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George Washington (via Library of Congress)

Monday is the federal holiday best known as Presidents Day, though here in Virginia it’s officially George Washington Day.

The holiday celebrating the first president’s birthday is prompting a number of local closures in Arlington.

“Arlington County Government offices and services are operating on modified schedules for the Presidents Day Holiday on Mon., Feb. 19, 2024,” the county notes in a press release.

Parking meters will not be enforced while county offices, libraries, community centers and schools will be closed.

Buses will operate on modified schedules and half of the county’s public pools will be closed (the Washington-Liberty and Long Bridge Park pools will be open, the latter with abbreviated hours).

Recycling, trash and organics will be collected on Monday curbside as usual, however.

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The Arlington Public Schools Syphax Education Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

School Board watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education (APE) is asking the auditor for Arlington Public Schools to dive into the potential impacts of an increase in paid holidays for year-round staff.

Two school years ago, new religious and cultural holidays were added to the calendar and Supt. Francisco Durán announced APS would fully close for winter and spring breaks. APE said in a new letter to the auditor that this decision could cost millions and may hurt morale of 10-month employees, who are not paid for these days off.

The letter, signed by APE Board members Alison Babb, Sheila Kelly, Sheila Leonard, Amy Rzepka and Katie Sunderland, concludes as follows:

We believe there is a strong rationale for either the School Board to add this to the work plan or for the auditor to initiate this audit. APS policy states that the internal auditor ‘shall prioritize’ audits based on risk to the division, and compliance with School Board policies, among other factors. This practice of providing 12-month staff with 26-32 paid holidays is now inconsistent with APS’ holiday policy, which still technically provides for only 13 paid holidays. Additionally, there is ample evidence… that this practice is adversely impacting APS operations and therefore presents a risk to the division.

The two changes made in 2021, by APE’s count, increased paid holidays that 12-month employees have from 13 to at least 26. Pointing to a 2020 estimate that furloughing 12-month staff for one day could save APS some $300,000, the board members say the additional paid holidays could cost $6 million annually. They do note, however, that APS has elsewhere said there is no financial cost to the changes in days off.

APS tells ARLnow the School Board decides what the auditor will take up and disputes APE’s holiday math. Over the last two years, not including annual leave, 12-month staff worked on average 234 days and received between 12-15 days off while 10-month staff worked an average of 189 days and have received 11 days off, per school system spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Arlington School Administrators, or ASA, the bargaining unit for principals, assistant principals, supervisors and some directors, likewise says the gains in paid holidays have been modest. Administrators gave up six days of annual leave in exchange for the spring and winter breaks, as part of collective bargaining negotiations last fiscal year, says Susan Robinson, who was the executive director of ASA for 13 years, overseeing the negotiations in question before stepping down recently.

APE contends that APS should have publicly discussed whether it would be fully operationally closed during winter and spring break before these were extended to 12-month staff. Durán at the time said the change did not require School Board approval because it involved “non-student days.”

“The decision to close during winter and spring breaks came out of Covid and aligns with some of our neighboring jurisdictions wherein 12-month employees are granted time off during these time periods,” Bellavia said. “Over the last two fiscal years, APS has communicated to stakeholders that offices and schools would be closed during these time periods.”

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Wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery (staff photo by Dan Egitto)

Arlington National Cemetery will lose some of its festive aesthetics on Saturday as volunteers remove holiday wreaths from the cemetery’s hundreds of thousands of graves.

Thousands of volunteers are expected to participate the annual “Wreaths Out” event, disposing of approximately 257,000 wreaths in Arlington as well as 14,000 wreaths at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in D.C.

“We are grateful to our volunteers and community members who join us at Arlington National Cemetery for the annual tradition of removing wreaths. This is an honorable undertaking that we could not accomplish without your support,” said Army National Military Cemetery Executive Director Karen Durham-Aguilera.

Drivers and those coming to volunteer should expect traffic congestion and delays on nearby streets, Arlington National Cemetery said in a press release.

The Military Women’s Memorial will be handing out hot chocolate and hot cider to volunteers, who are encouraged to dress warmly and bring work gloves.

