Monday, April 24, 2017

Ballet Across America

This past weekend I went to see Ballet Across America at the Kennedy Center. I was able to get a My Tix deal on the tickets, so that was great!

The show started off with a video, which I didn't know was going to be included. The video is listed in the program book as if it's one of the segments of the show, so I was very confused! The video is nice, but I'm not sure why the Kennedy Center or any of its programs needs a promotional video. I don't need a music video to tell me that watching the ballet at the Kennedy Center is a nice experience. Plus, playing the video to this particular audience is like preaching to the choir; we're already in our seats at the Kennedy Center to watch a ballet; you don't need to convince us!

Here's the video:

Then we actually got to the real dancing. The L.A. Dance Project performed Hearts & Arrows. I liked the music, and the attitude of the dancers reminded me of the Dauntless in the Divergent series. Unfortunately the program book only went into detail about the dancers rather than the pieces, so I didn't know what this piece was trying to say. There was an unexplained tension between some of the dancers, and the choreography was a bit repetitive, but that's all I got.

Next was a pas de deux from Justin Peck's Year of the Rabbit. I couldn't find a video of this particular piece (which is unfortunate, because it's a beautiful, sensual piece, performed by the Miami City Ballet's Patricia Delgado and Jovani Furlan). But the video below is a little informational clip about the ballet. I must say I'm quite annoyed that Peck describes the piece as a  "musically-driven ballet." No shit, Sherlock. That's what ballet is...

My favorite part of Fool's Paradise. Image found here.
Then the Joffrey Ballet performed Christopher Wheeldon's Fool's Paradise. Again, because the program book didn't described the pieces, I just had to guess what this segment was telling me. All of the dancers were in nude costumes, which gave the illusion that they were naked, and the dancing was very sensual/sexual. I think the idea of Fool's Paradise is one big orgy, where couples swap and no one gets hurt or upset and everyone is happy with the situation (hence the name "fool's paradise."). I couldn't find a video of the dance, but below is a preview:

 I really liked the piece, and while doing research for my blog, I saw that Wheeldon also did the choreography for This Bitter Earth, which I LOVE!

And he choreographed After the Rain, which I've seen as well. You can easily see the main similarity between all these pieces: the connection between the dancers is so tangible and real.

Anyway, moving back to the actual performance I saw...

The last piece was The Gettin' by Kyle Abraham, the artistic director of Kyle Abraham/ (A.I.M.). This one's message was loud and clear, showing the parallels between racial segregation in America and the apartheid in South Africa. There was a separate jazz band performing, and Charenée Wade has an amazing voice; I think the song they played was called "Freedom." The other parts of the show just had a black backdrop, but this one had a background that looked like splatter art, but if you looked more closely, the blobs were silhouettes of Ku Klux Klan members. Images of "Whites Only" signs were shown on the backdrop; a video of a black person being arrested played on the screen as Ms. Wade mimicked the cries and shouts of the person. This performance had a great mix of music, dance, and visual art. I also liked how athletic the movements were; both the men and women were strong dancers!

I should admit that I did fall asleep during parts of the show, but it's not because I didn't like it! What I saw I really did enjoy, and I recommend it!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast [SPOILERS]

Image found here
I finally got around to seeing the new live action version of Beauty and the Beast. I love Disney's cartoon version (don't we all?), so I was very pleased that this movie stuck very closely to the original. BUT I did not think the changes did the story any justice:

-The added songs aren't necessary. We all love the original songs, and the new ones were put in there just to make the movie last longer (it's out of fashion to make any movie shorter than two hours, apparently.)

Image found here
-This version felt the need to explain what happened to Belle's mother (do any of us care?). Supposedly the enchantress left not only a magical rose, but a book with a map that can take you anywhere in the world. Belle wants to see where she lived as a baby, and it's this tiny one-room apartment in Paris. We find out that Belle's mother had the plague, so her father took Belle away as a baby so that she wouldn't get sick, too. They just abandoned her mom to die! Definitely didn't need to see that.

Well, I guess Angela Lansbury is getting kinda old...But still! Image found here
-Angela Lansbury is still alive. While I do like Emma Thompson, Lansbury IS Mrs. Potts, and no one else should play her!

Image found here
-I couldn't even tell who was playing some of the characters! Ewan McGregor, who is so good looking, plays Lumiere the candlestick, and even when he became human again, I still didn't recognize him! Ian McKellen, another well-known actor, plays Cogsworth, and again I had no idea! And Stanley Tucci as the pianist has hair and a mustache! Why?!

