A Guide to the 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival

By Amy Lusignan

As the weather warms up in the DC area, the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom soon. Originally given as a gift from Japan to the United States in 1912, these cherry blossoms represent the lasting friendship between the two countries. Thousands of people normally visit DC every spring to see the beautiful trees in blossom. However, this year the National Cherry Blossom is encouraging festival goers to “blossom safely” and will host numerous virtual and pandemic-friendly events. Here’s a guide to the various cherry blossom events that will be happening in Washington D.C. this year.


Every year, the festival’s Opening Ceremony features talented artists with connections to both Japan and the United States. This year, the festival’s Opening Ceremony will be presented virtually by Kristi Yamaguchi, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and ABC 7’s Michelle Marsh. The ceremony will still have performances from award-winning artists and performers. Free to watch, the event will be on March 20 at 6 PM EST. Watchers will have to per-register on the official National Cherry Blossom Festival’s webiste.


On the same date, walkers around DC will be able to find various 26 cherry blossom inspired art sculptures scattered throughout the area.


For the first time, cherry blossom cams will be available online on the National Cherry Blossom’s website, giving everyone a chance to see the blossoms at peak bloom. As of March 1, the National Park Service predicted that peak bloom this year will be from April 2 to April 5.


Unfortunately, there won’t be a National Cherry Blossom parade. But instead, the organizers encourage neighborhoods to participate in the “Petal Porch Parade.” If neighborhoods register by March 15, the best dressed springtime neighborhood porches can win a chance to have the inaugural Petal Procession come through the area. The festival also mentions that from March 20-April 11, they will have a map of all the neighborhoods that participated so walkers can plan a trip to see the porch decorations. Another outdoor event that people can sign up for are online kite-building demos and workshops, which will start on March 15. All these events can be registered for on the National Cherry Blossom’s website.


The last two virtual events are the “Pink Tie Party” and the “Celebration Show.” The Pink Tie Party will be a virtual party that people can sign up for. Tickets will run from $100-130 and include “three-course carryout dinners from your choice of popular D.C., Maryland and Virginia restaurants, a Party Kit filled with goodies to enhance your celebration, and a chance to win great prizes.” Popular radio hosts Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis will host the night of fun.


The Celebration Show will be a family-friendly TV special that celebrates the DC area in bloom. Premiering locally on WJLA-TV (ABC 7) on Saturday, April 10 at 12 Noon. The event is free and doesn’t require registration.


After 23 years on-air, WAMU announced Wednesday that “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” will air its last live show on April 1, 2021.

WAMU reported that the host Kojo Nnamdi expressed his wishes to step back from his normal duties at the radio station last year. The popular radio host will continue to host WAMU’s “The Politics Hour” with resident analyst Tom Sherwood. Nnamdi will also continue to host his show “Kojo In Our Community,” focusing on local issues and communities.

Now a multi-award winning journalist, Nnamdi began “The Kojo Nnamdi Show,” originally “The Derek McGinty Show,” in August 1998 when Nnamdi replaced Derek McGinty as host. The radio show has since been a place of conversation for the Greater Washington area, including regional topics like Washignton’s changing demographics and its local politics. “I think we’ve contributed towards having people in this region feel like ‘this is mine, this is ours,’ ” he told DCist in an interview.

Even after thinking about dialing back his role at WAMU for years, Nnamdi admits the change is still bittersweet. “I’m grateful to all of the amazing producers and support staff who contributed to my impact over the years — and hopeful they never reveal that they do most of the work — and I am very much looking forward to this next chapter in my relationship with WAMU,” Nnamdi said in WAMU’s announcement.


Photo courtesy of WAMU.


“Lion of the Senate” Mike Miller Resigns After 45 Years

Maryland Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller announced his resignation on Wednesday from Maryland’s Senate after serving for 45 years.

Last year he stepped down as the Senate’s president after 33 years– the longest a Senate President has served in the country. Miller continued to work in the chamber as a representative for Prince George’s, Calvert and Charles counties.

The 78-year-old politician has battled Stage 4 prostate cancer since 2019, which was the reason he resigned from his leadership role in the Senate.

In his announcement today, Miller confirmed that the cancer has spread. “My heart and my mind remain strong, but my body has grown too weak to meet the demands of another legislative session,” Miller wrote in his letter of resignation.

Miller told listeners in a news broadcast that he wished to be remembered as a hard working, ethical politician, who loved the Chesapeake Bay and education. “And as a result, a lot of positive legislation flowed into the floor, across the floor and to the House and to the governor’s signature,” Miller said.