Cemetery roads will be closed to vehicles until 3 p.m., but the Welcome Center Parking Garage will be “open to the public at 8 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.”

No tram service will be available Saturday. Arlington National Cemetery recommends that visitors use either public transportation or a ride-share service.

Visitors may access the military cemetery at all four of its entrances. Members of the public can enter through the Memorial Avenue Welcome Center, the Ord and Weitzel pedestrian-only gate and the Service Complex pedestrian-only gate. People with Department of Defense IDs can also enter through the Old Post Chapel Gate.

Seasonal decorations honoring fallen service members appeared on Arlington headstones and columbarium niches on Dec. 16 at the annual Wreaths Across America event. That event often has substantial turnout, with some 30,000-40,000 volunteers expected in 2022.

More, below, from the press release.

All visitors must pass through the cemetery’s security screening process before entering the cemetery. Prohibited items include: large bags or backpacks, firearms and weapons of any type, laser pointers, aerosol containers, soda cans, coolers, picnic baskets, tripods, lighters, screwdrivers (or similar tools), air horns, personal protection sprays and insulated beverage containers. Clear plastic water bottles are permitted.

Guidance for Visitors

  • Give vehicles and heavy equipment the right of way.
  • Remove Wreaths Across America wreaths only. Leave all other wreaths/decorations in place.
  • Place wreaths in dumpsters positioned throughout the cemetery.
  • When dumpsters are filled, carry remaining wreaths to unfilled dumpsters. Please do not place wreaths outside of dumpsters or anywhere else in the cemetery.
  • Please follow instructions from staff to ensure the safety of visitors.

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Mardi Gras is already in full swing at Bayou Bakery in Courthouse.

From now through mid-February, people can indulge in the bakery’s King Cake, as well as a King Cake-inspired daiquiri, and donuts that look like mini King Cakes.

In keeping with New Orleans tradition, the café and bakery at 1515 N. Courthouse Road kicked off its pre-Lenten festivities on Saturday: the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating when three Magi visited Jesus after his birth. It will last through Fat Tuesday, Feb. 13, a day of feasting before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

To mark the festive season, people can order a King Cake for $50, made with the bakery’s signature Creole cream cheese, cinnamon and white icing. It is festively finished with the Mardi Gras colors of gold, green and purple, representing power, faith and justice, and a plastic baby, according to a press release from the bakery.

There is also a daiquiri inspired by the traditional cake made of vodka and Bailey’s Irish Cream. For early birds, the bakery is also selling vanilla and cinnamon “Li’l KC” donuts, which are first-come, first-served, and only available on Tuesdays starting at 9 a.m., now through Tuesday, Feb. 6.

For those wanting to fully embrace the Mardi Gras spirit, Bayou Bakery offers a “Mardi Gras in a Box,” available for in-store pickup. The $150 box includes a King Cake, beads, masks, boas, doubloons, Pat O’Briens Hurricane Cocktail Mix and a mystery game.

The Bayou Bakery King Cake, the Mardi Gras in a Box and catering requests must be ordered 48 hours in advance.

Mardi Gras season at Bayou — owned by celebrity chef and New Orleans David Guas — will appropriately conclude with a party and even more cake.

“On Fat Tuesday, Bayou Bakery will be hosting an evening Bayou Gras party [ticketed] and will also have a variety of specials to celebrate Mardi Gras — like King Cake by the slice,” a PR rep said.

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2023 holiday SoberRide flier (via Washington Regional Alcohol Program)

Lyft is ringing in the new year by offering free rides to Arlington residents over 21 from now until New Year’s Day.

Spearheaded by the Tysons-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), the initiative, known as SoberRide, aims to reduce drunk driving around holidays including Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve when DUI crashes tend to spike.

“Over a third of all U.S. traffic fatalities during Christmas and New Year’s in 2021 involved drunk drivers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” WRAP President and CEO Kurt Erickson said in a press release.

Users can access this promotion by downloading the Lyft app and applying a special code found on WRAP’s website in the “Add Lyft Pass” section under the app’s payment tab.

The SoberRide code offers up to $15 off per ride and is valid from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily until Jan. 1.