-Added characters, like Agathe, were unnecessary. And I didn't think she was that beautiful as the enchantress; she looked more like a ghost!

Beauty And The Beast GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Maybe they couldn't find enough old books for this scene AND the beast's library? GIF found here
-The bookstore/library in Belle's town is much more meager than in the cartoon version. In this movie, the place doesn't even have ten books!

-At some point the movie mixed Belle up with Rapunzel: she was trying to escape from a tall tower. Get your fairy tales right!
Beauty And The Beast GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
GIF found here
-The gaggle of girls who ogle Gaston are brunette. They're so much cuter as blondes!

Beauty And The Beast GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
GIF found here
-The dance scene is beautiful, but I wasn't feeling the modern moves. Maybe that's just me speaking as a dancer.

-This story is supposed to take place in the mid-1700's. I did like the Marie Antoinette-feel of the opening scene at the castle, but I did not appreciate the historical inaccuracies. I won't say anything more about it, but I found that distracting.

But don't get me wrong: this movie is so much like the original version that I still very much enjoyed it. And it's still very romantic (although I don't feel quite the same connection between Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as I do with the characters in the cartoon).

Disney GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Swoon. GIF found here
*I saw the play version a while back. Read that blog post here.

*One of the previews was for the movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. Alicia Silverstone is looking old! I guess her Clueless days are far behind her. The same goes for That Thing You Do's Tom Everett Scott

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chocolate Seder

While I did attend a traditional Passover Seder on Monday, last night I attended a different kind of Seder: dinner was dessert! What a fun idea!

The Chocolate Seder Plate
-A Tootsie Roll or other chocolate candy bar represents the shankbone.
-A chocolate egg-shaped object was the egg, representing the cycle of life.
-Bitter chocolate (i.e. very dark chocolate) is like the bitter herbs.
-A strawberry was the karpas, or vegetable (usually served as parsley or lettuce).
-A "chocolate mixture" was the charoset, representing the mortar Hebrew slaves used in Egypt. At the event I went to, we used honey.

We drank four glasses of chocolate milk instead of wine. Image found here
Instead of dipping the greens into salt water, we dipped strawberries into liquid chocolate, like fondue! Image found here

Of course we enjoyed chocolate-covered matzah! Image found here
I liked the twists to the traditional stories that are told on Passover. Instead of the four children asking about the story of Passover, these four children asked about eating chocolate (or the wicked one, who just ate a lot of chocolate and "consequently had fifteen cavities and was very fat."). And the ten plagues were a little different, too:

Destruction of Chocolate

Instead of making a matzah sandwich with the horseradish and apple charoset, we took the dark chocolate, dipped it in honey, and then ate it between two pieces of chocolate-covered matzah. Yum!

The blessings were also changed slightly: "Through God's abundance, we have never yet been in want; but we may have been sick to our stomachs. God sustains and does good to all, and provides cocoa for all the creatures of the world. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who provides chocolate for all."

It was a very fun evening! And even though this wasn't a traditional Passover, it was still very respectful, and I loved the sense of community at the Columbia Heights Moishe House. I've always thought I couldn't host my own Seder because I could never do all the cooking, but I could definitely host something like this!

*Click here for a copy of the entire Chocolate Seder Haggadah.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Recipe: Strawberry Raspberry Crisp

Image found here
Now that spring is finally here, berries are finally in season and making their way to the grocery stores. I bought strawberries and raspberries, too many actually, so I wanted to use them before they went bad. I found a recipe for strawberry raspberry crisp from Joy the Baker. I loved apple crisp when I was in college (served every Monday!), so I thought I'd try making this version.

1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered (~4 cups)
2 cups fresh raspberries (if using frozen, just thaw and drain)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place sliced strawberries and raspberries in a square 8×8-inch baking dish and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, oats, spices, and salt. Add the butter and toss the mixture together with your hands. Break the butter up into the flour mixture until the butter is the size of small pebbles and oat flakes (~4 minutes). Toss in the walnuts (if using).

3. Toss a generous handful (~1 cup) of crumble topping into the strawberry and raspberry mixture. Toss loosely with your hands. Spread fruit evenly in the pan and top with the remaining crumble mixture. Bake until fruit is juicy and bubbling, and the top of the crumble is slightly browned and crisp, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and serve with vanilla ice cream.