After hearing the news of Miller’s retirement, Maryland politicians have spoken out about Miller’s political legacy. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich praised Miller’s ability to work across the Senate aisle. “He understands people — and he understands politics. As a result, he built successful coalitions when the time came for change, whether it was the need to make major investments in the State’s public schools or pass stricter gun laws.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen recognized Miller’s impact on the State Senate. “Senator Miller has dedicated his life to serving Marylanders and set the gold standard for true leadership in the State Senate. I was proud to serve with him. He is a dear friend and his mentorship and wisdom remain invaluable to me.”

In a statement, Governor Larry Hogan recounted his memories of Miller which spanned from Hogan’s childhood to his position as Maryland’s governor. “I have known Mike since I was a kid, and it has been one of my greatest privileges as governor to serve alongside him. He will go down in our state’s history as a lion of the Senate.”


Jupiter and Saturn to Form a “Great Conjunction” on Winter Solstice

On December 21, the winter solstice, Montgomery County will be able to witness a “great conjunction” between Jupiter and Saturn.

Quite literally a once-in-a-lifetime event— the last time this happened was March 1226 — Jupiter and Saturn will align together so well that they’ll look like one giant star.

The two celestial giants come close to each other every 20 years, but this year the planets will be close enough to create a “double planet.” Thankfully, no matter how close Jupitar and Saturn look, they’ll still be very distant from each other.

Unfortunately, as of December 19, Montgomery County is looking at a cloudy night sky on December 21, but forecasts can change and it’ll be worth stepping outside for a minute for an event that hasn’t occurred for almost 800 years.

The temperature is estimated to be around 35F, so everyone should make sure to bundle up before going out.

The “great conjunction” will not only be an incredibly rare event, but a somehow fitting way to end a chaotic year.

Jo Marchant, a science journalist, told the New York Times how humans will always feel connected to what’s beyond them. “That feeling that we belong in the cosmos, that we belong in the universe and that we can find personal meaning with what is happening in the sky. I think that something that we still have now.” To end 2020 with a bang, astronomically at least, makes sense somehow.

Photo courtesy of NASA.


Purple Line Estimated to Run by Late 2024 After Legal Settlement


Maryland’s Board of Public Works voted unanimously to a $250 million legal settlement Wednesday that will resume construction for the Purple Line — a light rail that spans from east to west in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. The project has faced monetary challenges, leaving torn up roads and abandoned construction sites. But now, parties have reached a new solution that will save Maryland taxpayers more than $550 million.


The Purple Line, now valued at $5.84 billion, will be one of the first U.S. transit projects to depend on private financing. As part of the Purple Line Transit Partners, infrastructure investors Meridiam and Star America will be two of the private companies that fund the project. A third company, Fluor, agreed to leave the partnership after Wednesday’s resolution.


As part of the settlement, the state agreed to pay $100 million to the PLTP and a new construction contractor will be hired within the next year.


“The Purple Line is a long time coming, and we have certainly had to overcome some significant hurdles that set us back. But we kept pushing and working hard to keep it moving forward,” Hogan said.


Originally planned to be completed by 2022, the Purple Line is now estimated to be working by late 2024.


Photo courtesy of the Purple Line Transit Partner’s website.


QIAGEN, a biotechnology company located in Germantown, is planning to expand its facilities.


As part of its expansion, QIAGEN has reportedly hired 80 additional workers to the Germantown site and $7 million into new building renovations and equipment. The company’s growth comes after a surge of business since the start of the pandemic. QIAGEN develops and provides products that are used to make COVID-19 research to make testing more efficient.


“We are proud to support the important work that QIAGEN is doing right here in Maryland to help in the fight against COVID-19,” said Governor Larry Hogan.


QIAGEN’s expansion plans only add to Montgomery County’s thriving biotech industry. With the FDA and NIH both being in Montgomery County, the County has become a premier location for many companies. Benjamin H. Wu, president & CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC), expressed proudly, “QIAGEN’s expansion reinforces Montgomery County’s strength as the immunology capital next to the nation’s capital.”

Photo courtesy of QIAGEN’s website.


Montgomery County moves to ban single-use plastic straws.


Expected to take effect on May 1, 2021, the new legislation will require restaurants to phase out plastic straws by the next year.


“We were ahead of most counties on this in recognizing the need to reduce plastic and polystyrene and styrofoam and other products,” Council President Tom Hucker said at Tuesday’s virtual council meeting. Although this law may seem small, it can help make a difference for the environment. A sizable portion of aquatic pollution, plastic straws make up 200,000 tons of the annual 8 million tons of plastic that flows into the oceans.