While all codes available through this Thursday have been claimed, another 2,250 codes will be available from this Friday through New Year’s Eve, Erickson told ARLnow.

The following two rounds of promotional codes will be released at 9 p.m. this Friday and Sunday, Dec. 31, ahead of the celebrations.

Since its launch in 1991, SoberRide has offered 88,126 free rides home in the D.C. area to prevent drunk driving, including over 900 rides last New Year’s Eve, per the release.

“Lyft is dedicated to providing access to reliable and responsible rides, and we’re proud to partner with programs like WRAP to offer Lyft as an alternative to impaired driving,” Lyft’s Director of Public Policy for Community Safety Kamillah Wood said in the release.

“Through our Roadway Safety Program and our partnerships with the public, we hope to empower our community with the tools to protect themselves and those around them this holiday season,” she continued.

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As Christmas draws near, local bakeries are whipping up festive desserts to celebrate the holiday season.

Bayou Bakery at 1515 N. Courthouse Road is offering holiday-themed desserts until Christmas Eve. Its holiday menu features items like peppermint bark and the Creole Kringle cake, featuring Chef David Guas’ Creole take on a cream cheese filling and topped with a praline glaze and roasted pecans.

The New Orleans-themed eatery — well-known for its Mardi Gras desserts — also has seasonal pies, including roasted sweet potato and bourbon chocolate pecan pies, available. Those looking for something savory can pick from “ready-to-geaux” dishes, including blackened turkey mini-meatballs, buttermilk biscuits and cornbread muffins.

Bayou is encouraging customers to place orders at least 48 hours in advance. The deadline for holiday orders is next Monday, Dec. 18, with pick-up available next week starting Wednesday Dec. 20 through Christmas Eve.

Bayou Bakery isn’t the only spot for holiday pies in Arlington. Acme Pie Company in Penrose and Livin’ The Pie Life in Glebewood also have a range of specialty holiday pies and desserts.

Located at 2803 Columbia Pike, Acme is taking pre-orders for its apple, mince, pecan chocolate maple, pumpkin with candied ginger and sour cherry pies. Orders can be picked up beginning next Friday, Dec. 22 until Christmas Eve from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., as stated on their website.

Livin’ The Pie Life at 2166 N. Glebe Road has closed online orders, though pies — including a peppermint chocolate mousse option — can still be purchased in-store starting tomorrow (Wednesday) until Saturday, Dec. 16. Orders pick up again next Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 20-23, while supplies last.

The ‘Pie Life’ weekly menu varies, but common items include Rice Krispy bars, ginger molasses cookies, pecan pie and a strawberry lemon bakewell tart.

Photos (1) and (2) via Bayou Bakery/Facebook

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Christmas decorations weighed down by snow in North Arlington (staff photo)

Last week ARLnow received an interesting reader email.

The writer’s suggestion: we should beautify Arlington County by encouraging those with inflatable holiday decorations to keep them inflated at all times, rather than leaving them deflated during the day, as is often the case.

The email:

Suggest a public service announcement to make Arlington more beautiful over the holidays.

While many people keep their inflatable holiday decorations full during the day, several do not and for some reason choose only to fill them at night – thus resulting is what looks like piles of colored plastic bags laying on front yards.

Perhaps a positive message like:

“Thank you Arlingtonians for keeping your inflatable yard decorations full during the day, and not just at night – helping to keep Arlington looking good through the holidays”

Thanks

Now, some may see inflatables as a scourge, a tacky way for busy households to decorate for the holidays with minimal effort and storage space required. And others might have concerns about the electricity use of the fan-driven decorations.

But those who appreciate holiday decor in any form may find themselves agreeing with the letter writer.

What do you think?

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National Chamber Ensemble 2022 holiday cheer concert (courtesy of National Chamber Ensemble)

(Updated at 9:20 p.m.) The annual holiday concert from Arlington-based National Chamber Ensemble will feature two talented guest musicians, including a 13-year-old piano prodigy.

The concert is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. next Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd). It will open with the holiday classic “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson, culminating in a festive carol sing-along toward the end.

General admission tickets are priced at $20 for students and $40 for all other attendees.