This recipe is DELICIOUS, and it's so easy! I did not use nutmeg or ginger; I just doubled the amount of cinnamon; I also didn't bother with the nuts. I also just cut the butter into really tiny pieces so that you don't have to mix things for so long (the recipe says four minutes: I think I did it for less than 1 minute. I have no patience!). I should say that when I took it out of the over, the fruit was bubbling like it's supposed to, but there were parts of the crumble on top that didn't look cooked (like it was still powdery flour in some spots). My guess is that those areas were just a little too thick, so I recommend spreading the crumble as evenly as you can, and not letting it pile up in parts of the pan.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Billy Currington Concert

Image found here
I love country music, and when I saw Billy Currington was coming to the Fillmore (I've never seen him live before), I was so excited! I guess other people were, too: I arrived just before doors opened, and the line was SO long! I've seen it around the corner before, but it went all the way around the NEXT corner; the show was sold out! But once I got inside, it really wasn't that crowded, and I was able to sneak my way closer to the stage. I'd say if there were such things as "rows" in a standing-room-only venue, I was in the seventh row, so I was pretty close. I had a great view for an amazing show!

The opener for the concert was Jillian Jacqueline. I had never heard of her before, but she has a beautiful voice! I was very impressed. After listening to some of her music online, she's one of those few artists who actually sounds better in-person. She's rather new on the scene, and most of the videos I found are for songs she did NOT perform last night. Check out her Facebook page and see her post (either on April 7 or 8) that shows a video of her performing the songs "Bleachers" and "Hate Me;" you'll also see the silly romper she was wearing (so ready for those to be out of style!). But I really like her music and her voice! I could relate to a lot of her songs, so she's a great songwriter, too. I'll totally buy a CD (I know, I'm old-school like that.)!

Prime (This is her biggest hit.)

Keep This Safe


Won't Let Go

On This Eve (She even has a Christmas song!)

Then it was Billy's turn! I had forgotten how many good songs he has; I also didn't realize that some songs I knew from the radio were his! Clearly I need to keep up with things better (and learn the difference between Billy Currington and Dierks Bentley). And I only just learned he has SIX albums. I didn't know he was so prolific! He had great energy, and I think he was loving the crowd (maybe I'm biased since I was part of it!). Here are some of his biggest hits that he performed:

Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right 

 It Don't Hurt Like It Used To

Hey Girl

We Are Tonight

Good Directions

Let Me Down Easy

Don't It

I Got a Feelin'


That's How Country Boys Roll

People Are Crazy

Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer

And here are two of his newer songs that I hadn't heard before but really liked:

Wake Me Up (The lyrics remind me of Luke Bryan's "Crash My Party." I love the beat of this song!)

Do I Make You Wanna (The lyrics make it seem like men actually want to know what you're thinking and give you what you want; like they are open about their insecurities and they're okay with admitting that they worry about whether you like them or not. Too bad it's just a song...)

Of course he couldn't play all of his songs; he even talked to the audience about this, saying that he can only pack so many songs from years of music into an hour. I like his song "Why, Why, Why," which he didn't play. And I wish he and Jillian had performed "Party for Two" together. That duet would have been awesome!

His encore song was Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places"

This was such a terrific show. I love Billy's music, and Jillian's performance was just icing on the cake (since I had no idea who the opener was when I bought the tickets). I'm looking forward to hearing more music from both of them in the future!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Hamburg Ballet's "The Little Mermaid"

I've been going to the ballet a lot recently! Last week I went to see a performance of the Hamburg Ballet's "The Little Mermaid" at the Kennedy Center. I probably should have done my research beforehand, because I didn't realize how modern this piece is. It was commissioned by the Royal Danish Ballet to commemorate the 200th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen (the creator of many well-known fairy tales) and premiered in 2005; a revised version was created in 2007 for the Hamburg Ballet (with new music too by Lera Auerbach), and I figure that's the version I saw. Notes in the program say that John Neumeier, the artistic director for the company, "has continually focused on the preservation of ballet tradition, while giving his works a modern dramatic framework." So that was a dead give-away to me that this show would not be full of tutus and beautiful music.