Restaurants will still keep a small supply of straws for individuals with disabilities. However, the straws will have to be made of biodegradable material.

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Former Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes Has Died at 87, leaving a political legacy behind.


Sarbanes’ son, Rep. John Sarbanes, reported his father died peacefully Sunday evening. The late senator represented Maryland’s 3rd district, which includes some of Montgomery County.


Today in a statement about Sarbanes’ death, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The people of Maryland and all Americans have lost a leader and public servant of dignity and principle.”


Sarbanes started his political career at Maryland’s House of Delegates. Four years later, Sarbanes ran for a seat in the House of Representatives and won. During his time in the House, the Democrats chose him to introduce the article of impeachment against Nixon.


In 1976, Maryland elected Sarbanes to the Senate. By the end of his career he served 5 terms, making him one of Maryland’s two longest serving senators. Sarbanes is most remembered for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and its legislation that enforces corporate responsibility and accounting regulation.


While he was in office, Sarbanes continued to pass laws on issues that mattered to Maryland. He secured money for Wheaton’s beautification programs. He fought for bay restoration and laws to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Sarbanes grew up in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore, so he understood the importance of the bay and was a champion for the nation’s largest estuary. After pushing for federal support of mass transit, he helped secure $24 million for Silver Spring’s transit center. Now, the center shares its name with the senator.

What Sarbanes has done for Montgomery County is immeasurable, and more can be checked with a quick internet search.

Later in 2005, after thirty years in the Senate, Sarbanes announced that he would not seek re-election.

Sarbanes’ diligence and humility may be what people remember the most about him. “The objection is to get the thing done and accomplished,” he said, “The recognition ought to be secondary.”


Spice Street plans to open next week in Silver Spring for takeout and delivery, according to a post on its social media.

A new Indian restaurant in downtown Silver Spring announced plans to open by next week. After developing their new building at 8242 Georgia Avenue, Spice Street is preparing to start their delivery and curbside takeout operation for hungry customers. The owners of the new establishment also own and operate the DC restaurant, Cafe of India.

Spice Street will offer a Indian cuisine that will include Tandoori dishes, Indian chats, desserts, and more. The menu also has a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian meals to choose from.


Last November, the Netflix show “The Crown” reached Netflix’s top 10 most watched shows. The hit drama follows Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign of Great Britain. Unfortunately, the show didn’t cover the Queen’s tour to the United States and Canada in 1957. On October 19, she and the Duke of Edinburgh cheered among 45,000 other fans at a University of Maryland (UMD) football game.

The Maryland Terrapins were playing against the North Carolina Tar Heels. While watching her first game of American football, the Queen stood next to Maryland governor Theodore McKeldin (to the right in the photo) and University of Maryland president Wilson Homer “Bull” Elkins (to the left in the photo).

The game ended in a victory for the underdog Terps, with a final score of 21-7. Whether or not the Queen’s presence influenced the game is uncertain, but UMD definitely won’t forget its royal fan.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.


John F. Kennedy’s Time in Montgomery County

It’s spring of 1960 and the democratic candidates are campaigning for the presidential election. Most candidates are putting a focus on Maryland — a state that doesn’t gain much attention in today’s elections — but John F. Kennedy planned to make the most of his time in Maryland.

Kennedy was determined to win Maryland and “went wooing voters in Maryland,” according to the Washington Post in an article titled “Kennedy Loves Maryland in the Spring.” During Kennedy’s tour of Maryland, he not only traveled to Wheaton Plaza, but all over Montgomery County. The Washington Post, in its May 9, 1960 issue, listed the Democratic candidates’ itinerary for the course of the next few days.

Being an important state to win for the democratic presidential nomination, Kennedy spent ample time traveling around Maryland and its counties. In Montgomery County, Kennedy started his day in Silver Spring, traveled to Bethesda to visit the Bethesda Woman’s Club, and made sure to visit the Rockville County Courthouse. His last stops that day in Montgomery County were Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center and the Indian Spring Country Club. Later, Kennedy held a rally at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Kennedy knew how important it was for him to visit Maryland in order to win the Democratic presidential nomination. He told the Washington Post that great presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt all had to campaign in Maryland. “These men did not neglect Maryland in the spring and Maryland did not forget them in the fall,” he reasoned. And Maryland didn’t disappoint. According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Kennedy won 70.3% of the votes in the presidential election primary.

Kennedy continued to campaign in Maryland after he won the presidential nomination. During his 1960 campaign, he gave speeches at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

Photo courtesy of The White House.


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