Headlining the event is Grammy-nominated violinist Dylana Jenson, 62, who in 1978 became the first American woman and the youngest musician — at age 17 — to win a silver medal in the prestigious Russian International Tchaikovsky Competition for young-adult pianists, violinists and cellists.

Joining Jenson is 13-year-old piano prodigy William Hsieh from Bethesda. Last week, Hsieh won first-prize in the National Chamber Ensemble (NCE) annual young artist competition.

The competition attracts pianists aged 12 to 19 from the D.C. area and offers three prizes. The top winner receives a scholarship, a crystal trophy and the chance to perform with the ensemble at its Dec. 16 concert.

“We were so impressed with this year’s outstanding talent,” NCE Artistic Director Leo Sushansky said in a press release. “The winner, William Hsieh, really stood out with such dynamic playing [that] exhibited lots of personality and refinement.”

“He will bring added excitement to the evening, which I am sure will be one of the highlights of the concert,” Sushansky continued.

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The Rosslyn Business Improvement District is gearing up to spread holiday cheer with a lineup of festive events this week.

First up, Central Place Plaza at 1800 N. Lynn Street will be illuminated with holiday lights as part of the BID’s Light the Plaza event Thursday. There will be music, raffles and an outdoor bar from 5-8 p.m.

Of-age attendees can enjoy beer, wine and spiked cider to get into the holiday spirit. And for those feeling peckish, Pop’s Praiseworthy Popcorn will be selling gourmet popcorn.

The next day, on Friday, our four-legged friends can get in on the festivities with a “Santa Paws Yappy Hour” from 5-7 p.m. at Central Place Plaza. In addition to libations for the humans, the dog-friendly event offers pet photos with Santa, vendor tables and “pet goodie giveaways.”

The event series then concludes with a pop-up holiday market this Saturday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. The market will feature local vendors offering a range of items from art and jewelry to bath products and snacks.

Santa Claus will also make an appearance at the Plaza for photo sessions from 12:30-2:30 p.m. each day during the market.

As shoppers browse the market and listen to live music, they can enjoy complimentary hot chocolate to warm up those cold hands.

Both events are free and registration is not required.

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Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington’s menorah lighting in 2015 (via Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington/Facebook)

Menorah lights are set to brighten up Arlington after Hanukkah begins next Friday.

On Sunday, Dec. 10 at 5 p.m., Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington, a local branch of the global Jewish outreach organization, will light its “giant 9-foot Menorah.”

The annual event will take place at Chabad’s community center at 1307 N. Highland Street in Clarendon.

The celebrations extend to Monday, Dec. 11, with another giant menorah lighting at 5:30 p.m. at Metropolitan Park (1330 S. Fair Street), close to Amazon’s second headquarters in Pentagon City.

Both events will have “lively Chanukah music” to set the festive mood, according to their respective event descriptions. Attendees can indulge in hot potato latkes, hot cocoa, donuts and chocolate gelt. They will also receive a complimentary dreidel.

Admission is free but registration is required, as reservations are open until each event reaches capacity.

“Security will be present” at both events, Chabad Lubavitch noted.

The menorah-lighting tradition, a fixture for over a decade, often draws local officials. Previously, the events were held at the Pentagon Row ice skating rink and outside the Clarendon Metro station.

Photo via Chabad Lubavitch of Alexandria-Arlington/Facebook

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Washington-Liberty High School Holiday Bazaar (via Washington-Liberty High School/Facebook)

(Updated at 12/5/23) Two Arlington high schools are gearing up to host holiday markets over the next two weekends.

This Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Washington-Liberty High School will hold its 63rd annual “Holiday Bazaar.”

The following Saturday, Dec. 9, Wakefield High School is also set to host its annual “Winter Bazaar” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Both events will showcase local vendors offering handcrafted goods such as jewelry, ceramics, clothing and holiday decorations, as well as festive food and drinks. Admission and parking are free for both markets.

At the Washington-Liberty holiday market, high school clubs and teams will also sell various items to raise money, according to an event webpage. While vendors accept several payment methods, the student organizations generally only take cash.

Photo via Washington-Liberty High School/Facebook

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