And I was right. Here's a great synopsis video I found on the ballet company's website:

While I'm not a fan of modern ballets, there were parts of this one that I thought were very effective and moving. First of all, this take on the famous story includes a "poet," representing Hans Christian Andersen; he is in love with his friend Edvard (the author was a homosexual in real life), who is getting married. The whole story is based off of the poet's creation of the Little Mermaid; she is his feelings anthropomorphized. Her love for the prince is the poet's love for his friend; her heartbreak is his heartbreak. These parallels and metaphors run throughout the story, and while symbolism usually goes over my head, I thought this theme was loud and clear in this performance. The connection was made even more obvious when the movements of the Little Mermaid and the Poet would mirror each other identically. And maybe this is why I didn't think the music or dancing was beautiful; the whole piece is supposed to represent these sad, not beautiful, feelings that Andersen/the Poet is feeling.

Image found here
I really liked the minimal sets in this performance. Neon lines represented the waves in the ocean; during the storm scene, the lights would flicker, representing not only perhaps lightening but also the white caps of the waves crashing here and there. During the scenes under the sea, there was a model boat near the ceiling,; that way you could see the perspective from inside the ocean.

While I didn't find the Little Mermaid character (as she was played) particularly likeable (see my comments further down), I thought Silvia Azzoni did an amazing job portraying all of the negative feelings of the character. Her anguish is palpable when the Sea Witch removes her tail to give her legs, her vulnerability evident as she lays naked on the beach as a human.

Removing her tail. Image found here
Eventually the Prince finds her naked on the beach, but takes FOREVER to give her his coat! Image found here
Part 2 starts with the Little Mermaid in her chamber on land. She is like a patient in a psych ward, trapped in a padded cell. She touches the walls and ceiling, and realizes just how confined she is on land as opposed to when she can swim the entire ocean. I thought the scene was very moving, and you can see how much she wishes to be "free" again.

Image found here
Throughout the second part of the performance, you can see how much the Little Mermaid loves the Prince. But he treats her like a child, teasing her and being playful around her. He doesn't realize her feelings (or the seriousness of them), and her disappointment in this unrequited love is obvious. In one scene she offers him a conch shell as a gift, to show her love and affection. He thanks her, but immediately gives it to his new wife, who proceeds to give it away to a wedding guest just to get rid of it. Gifts are one of the Five Love Languages, and anyone who's ever shared a gift with someone who didn't appreciate it knows exactly how the Little Mermaid was feeling in that moment. 

Image found here
Despite the fact that he does not return those feelings of love, she still cares about him. When the Sea Witch gives her a knife, telling her that he will give back her tail if she kills the Prince, she can't do it. Even within the framework of a story, the Poet cannot kill the character who represents the man he loves. So romantic!

Image found here
While I couldn't find good pictures of the beach/church scene, I liked that the students (i.e. the Princess and her friends) reminded me of the cartoon Madeline, especially since the two adults with them were nuns (who wore black pointe shoes! I'm not sure I had ever seen that before.). The nuns also made me think of mushrooms, because their hats were so big and wide!

I'm a bit conflicted on how I feel about the epilogue. I found it fitting for her to rip her shoes and dress off, since we all knew the hurt and frustration she was feeling as a human. She is eventually joined by the poet, and they are surrounded by stars (hence the title of this part "In another world"). That part was pretty, with all the twinkling lights, but the ceiling of the set started coming down on them; if this was supposed to symbolize something (maybe the walls crashing down on you?), it wasn't really clear.

So there were parts of this performance that I did enjoy and appreciate. But there were more things that I didn't like...

Just like with most modern dance, I did not enjoy the music. It was very eerie and creepy, with violin-plucking and all. There were brief moments of clarity and joy in the music, but most of the time it really just seemed like noise. I will say that I thought of describing the music as "other-worldly," which the ocean is, so in that way I guess it could have been seen as appropriate. But music "under the sea" can be happy, as Disney shows us. But I suppose this isn't a happy version of the story...

I didn't find the dancing graceful, which to me is the main word that should be used to describe ballet. Not all of it was bad, but some of the movements were very awkward or strange. Even when she was "swimming," it was more like she was floundering or darting around like a fish, rather than gracefully moving like a dolphin. See the dance below (same ballerina, different male dancer):

Also, I think many of us picture mermaids as beautiful women in shell bras with pretty tails. But this version of the Little Mermaid was very alien. I thought Silvia Azzoni looked a lot like Smeagol/Gollum from The Lord of the Rings; note the resemblance below (images found here and here). This made her quite unrelatable (at least to me). The dancers who played her sisters were beautiful and smiley, so I'm not sure why the Little Mermaid could not have been portrayed in the same way (at least for the underwater scenes when she was happy).

