carry out the role of the Tooth Fairy. Their little darlings will begin loosing baby teeth between the ages of 5 and 7. A total of 20 will be lost. Thus, they better start stashing away money for a Tooth Fairy fund as well.

What’s the going rate for a baby tooth today? Interestingly, Delta Delta found that the value of a lost tooth is closely related to the U.S. economy. What the Tooth Fairy shells out each year is a good barometer of the economy’s direction. Over the years, of course, the amount paid out has increased. According to Forbes.com, between 1900 and 1973, the average payout for a baby tooth rose from 12 cents to 85 cents. Most kids find tooth payouts to be between $1 and $5, but only 3% of kids receive less than a dollar. (NOTE: You’ll need to have several Tooth Fairy quarters handy.} In 2012, the going payout rate was $3; that amount rose to $3.70 in 2013.

Smart parents will make the loss of a baby tooth and the Tooth Fairy’s visit a teaching moment. Some tell their kids that the Tooth Fairy pays more for healthy teeth than decayed ones, so brush up! Others go so far as to leave notes from the Tooth Fairy in addition to the money or treat giving instructions on good dental care.

Whether you believe in or play the Tooth Fairy, it’s great to have a positive and fun way to observe a growth milestone in a child’s life. Sure the Tooth Fairy is fantasy, but how boring would our lives be without a little fantasy? In a world full of bad news, happy stories can often be scarce as hen’s teeth. A smile on a child’s face when he finds money under his pillow from the Tooth Fairy is a heartwarming reality stemming from a harmless fantasy story.

Just WONDER-ing: Did you observe or are you observing the Tooth Fairy tradition with your kids? What did you/do you pay out per baby tooth? Is the Tooth Fairy tradition a harmless and fun one or something silly and passe?