In modern dance fashion, this piece contained the typical clichés (is that redundant?): dancers rolling on the ground, dancing spastically, to creepy violin music. I thought some of the costume choices were odd, too. I liked what the background dancers were wearing: their flowing skirts represented water, which I thought was very smart. BUT the Little Mermaid took the trendy, wide-legged pants to a whole new level: her pants that were her tail (see below) were so long that she had to have three "shadow" dancers hold up the pants so that she wouldn't trip over the extra fabric. I think a long skirt could still have given the impression of a tail without the cumbersome outcome.

Image found here
The "shadows" themselves look like ninjas, with their black clothes and face masks. The ones related to the Sea Witch (as opposed to the ones with the Little Mermaid), wore sheer pants with cut-outs near the upper thighs and loincloths underneath (see photo below). I thought it was odd that hindering the movements of the prima ballerina is okay, but God forbid we obstruct a man's dancing... And on a similar note, I was appalled by the performance's "gratuitous male nudity" (words from a woman sitting near me, which I thought were spot-on). Scene 2 takes place on the ship, and the entirety of it is a homoerotic wet dream. Sailors are dancing in different stages of undress, and they touch each other almost inappropriately throughout much of the scene. I think in the prologue, when the Poet sees his friend getting married, we can tell that the Poet is gay and is in love with his friend; we didn't need this over-the-top scene to hammer the point home.

Image found here
I also didn't care for the Sea Witch costume. Although he certainly looked scary, the white paint with black shapes drawn on him was more alien than sea-witch; plus, it's not much of a costume when your outfit consists mostly of paint rather than clothes. He also made weird gestures, like sticking out his tongue with his mouth wide open, or dancing/moving as if he were stabbing himself. The whole effect was odd, and I wasn't buying it.

Once everyone is on the ship (the Little Mermaid has been found on the beach by the Prince), all the passengers are dancing. The color scheme was interesting: yellow, red, white, and black. A lot of the costumes actually just looked like regular clothes, so I wondered how many of the pieces had just been bought as opposed to made. Even though these passengers are all in normal clothes, the Little Mermaid has only been given a little sailor outfit to wear. Honestly? Not one woman upon the ship would have given her some real clothes? That's ridiculous, no matter how snooty they were. 

During the wedding scene, almost all of the performers were junior dancers, which I didn't appreciate. I understand that junior dancers need practice in order to become more experienced, but watching teenagers dance isn't what I paid to see. The fact that at one point they all essentially did a Hitler salute didn't make me warm up to them (AND from a German ballet company no less. That's even more distasteful!).

BUT of course this is just my opinion! During intermission, the people behind me were saying the show was "beautiful" and "graceful," two words that I would NOT have used to describe the majority of the performance; they also claimed how talented the composer was, while I disagree (right in the middle of the show, she used what sounded exactly like the legendary first few notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, so she was practically plagiarizing some parts!). I guess you'll have to see the show to make up your own mind.

Here are some other reviews on the show that I found online after I wrote my own opinion piece:
DC Theatre Scene
DC Metro Theater Arts
Washington Post - Entertainment
Critical Dance (shares some of my opinions)

PS: The night ended on the Kennedy Center shuttle bus, which was playing songs from The Sound of Music. I like that the bus plays music, but I much prefer the classical music pieces, rather than "Do Re Mi" blasting out of the speakers!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The National Philharmonic on April Fool's Day

My mom and I went to see the National Philharmonic perform at the Strathmore last weekend. She had never been there before, and it's one of my favorite venues, so I was glad we could see a show together. Plus, she loves Mozart, so it was the perfect night!

The show started with "Ein musikalischer Spass," which translates as "A Musical Joke" or "Musical Fun." This was a very well-chosen piece to play that night, because it was April Fool's Day! The program describes the piece with terms like "intentional ineptitude" and "bewildering repertoire of what not to do: wrong notes, impossible playing techniques, random harmonic progressions, clumsy orchestration, unorthodox scales, unresolved dissonances, lopsided musical phrases..." Mozart was having fun with music, and putting sounds together in a way that was not normal, and nearly impossible (it's actually hard to play music purposefully in the wrong way!); he also had the horns play notes that had not yet been created! The conductor, Piotr Gajewski, gave us a little background on the piece before we heard it, which was helpful. Otherwise, we may have thought they were just having a bad night (although, I will say most of it still sounds very pretty)!

Next was the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488. Eric Lu was playing the piano, and he is only 18 years old! He was very good; his fingers just flowed across the keys, and he had no sheet music. Bravo!

Here's the piece (but without Eric Lu playing):

Click here to see some videos of Eric Lu playing the piano.

The night ended with Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K 550:

What a lovely evening! I'm already looking forward to their performance on May 20!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Nature Walk with Melanie Choukas-Bradley

If you want to enjoy an informative, fun nature walk in the D.C. area, you have to go on one with Melanie Choukas-Bradley. For two years in a row, she has led a walk in Rock Creek Park for the Women of Dartmouth Club in Washington, D.C. I went last year and loved it, so I decided to go again this past weekend. While the weather was a bit gray and cool, we still had a lovely walk, and we had the chance to see the first signs of spring!

I didn't take notes the first time I did this walk, and of course I didn't remember anything! So this time I made sure to write down any facts Melanie shared with us. I didn't take any pictures, but I've tried to include photos that show what we saw. Here's what we learned:

Image found here
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
I already could recognize this tree on my own, but I didn't know that the leaves are called "marcescent," meaning they stay on the tree even though once they've died they serve no purpose. Those light tan leaves do make the tree really easy to identify!

Image found here
Boxelder (Acer negundo)
This tree is also known as the Ashleaf Maple, and frequently has large, gnarly lumps on the bark, which create whorls when the tree is cut. In the spring, this tree can be identified by the green twigs coming out of it with opposite buds (and the leaves have 3-5 leaflets; the three leaflets make it look almost like poison ivy! [here are some other poison-ivy look-alikes]).

Female Cottonwood. Image found here
Male Cottonwood Catkins. Image found here
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
These trees can be found all the way from the East coast to the plains in the middle of the country. They have thick, ridged bark, and in the spring you can see their red catkins (which is a new word for me. Catkins are usually elongated flowers (with no petals) that contain pollen for regeneration. A tree usually has male or female catkins, but catkins can also be unisexual.). The female catkins of the Eastern Cottonwood have fluffy hairs, hence the name of the tree (like the picture above, although we did not see any trees that day that had the fluff.).

Image found here
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
I can identify this tree when it is in bloom (fun fact: the flowers are not actually made of petals, but of "bracts;" the center of those bracts is the real flower!), but Melanie pointed out that the buds look like little onions. Good tip!

Image found here
Image found here
Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa)
Like you can see in the two pictures above, this species has braided bark, and during the spring, there are large buds at the end of the stem/branches.

Image found here

Hop-Hornbeam catkins. Image found here

Eastern Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiaiana)
The bark of this tree looks like a cat scratched it, and in the spring its catkins are quite long. The fruit cluster looks like a hop, so that's how the tree got its name.

Image found here

Ironwood catkins. Image found here

American Hornbeam (also known as Ironwood or Musclewood) (Carpinus caroliniana)
Another tree I already knew, the gray bark almost looks like it has muscles, and the wood seems very dense and strong. This tree is in the birch family, and also has noticeable catkins in the spring.

Image found here
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
These trees have opposite, red samara. (I didn't see any, but we may have been a little too early in the season.) This is another good word: samaras are winged fruit, so when you see those little helicopter things falling from the trees, now you know their official name!

Image found here
Image found here
[Northern] Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
I knew that red oaks (and black oaks) have pointy leaves, so that's helpful to know. The caps of the acorns of this tree are flat, like little saucers, and the fluted trunk has "ski-track" bark on it.

Image found here
White Oak (Quercus alba)
About the only tree I know the Latin name of, white oaks are very easy to spot because of their lobed leaves. This is also the official tree of Maryland!

Yes, the Pawpaw buds are pretty tiny at first! Image found here
Pawpaw (Asiminia triloba)
I can spot this tree a mile away when it has leaves on it (very long, large leaves), but it's trickier to identify in the early spring when all the leaves are gone. We spotted this one by the dark, sphere buds on the branches; the flowers are burgundy once they bloom, so it makes sense that the buds would be dark red (almost black) as well. The female catkins are really soft, so if you see one, you should pet it! Another fact that I already knew but is still very interesting: this is the host plant of the zebra swallowtail butterfly.

Image found here
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
We saw several of these in the park, and their pink/purple flowers make them easy to spot! The flowers grow right from the middle of the branch (rather than at the end of the stems like most flowers), so that's a dead give-away. I've also heard that the flowers are edible, although I've never tried to eat one! This tree is in the pea family, so maybe it makes sense that you could eat it?

Image found here
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Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
I had heard of spicebush before, but I never knew how to identify it! During the spring, it has tiny yellow flowers on it; there's almost a "yellow haze" in the forest if there are enough of this plant in one area. I also noticed that the bark is almost polka-dotted with tiny white spots, so that can be a helpful identifier, too. Once you've identified the plant as a spicebush, gently scratch one of the twigs: it should be very fragrant! Deer don't eat this plant (maybe because of that spicy flavor?), so there are a lot of these in the area.
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American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
This is one of the first trees I learned to identify because of its very distinctive bark. The bark looks a bit like military camouflage, and as you look higher in the tree, the trunk and branches begin to turn white. A fun way to remember this tree is that the bark, since it's kind of peely looking, is "sick," and then you'll think "sycamore." These trees are frequently found near the water, but if you see something like it in the city, it's probably a London Plane tree, which is a hybrid between a sycamore and an oriental plane tree. (FYI: They are all over Bryant Park in NYC!)

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Tulip-Tree or Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
This is another easy-to-spot tree, especially when it's flowering. It was too early for the flowers, but even the buds are tulip-shaped. These trees are usually very tall and straight, so sometimes they can be hard to identify when the leaves/buds/flowers are SO high up!

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Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
Although these are smaller trees or shrubs, they can still be very old! This tree is related to the cherry tree. It's "alligator" bark is a good identifier, and its little flower buds look like miniature broccoli. We didn't see any fruit yet, but the fruit is usually dark blue or black.

I couldn't find any good pictures of this plant in early spring, but here are the leaves! Image found here
Maple-Leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)
This shrub has light green leaf buds with a red outline. Yep, that's all I wrote down!

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Linden Viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum)
Melanie was hesitant to point out this plant because it is a non-native invasive (i.e. it's not from here, and it can replace native species within the ecosystem, which is not good!). But I asked her specifically about it because the leaves are so distinctive. (They look like the leaves of the linden tree, hence the name of this plant.)


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Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Like the name suggests, the liquid inside the roots is a rusty blood color. The plant has white flowers with yellow centers, and is in the poppy family.

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Cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor)
The orchids hadn't bloomed yet, but even without the flower, you can identify this plant by turning the leaves over; the underside of the leaves is a vibrant purple! The leaves die back before the plant flowers.

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Cut-Leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata; Dentaria laciniata)
The jagged leaves are a quick way to spot this plant (and to remember the name, since it's toothy-looking!). We didn't see any flowering yet, but you can see the flowers in the photo above.

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*Invasive: Lesser Celandrine (Fig Buttercup) (Ranunculus ficaria; Ficaria verna)
This was one invasive that Melanie HAD to point out because it was everywhere! Parts of the park have been treated, and it's amazing the difference you can see between the different areas: the parts that have not been treated are covered in this green carpet with yellow flowers. It's very pretty, but it takes over the ecosystem to the point that other wildflowers can't grow.

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Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
The umbrella-like leaves of this wildflower make it really easy to identify. We even got to see these "umbrellas" in different stages; some were wide open, while others were still furled closed. This plant flowers later in the spring, but Melanie told us that it has waxy white flowers and green/gold berries. Except for the berries, this plant is very poisonous. But that's why hundreds of years ago it was used medicinally: just like in today's medicine, the most toxic poisons can make the strongest medicines.

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Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
This wildflower gets its name from its leaves, which are spotted like a trout. The flowers are yellow, and the back of the petals alternate between brown and yellow.

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Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
I saw a million of these at Riverbend Park a few springs ago. They are so beautiful! These blue flowers are related to forget-me-nots. Melanie pointed out that water beads on the leaves after a rain, so that's quite pretty, too!

Other fun facts:
-In the D.C. area, because of all the red catkins, samaras, etc., another naturalist claims that the color of spring in D.C. is red, not green.
-The Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) is the official tree of Washington, D.C.
-How can you tell the difference between a shrub and a tree? Trees are usually at least 20 feet tall with one main trunk, while shrubs are shorter and are multi-trunked.
-We saw a cocklebur (Xanthium), which had white stalks/vines and very prickly cones.

*Here's a great article Melanie wrote for the Washington Post about phenology: