go purple with ZEN...
Join ZEN during the month of November as we go purple for World Pancreatic Cancer Day (November 17, 2022). Switch out an outdoor lightbulb to purple and visit us to add a splash of color to your fall hair! We have purple hair extensions (5 for $40) and a portion of proceeds goes directly to PanCAN (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network).
VIP ALEXANDRIA MAGAZINE VOLUME 4 • ISSUE 9
PUBLISHER / OWNER KELLIE GUNDERMAN
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS CRYSTAL MOSSER ANDERSON
EDITOR ANDREW GATES
ACCOUNTS MANAGER MEGAN CRESCIO
STAFF WRITER LIESEL SCHMIDT
JULIE CARRASCO JEFF HEENEY ALI JALIL LUCIA SMITH KENNY WALTERS
DISTRIBUTION TL DISTRIBUTION
COVER PHOTOGRAPHER JONATHAN THORPE | @JTHORPEPHOTO
WWW.VIPALXMAG.COM | @VIPALXMAG
SERVICE. It’s a concept that lives at the heart of every facet of the military life, for both service members and their families. The "call to serve" that leads a man or woman to dedicate their lives to their country and the greater good is difficult for many to understand. But it is their unwavering devotion to to serving others - and the sacrifice it requires - that strengthens and empowers us all.
We are proud to print a Veterans issue each year. This year, we selected the title: Celebrating American Voices. The stories you will find in the pages ahead will take you a step beyond the typical military life and into the world of Veteran and Military Spouse Entrepreneurs. These individuals have become such a vital part of our local economies, and it's really no wonder why so many of them choose to go into business for themselves following years of service. A career in the military provides all involved with a sense of confidence, an undeniable drive to succeed, courage, strength, persistence and passion. These are the same traits found in successful business owners and leaders.
And so, we are thrilled to introduce you to our November issue. We are so thankful to the men and women who shared their stories with us this month. We hope their words will excite, thrill, amaze and inspire you. In this community, we are not only blessed to be surrounded by so many selfless individuals while they are actively serving, but to also have the opportunity to watch them aim and find success after.
From all of us at VIP, we thank you for your heroic devotion to our nation and to our beloved city.Kellie Gunderman, Owner/Publisher
As a newly-purchased home, this new single-family house in Vienna was destined for a complete renovation to become what the owners envisioned—something much more modern to fit their tastes and lifestyles. After several design meetings with Michael Nash Design, Build & Homes, the young couple who owned the home began a complete overhaul that would incorporate the Middle Eastern and Moroccan art they collected as well as bold patterns, saturated colors and unique architectural detailing.
The house was furnished with five-inch-wide gray plank hardwood flooring and a new railing system featuring wrought iron rails on the staircase. On the main level, the old living room was opened up and a large archway was installed, separating it from a two-story foyer and creating a formal dining room. A new ceiling panel, crown molding, wainscoting and gold and navy-blue color themes were used to complement the new furnishings in the space.
Just across the foyer, the old dining room was converted into a library by adding wall panels and curved ceiling panels. “The mint green and cream paint has made a big impact on the look of this room,” says Sonny Nazemian, Master Designer of Kitchen/Bath at
Michael Nash. The old office became the guest suite/mother’s suite with a newly-added full bathroom. The new bath was designed with a glass block transom and given a black and white Art Deco aesthetic, featuring beaded wall panels, a furniture style vanity and walk-in shower. Finally, a doorway was made to accommodate a Moroccan hand-carved door, keystone molding and Middle Eastern hanging lights.
In the family room, new windows were added while others were closed up, a new fireplace was added to the center of the left wall of the two-story space and the wall was covered with floor-to-ceiling stone veneer. Overhead, a new chandelier beautified the space.
The kitchen was, by far, the home’s biggest problem and one that almost deterred the couple from purchasing the house from the offset. The space was narrow and tight and had limited lighting, so the new design plan called for the removal of several major bearing walls to open the kitchen into the adjacent family room and sunroom. The back of the kitchen was bumped out and given a new five-foot-deep addition with a massive picture window, allowing generous natural light into the room.
Widening the kitchen allowed for the reconfiguring of cabinetry and also made room for a large island with a 48-
inch gas range top and recessed hood. The south wall became home to a large stainless-steel fridge and freezer, espresso maker, double oven and more storage space. “We had to install four major steel beams and supporting poles from the basement up to structurally allow this addition and open up the kitchen,” says Nazemian.
A set of French doors was added to the sunroom, leading to a new stone outdoor patio and fireplace. The old laundry room and coat closet were demolished, then re-created into a new mudroom space with locker-style cabinets and a large walkin space for the couple’s future wine cabinets. The side of the mudroom was fitted with a new door, while a side porch and steps were added to lead to the driveway as the couple’s main point of entry to the house.
As avid entertainers, the couple greatly needed outdoor entertaining space. To accommodate their frequent gatherings, a large screened-in porch was built just off the interior kitchen and installed with a full outdoor kitchen, all covered with Middle Eastern hand-painted floral tile and a contrasting porcelain tile floor. The walls are brick, with a ceiling of beaded paneling adding a sense of warmth to the space. “Now that their home is complete, the owners love to throw parties for friends and family both indoors and out,” says Nazemian.MICHAEL NASH DESIGN, BUILD & HOMES • WWW.MICHAELNASHKITCHENS.COM
pucker up, buttercup
THE SOUR TRUTH ABOUT TOOTH EROSIONStory by Liesel Schmidt
When sour or acidic food breaks down enamel, it lowers the teeth's natural guard. When this happens, teeth can change color, can be more susceptible to bacteria or causes of infection and can erode.
If that sounds bad, it’s because it is. Think about this long term—tooth erosion is permanent. A few signs that your enamel has started to wear away include:
• Pain or sensitivity when consuming hot, cold or sweet drinks
• Yellowish discoloration of the teeth
• Change in your fillings
• Experiencing more cavities over time
• Development of an abscess (in very extreme cases)
• Tooth loss (in very extreme cases)
Once erosion occurs, you may need fillings, crowns, a root canal or tooth extraction. Veneers may also be an option to consider as you restore damaged teeth.
Need a cheat sheet to help you navigate the wild world of acidic foods and beverages to watch out for? An easy rule of thumb is to limit intake of citrus or citrusflavored, carbonated or sour foods.
Even nutritious foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can have acidic effects on tooth enamel, so eat them as part of a meal rather than on their own. Dried fruits can also pose issues because they adhere to teeth, so the acids produced by cavity-causing bacteria continue to pose a risk after you’ve finished eating.
Still claiming the top of the leaderboard, however, are soft drinks—especially sodas—thanks to the acid caused by carbonation. Bubbles elevate the acidity of
any drink, regardless of its flavor or sugar content. Acid in beverages can also come from citrus flavorings, even when they are all-natural, so watch the frequency of your consumption. The same goes for wine and coffee. Much as you may love one (or both) of them, drink them in moderation.
Lastly, sour candies are extremely acidic. Many include citric acids to achieve their high pucker factor, so proceed with caution and keep your sweet tooth in check.
Want to stop the damage? You can reduce tooth erosion with a few simple tips:
• After eating acidic foods, wait an hour before brushing to give your saliva a chance to wash away acids and re-harden your enamel naturally.
• Limit acidic beverages or avoid them completely. If you imbibe, use a straw and don’t swish or hold the drink in your mouth. Sip and swallow.
• After acidic meals or beverages, rinse your mouth with water or drink milk to neutralize acids.
• Saliva helps keep acid in check, so check sugarless gum to keep saliva flowing.
In partnership with Nova Labs, The Torpedo Factory Art Center recently returned its signature evening series with eclectic art and activities. Among three floors of open artists’ studios, guests found gallery receptions, stimulating artist talks, pop-up performances, hands-on projects, Halloween-themed live music, and more. Costumes were encouraged and the best dressed won a special prize. To learn more, visit www.torpedofactory.org.
KATIE'S KORNER : TIPS, TRICKS AND THINGS I’M LOVING
It’s that time of year, one of my absolute favorite seasons! With a calendar filling up with parties and events, I want to look my best. To put my best face forward, I knew exactly who to turn to… Nurse Jenna of DiscovHER Health!
Well known for her intimate health practice, Nurse Jenna treats the WHOLE body. I knew her services and technology would not just get me ready quickly, but set me up for long-term results.
After an initial consultation, Jenna made recommendations addressing my areas of concern and created a plan to achieve my goals with little to no downtime.
We started with the Morpheaus8, a radiofrequency and microneedling treatment. Helping to boost collagen, the treatment tightened and brightened my skin and helped diminish fine lines and wrinkles. I’ll be back before the summer because you can use this for tightening and toning the body as well!
Next was the Aerolase Facial Rejuvenation. This balanced out my skin tone, erased evidence of breakouts, provided more tightening and removed peach fuzz. This laser technology can really do it all. Jenna spot-treated a bruise on my arm and I’ll be back for laser hair removal in a few months!
Learn more about Nurse Jenna and DiscovHER Health at www.discovHERhealth.com
WE CAN HELP TELL YOUR STORY
Brought to you by Kissal Communications Story by Katie Kissal | Photography Courtesy of DiscovHer Health
Women’s Health has historical legs. From the inception of Planned Parenthood in 1916 to the Women’s Health Movement of the 1960s, decades of effort have since followed to improve access to safe healthcare, medicalize childbirth and address inequalities in patient care and the workforce.
Task forces, organizations and caucuses have been established to research how to address racial inequalities, career accessibility, technologies for female-specific vaccines and advancements in maternal health. However, it seems a new revolution is on the horizon.
TIMES ARE CHANGING
Even with the efforts over the past six decades, much of what falls under the Women’s Health umbrella is still considered taboo, spoken about in whispers or ultimately not widely addressed by the medical community. Gynecology and obstetrics are the commonly known fields within women’s health, primarily focusing on fertility, disease prevention and childbirth. While urology treats men and women, it is commonly known for its treatment of male sexual dysfunction. Viagra and its counterparts have long been popular on the market to treat male sexual dysfunction, but what about the treatment of women’s pelvic and sexual dysfunction?
with exposure to dysfunction and injury. Urinary and fecal incontinence, pelvic pain and dysfunction, vaginal dryness, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis and symptoms of menopause are few to name. Historically, these have been silently accepted as part of the result of childbirth and aging.
MEET NURSE JENNA
As a young girl growing up in Detroit, Jenna Perkins, RN, WHNP-BC, always had an interest in healing, “My
grandmother was a reverend and practiced folk medicine. I grew up watching her help countless friends and families.”
With a master’s degree in Women’s Health, she is also a board-certified Women’s Health and Gender-Related Nurse Practitioner and a well-known expert in urology, urogynecology, sexual health and pelvic floor disorders. She is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and teaches other clinicians at national conferences.
Her holistic approach to treating complex patients includes educating her patients with knowledge about their bodies and how they can be healed.
Jenna explains, “I chose Women’s Health because of my own exam experience as a teenager with a family physician. I knew immediately I wanted to provide an experience that wouldn’t leave women feeling the way I felt, which was embarrassed, confused and wanting more information.”
A NEW FRONTIER IN WOMEN’S HEALTH
A new wave of practitioner advocates are speaking up and out for their female patients in order to normalize, treat and heal complex gynecological conditions and increase sexual health awareness. Having observed gaps in Women’s Health and urology, Jenna is one of those trailblazers. She opened the doors to DiscovHer Health in early 2022 to treat patients with complex gyn and sexual health issues.
“I want to revolutionize women’s health experiences. I want patients to have access to care that is committed to the 'taboo,' so they know what they are experiencing can be treated and they can heal,” she said. “Women need safe spaces where they can have their most essential functions (peeing, pooping, sex) addressed in a manner that honors femininity and offers the evidence-based solutions, without feeling embarrassed or shameful.”
HER OWN FEMINISM AS INSPIRATION
When Jenna is not treating patients, she is also a mother of two young children. “Having kids reinforced the danger and beauty of womanhood. I had a beautiful home birth with both my children, but suffered a postpartum hemorrhage after my first child that was terrifying,” she explained. “I was blessed to have the support of an amazing midwife to make sure I was safe, but not every woman has a good outcome or the same access to the care. It’s one thing to read about breastfeeding, postpartum mood changes, body image issues and all other symptoms, but it is completely different to experience it first-hand.”
Her motherhood inspired her to create this new space for patients. “I truly believe that the pelvis, as the root chakra, is the seat of life and the center for creativity. I have never felt more creative than now. I started the practice when my son was six months old. I knew if I could create life, [I] could create anything.”
A SIMPLE VISION FOR HEALTH
While Jenna recognizes that some people can be discomforted by talking about these issues, she assures that it really is not that radical. “Intimate health is simply health and women’s health is health. I want clients and providers to be able to discuss and treat pelvic pain and incontinence with the ease and confidence that we do diabetes. After all, every human has a pelvis, and over half of those pelvises belong to those assigned female at birth.”
DiscovHer Health offers services in three locations (Old Town, Alexandria, Washington, DC and Chevy Chase, Maryland) and also provides virtual consultations. For more information, visit www.discovherhealth.com.
Photos Courtesy of the National Breast Center Foundation
Mary's Angel Wings, a well-recognized symbol of the National Breast Center Foundation's Walk to Bust Cancer, made their way around Alexandria again! Mary Edwards, the artist of the original wings, sadly lost her battle to breast cancer earlier this year. These are just a few images of the people who Mary's Angel Wings inspired this year. To learn more or to donate, visit www.nationalbreastcenterfoundation.org.
NOVEMBER 7 - DECEMBER 13
Holiday Cocktail Class
Lena's Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap, 401 E Braddock Rd, Alexandria 6-8pm
At this interactive cocktail class, attendees will be welcomed with a starter cocktail and then learn how to make three other cocktails. Your hosts will also share the story behind each cocktail and the class includes a starter and entrée course to enjoy. Finally, guests will receive a parting cocktail gift bag to enjoy at home!
27th Annual Art on the Avenue
Mount Vernon Ave, Del Ray, Alexandria 10-6pm
The 27th annual arts festival held in the Del Ray features more than 350 juried artists, from quilters to card-makers to cartographers, displaying their one-of-a-kind wares. There will be 20+ food vendors and live music along the avenue. www.artontheavenue.org
Cocktails & Books
Morrison House, 116 S Alfred St, Alexandria 5:30pm-8pm
Meet bestselling authors McKinley Aspen, Robin Pollack, Sarah Vie & local author Kim Olsen. Register: www.bedsidereading.com/va
Adoption Event (AWLA)
Barkhaus, 529 E Howell Ave, Alexandria 5:30-7:30pm
Join the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria to help socialize rescue pups. Barkhaus will remain open to the public and encourages guests to come support local rescues. ww.brewskisbarkhaus.com
18 - JANUARY 1
Ice & Lights
The Winter Village at Cameron Run, 4001 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria 5-10pm
Ice & Lights offers a fun, outdoor family experience to see unique light displays, take family pictures or selfies with a variety of displays, and take a spin on the outdoor ice rink. Purchase tickets at www.novaparks.com/events/ice-lights
Alexandria Cider Festival
Lloyd House, 220 N Washington St, Alexandria 1-5pm
Enjoy a selection of ciders from 10 Virginia cideries. Ticket includes cider tastings, a souvenir glass, live music, and a little history too! Proceeds from the Cider Festival will benefit the Historic Alexandria Museums. Tickets: www.shop.alexandriava.gov/Events.aspx
City of Alexandria Tree Lighting Ceremony
Market Square, 300 King St, Alexandria 6-7pm
Ring in the city’s official start to the holiday season with the lighting of the 40-foot tree adorned with nearly 40,000 twinkling lights, plus enjoy appearances from Alexandria’s Town Crier and Santa himself.
Old Town Alexandria Cookie Crawl
Starting Location: Lorien Hotel & Spa Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12-5pm Receive a commemorative tin and stop by all 25 stores on the crawl and receive a pre-wrapped cookie at each location. It is fun for the whole family and a great way to explore Old Town’s walkable shopping district. Register: www.eventbrite.com
47th Alexandria Turkey Trot
Begins and ends at George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt Vernon Ave, Del Ray, Alexandria 7:30-11:30am
Alexandria's 5-mile Turkey Trot is the DC area's premiere Thanksgiving road race. Register: www.alexandriaturkeytrot.com.
Various locations, Old Town Alexandria Most shops open at 6am! Shop, sip, and stroll in Old Town Alexandria, complete with merry elves and great shopping in our quaint boutiques, and great lunch and delicious beverages in our restaurants and cafes.
NOVEMBER 25-DECEMBER 18
Mount Vernon by Candlelight
George Washington's Mount Vernon Evening tour times vary
Take a candlelit guided tour and hear about holiday traditions in 18thcentury Virginia. Learn about the build-up to Revolution as we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the year 1772. Register: www.mountvernon.org
Small Business Saturday
Old Town Alexandria and Beyond All day
Stroll historic streets twinkling with as you enjoy special discounts, sip and snack on free treats like hot cider and local coffee and take home free gifts with purchase. www.visitalexandria.com.
Holiday Makers Market
Port City Brewing Co., 3950 Wheeler Ave, Alexandria 12-5pm
More than two dozen Alexandria-based makers, artists and creators will pop-up at Port City Brewing Company with lineups of handmade goods and cozy holiday items to accompany a pint or two. Local food trucks will be on site for the event.
22nd Annual Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
Old Town Alexandria Waterfront 5:30pm
More than 50 boats cruise along one mile of the Potomac River shoreline. Enjoy dockside festivities including a pop-up beer garden from Port City Brewing Company, food, activities and more. www.visitalexandria.com
Factory Holiday Festival
Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria 2-8pm
Torpedo Factory Art Center joins the fun on Alexandria’s most festive weekend of the year! Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive by fire boat, music will fill the halls and artists' studios will be open to explore.
51st Annual Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade
Old Town Alexandria
Parade begins at 11am
Dozens of Scottish clans dressed in colorful tartans parade through the streets of Old Town, joined by pipe and drum bands from around the region, as well as terriers and hounds and more. www.visitalexandria.com
Del Ray Holiday Tree & Menorah Lighting
Pat Miller Neighborhood Square, Del Ray, Alexandria
Lighting is 6pm
Visit hand-painted holiday windows in storefronts and start your holiday shopping with a stroll down Mount Vernon Avenue, which will be illuminated by thousands of luminarias in honor of the late Nancy Dunning. www.visitdelray.com
Annual Candy Cane Bar Crawl
Del Ray, Alexandria 12:30-6pm
Take a break from the bustle of holiday preparations and enjoy specials at 15+ Del Ray restaurants during a neighborhood bar crawl on Saturday, December 10th from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Register: www.visitdelray.com
Old Town Alexandria Christmas Market
John Carlyle Square 11-4pm
Over 110 artisans, crafters, independent consultants and other local small businesses are showcasing heir products, just in time for the holidays! From arts and crafts to jewelry and baked goods, to body and hair care, our vendors have everything you wish to surprise your loved ones with!
A Victorian Christmas
Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden, 615 Oronoco St, Alexandria 10am-4pm
Experience the wonder of the season by visiting the Lee-Fendall House for a family-friendly Victorian Christmas! Enjoy traditional décor, music, seasonal crafts, a toy exhibit, and more! Tickets: www.eventbrite.com
Holiday Sip N' Shop
Ten Thousand Villages, 915 King St, Alexandria 5-10pm
Shop for unique, handmade gifts from around the world including fair trade baskets, jewelry, crafts and other items from international artisans.
ON POWHATAN STREETby Lucia Smith
Holistic Hair Studio recently hosted a party to welcome Nurture Leaf Wellness to Powhatan Street. The new women’s wellness studio will provide several energy healing services, such as reiki and reflexology. A small boutique will also be on-site, selling gifts such as herbal tea blends, raw honey, Tibetan gemstone jewelry, gemstone crystals and more. Visit Nurture Leaf Wellness at 1437 Powhatan Street or on the Thumbtack mobile app. For more information or to schedule your appointment with Holistic Hair Studio, visit wwwholistichairstudio.com.
SARA HARTDIRECTOR • TEACHER • CHOREOGRAPHER • MILSPOUSE • MOM
As Co-Executive Director and Studio Director for Metropolitan School of the Arts (MSA), music and artistic expression are a big part of Sara Hart’s professional life. In addition to leading the organization, she is a dance/theatre educator, director and choreographer for MSA, offering classes, experiences and performances in dance, music and theatre for students of all ages.
Passionate as she is about her work, there’s little wonder that her two children are involved in music—or that it’s a passion she shares with her husband, whose career with the US Army Chorus gives him some unique responsibilities of his own. “Matt’s job in the Army is very different,” she says. “When they are called to perform, this takes priority. Every week is different, but the challenges that come with that kind of schedule teach us a lot: life doesn't always work like
a nine-to-five and be flexible and it will all work out. There have been a few roles or positions Matt has been tasked to which leave me with the responsibilities of work and home, but fortunately, I have always had my parents close by and wonderful family friends who help out.”
Naturally, being a working mom comes with challenges, but Hart approaches the challenges with her focus on the bigger picture. “It’s organized chaos most of the time,” she admits. “I certainly don't remember what boredom feels like, and it can be exhausting. However, most of the time, it’s extremely rewarding. Being a working mom shows my kids an example of hard work and the blessings and community that can come from that. I also think being a working mom allows me to have my own thing, which only makes me a happier mom for my family.
My job has also given my kids a supportive community full of adult mentors and student role models. They have so many people to look up to who have dedicated their time to working on their craft, made sacrifices and found success. It has also allowed them to enjoy the benefits that come from the performing arts and a performing arts community.”
The correlation between work and home is not lost on Hart, as she sees the ways her work makes her a better mother and vice versa. “The performing arts were crucial to so many students—and our patrons-during the difficult years of the pandemic. I’m incredibly proud that all of our hard work and dedication helped keep us alive,” she says. “I think this time in my career made me a better mom because my kids saw hard work, commitment and loyalty in action. You don't quit when things get hard. I think it also helped me become a better businesswoman because, having taken the position only a month before the pandemic, I had to not only learn the business, but also make informed and quick financial decisions. I became a better listener and a more confident leader having led during a time when so many of us felt insecure, unsure and stressed.”
D1 Training Alexandria recently hosted a party to celebrate its first anniversary. The theme of the event was “Celebrate Your Inner Athlete,” and guests of all ages were encouraged to wear their favorite jersey. All enjoyed healthy snacks by Territory Foods, music and sports activities! This party also served as a fundraiser for Leveling the Playing Field. Anyone who donated gently used sporting gear for youth sports and recreation programs received a free workout and D1 swag. To learn more, visit www.d1training.com/alexandria
Joi Dreams of Joi Dreams Salon recently invited friends, family and clients to celebrate the grand opening of her new style parlor and consignment shop. Ward Avenue, located in the same building as Joi Dreams Salon, will offer walk-in fashion donations and consultations for women and men. Visit Ward Avenue at 2101 A Mt. Vernon Ave.
"Having lived in various areas around the world as a military spouse... I understand how important home is." - Laura Catron
REALTOR + MILITARY SPOUSE
While military spouses may not be the ones wearing the uniform, they still face challenges that come with military ties—having the capability to start or keep a career being one of those challenges. For Laura Catron, being a military spouse meant putting her career on the back burner until a time when permanency was on the table. “Being in the military, we moved too often for me to establish a real estate career,” she says. “When we moved here, my friend, Lyssa Seward, asked me if I wanted to join her team, the Seward Group, at Sotheby's International Realty. The second we decided to permanently stay here, I became licensed in the three DC metro states and joined Sotheby’s. I chose Sotheby’s because I only wanted to work with a company that shared my own values in terms of excellence, integrity and professionalism.”
In the nearly three years that Catron has been a Realtor, her skill set has proven invaluable in making her a success. “Real estate, in so many ways, is the perfect intersection of my skills,” she says. “Having lived in various areas around the world as a military spouse, I can relate to just about anyone. I understand and respect the uniqueness of people and that everyone has different needs, personalities and perspectives. On that same note, I also understand how important home is. When we were looking for our own permanent home, it just reinforced my understanding of the importance and stress of that search and decision."
“As a prior real estate attorney and food business owner,” she continues, “I also possess a unique skill set when it comes to my knowledge of contracts and [a] strong edge for successful negotiations.”
George Washington's Mount Vernon recently held the annual Fall Festival and Wine Tour. When attendees were not relaxing on blankets on the East Lawn overlooking the Potomac, they were invited to sample various wines by local Virginia wineries, snap a few pictures with George and Lady Washington and explore The Shops at Mount Vernon. To learn more about Mount Vernon's upcoming events, visit www.mountvernon.org.
POSED FOR RECOVERY FEATURING VET OGAStory by Liesel Schmidt Photography by Jonathan Thorpe
Unfortunately, war seems to be a consequence of human nature. Looking back at two World Wars, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, and what seems like an endless war in the Middle East, we as a nation have endured more than our share of conflict in the last century. Through all that time, countless men and women have braved the unthinkable to come home battle-scarred. Often, those scars are ones that we cannot see. The mental and emotional toll that life in a warzone inflicts is sometimes too much; sometimes to the point that there seems to be no light in the darkness.
For Justin Blazejewski, post-Marine life as a government contractor saw him in Iraq 40 times over a 10-year span, leaving him with war wounds that weren’t visible, but still every bit as debilitating as physical wounds. How he found
the strength to rise from the depths came from a place of self-reflection and meditation through yoga. “I began practicing yoga in 2008 and it was the light that I needed to pull me out of the darkness and away from suicide,” says Blazejewski. “Early on in that year, I was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, and out of desperation, I left the generally accepted ‘box’ of what vets typically do to deal [with emotional pain] and went to a yoga class. While I was laying in the relaxed pose at the end of the class, I felt my parasympathetic nervous system for the first time in years. It was like medicine for me and I knew that, whatever that was, I needed more. It was then [that] I started practicing yoga six to seven times a week to deepen my practice and healing. I knew that I wanted to share this with other veterans out
there struggling in the darkness like I was. Later that year, I attended my first yoga teacher training in New York City with Sri Dharma Mittra … and [that] is where my journey of becoming a yoga instructor began. I made a promise to myself then that when I stopped my warzone travel, I would use what I learned in yoga to create something to help those others like me. My last warzone trip was December 2014, and in 2015, I took a year off to heal and dive deep into my yoga practice.”
It was during that year that the idea for
VETOGA was born during one of Blazejewski’s meditations. “My vision was clear,” he recalls. “The concept of what I wanted to do was simply sharing the healing benefits of yoga with military, veteran, law enforcement, first responders and their families and creating a yoga teacher training for veterans to be trained and equip them to spread these teachings to those who need them most.”
VETOGA is now the first 200-hour yoga teacher training specifically for veterans, offering a focus in Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) at zero cost to the veteran. VETOGA is also the only teacher training that is free to veterans. “When people get out of the military, they lose their community and tribe and lack a sense of purpose,” Blazejewski explains. “VETOGA is filling that void by creating community through our classes, retreats and trainings and giving them a mission and sense of purpose to help others.”
The benefits that yoga offers is where VETOGA also differs from other forms of therapy. “Yoga helped me heal from the physical, mental and emotional injuries that I brought home with me from the warzones,” Blazejewski says. “We all live with some level of stress and our veterans bring home a higher level of stress and trauma with them from their service. Yoga helps keep the body healthy and regulate emotions and is a positive coping mechanism for stress. Yoga helps you find your true self and your dharma—your purpose in life.”
Over the past four years, VETOGA has trained and equipped over 150 teachers who are now teaching hundreds of yoga classes per year and reaching thousands of military, veteran, law enforcement, first responders and their families. “We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the people who have come to VETOGA,” Blazejewski proudly says. “When people find VETOGA for the first time, a lot of them have told us that they wish they had known about us sooner. It always lets me know we’re living our missions when new students find VETOGA and share their personal stories of what brought them to that present moment on their yoga mat.”
The biggest challenge in his work at VETOGA, according to Blazejewski, lies in getting vets to the classes and trainings. “Yoga is still outside the ‘norm’ for veterans,” he notes. “We aim to break down that stigma of what vets think yoga is by training brothers and sisters like themselves to show them the benefits and be the light in their communities for others to find.”
As challenging as it can be to break those stigmas and misapprehensions held by so many in the military community, Blazejewski is fully aware of the importance in forging ahead. “There are still, on average, 22 veterans committing suicide every single day,” he says. “I was very close to becoming one of those statistics before I found yoga. These programs and teachings are more important now than ever. We need to train and equip more veterans to find their brothers and sisters that are struggling in the darkness with depressing and suicidal thoughts.”
The reward in the work comes from seeing the changes made in the lives of those who find VETOGA. “On a micro level, my satisfaction comes when I get phone calls in the middle of the night from students who are about to commit suicide and I’m able to help them back to the light and prevent them from becoming a statistic. On a macro level, it comes when I see my teachers becoming leaders in their communities and teaching classes in places I could never have reached on my own. All of this shows me, unequivocally, that VETOGA is accomplishing the good I envisioned it would when I started it.”
Coming from such a personal place, Blazejewski’s mission is all the more powerful—and he carries that with him in his work, making him more effective at reaching those who need it the most. “I’m very proud of my military experience and being a veteran,” he
“I was very close to becoming one of those statistics before I found yoga... We need to train and equip more veterans to find their brothers and sisters that are struggling in the darkness with depressing and suicidal thoughts.”
says. “Being in the Marine Corps, I learned a lot of positive life lessons and discipline that I’ve applied every day [in my] life. To be a true yogi, you have to have discipline and commitment to a daily practice, so being used to committing to something and having the discipline to stick with it was a direct result of the qualities I learned during my military service.”
As Blazejewski and his team at VETOGA continue their work, he hopes to increase VEGTOGA's impact. “We are still a small nonprofit that depends on donations to execute our missions of providing yoga classes, retreats and teacher trainings to our veterans,” he says. “With our current budget, we are only able to offer one teacher training and one yoga retreat for veterans per year. My hope for VETOGA is that we increase our donations and grants and find corporate sponsorships that will allow the company to hire employees to expand the business and allow us the funds and infrastructure to provide four retreats per year and four teacher trainings and install leadership and communities in every state in the nation.”
To learn more or to donate, visit www.vetoga.org.
MEET BECKY HARRIS
Becky Harris is founder and chief distiller of Catoctin Creek – an award-winning, women-owned and operated, craft distillery. Becky, a tireless advocate for the industry as President of the American Craft Spirits Association, is renowned for her single barrel 100% rye whisky, Roundstone Rye, which uses heritage grains from local farms and is 100% copper pot distilled, never sourced.
CELEBRATINGAmerican VoicesStories by Liesel Schmidt
As an area with such deep ties to the military, Alexandria's military community is an extensive one, representing both those previously and presently serving. During November, we join the Department of Defense Education Activity in celebrating Military Family Appreciation Month. In this issue, we share stories of veterans and military spouses who followed their passions to become business owners, honoring these individuals as well as the families whose service was given right alongside theirs. Their dedication, honor and integrity are a testament to their character, both in the military and out, and the business community is enriched by their presence. In sharing their stories, we hope to shine a light on some of the amazing people who have worn—or stood beside—the uniform and now make their mark in a different way.
Melissa Green, Badass Coffee Causes Kyeneil Tippett, UpTOP Cigars John Heck, Legacy Lawyers
Melissa Grandin, Grand Lash Co. Monifa Caines, Queen of Spades Style David Ryan, Code Ninjas
If you’re like 30 to 40 percent of the world, you can’t function properly without at least one cup of coffee coursing through your veins. When looking at the different world cultures that gather around coffee, one can see how both essential and social coffee can be.
So what better platform for a social cause than coffee? As the owner of Badass Coffee Causes, that’s precisely what Melissa Green does. Her mission statement says, "connecting communities one cup at a time." The concept is simple: Badass Coffee Causes, a merger of Southern, Sweet & Sassy Coffee and Rise Above Coffee, supports socalled #coffeeforacause initiatives.
“Each month, we spotlight two nonprofits—one that supports our Military Family community, while the other supports our LGBTQ+ community,” says Green, who, as a Navy veteran, military spouse
and member of the LGBTQ+ community, has a personal connection to the mission. “We bring education and awareness to our audience and, at the end of the month, we donate a portion of our coffee sales to these nonprofits. Our coffee beans are roasted once an order is made and shipped free here in the US, APO and FPOs, so it's the freshest coffee you'll have tasted. Plus, it's smooth, low acid and not bitter.”
In addition to freshly-roasted coffee, Badass Coffee Causes features a line of coffee mugs whose messages are fun, snarky and amusing—in a tongue-incheek way.
“Yes, we sell amazing coffee,” she says, “but we do so with the intent to help our communities. We’re bringing education and awareness to our audience, and by donating a portion of our monthly proceeds, we’re helping these nonprofits continue doing their amazing work.”
As a cigar aficionado, Kyeneil Tippett knows his way around a good cigar. He appreciates the smell, the ceremony of smoking it and the craft that went into rolling it. As the owner of UpTOP Cigars, he shares that with other enthusiasts,
spiritually, but in reality. The process of making a fine cigar takes time, patience and years to perfect. My passion is to share this knowledge and smoking experience with everyone and to have great conversations while we smoke.”
A Marine who served four years, Tippett’s self-described “ridiculous and sickening” work ethic is something that he credits to his time in active duty—something that he has called upon often now that he is a business owner. “I never stop working,” he says.
As an event vendor, he travels and rolls cigars at events. In this way, Tippett brings the experience to his clients, making their event more memorable and all the more special. “Most people have not seen a cigar rolled from scratch and do not realize the
welcoming them to share their stories, make new friends and relax and enjoy the rich fug of a beautifully-created cigar.
Launched in 2019, UpTOP Cigars was born of Tippett’s love for cigars and “the conversations that happen with others while smoking. I have a deep passion and respect for the tobacco leaf,” he says. “For me, it is a great teacher. Not only
skill it takes to create one. I provide this experience,” he says. Having come to Alexandria in 2017, Tippett found his niche in the business community, working closely with Sonoma Cellar to create regular events. “They have made my business experience here very comfortable,” he says. “I love the community and how close the people are here. Makes me feel right at home.”
When John Heck began his law practice in estate planning, Legacy Lawyers, the retired Air Force officer understood the importance of planning ahead—even when end-of-life preparations seemed like a distant need. In Heck’s particular experience, the need for a will came with the job; but necessary as it was, there were some things he did not understand. This was the impetus to start his own law practice. “During my 31 years as an officer and aviator, we were taught that our service could result in the ultimate sacrifice, which naturally led to estate planning,” Heck says. “For years, I had a JAGdesigned plan that I really didn’t understand. When I married and had children, I realized I needed a plan that worked at the time when it was most critical, in the way I wanted. After a lot
of study, I found that I [could] use my law degree to help my family as well as other families. After my military retirement, I once again dedicated myself to service, but this time to individual families and communities rather than our nation.”
Heck’s years of service in the Air Force taught him valuable lessons that he uses in his practice today. “The military taught me the value of a steadfast work ethic, the importance of ‘mission first’ and the idea that a customer almost always takes priority over your personal needs. The military also taught me the importance and unwavering value of honesty and integrity as a way of life—concepts which I have carried into my law practice and which fit nicely into the state bar’s ethics requirements for attorneys.”
One constant for any military spouse is change. That being the case, careers are often the casualty of constantly-shifting circumstances. But as an entrepreneurial soul whose vision saw beyond the challenges of military life, Melissa Grandin explored her passion for great lashes and created a business that had flexibility, mobility and sustainability. “After being married to a service member, I wanted to have flexibility in my own career and hours I could put in while also being a mom to two boys,” she says.
As the owner of Grand Lash Co., Grandin has the ability to start over when and if her husband gets new orders. “Being a military spouse means getting ready to close up shop and start over at any time, but I have learned that the military spouse community is so
strong and all the wives love to support other military spouseowned businesses,” she says. “I've also really tapped into building my brand through networking, social media and word of mouth.”
What she offers at Grand Lash speaks for itself, specializing in eyelash extensions that range from subtle to dramatic. “Owning the business myself, I can offer a more personal experience to my clients--and I love that,” says Grandin. As a lash expert for 11 years, Grandin’s experience and passion for her work is a great factor in her success and something she carries with her from duty station to duty station.
“I love Grand Lash,” she says. “It's my baby, but at the end of the day, it's second to my family. I have so much passion for what I do, but family is always first. I truly think every military spouse would agree.”
"I have so much passion for what I do, but family is always first. I truly think every military spouse would agree."
While her eight and a half years in the Air Force may not have encouraged individuality, they did equip Monifa Caines with exceptional organizational skills as well as a deep sense of honor and desire to pursue excellence. All of that has been invaluable in launching and managing her business, Queen of Spades Style, as she fills the roles of CEO, CIO, CFO, Shipping Manager, Customer Service Manager and Social Media Manager. “I have to be very organized to perform all the roles in a one She-E-O shop,” Caines says.
As a passion-turned-business, Queen of Spades has the foundation for any great venture: purpose. “Queen of Spades Style started first from necessity and quickly turned [into] something that I was passionate about,” Caines explains. “After a lot of contemplation, I decided to stop using a chemical relaxer to straighten my textured hair because it constantly left burns on my scalp. I had this same lye-based cream applied to my hair every month for decades to hide my natural hair pattern, appear ‘professional’ and to assimilate into what the beauty standard is. Then one day, I
decided I was going to stop hurting my scalp every month to make others feel more comfortable about my hair. While I was growing out my natural hair, [I] could not find one hair accessory that was made for thicker hair textures. I went to different stores and started to purchase supplies to make my own hair accessories for my hair—head wraps, head bands, hair combs and hair pins that were colorful and celebrated thicker hair textures. I realized a lot of other women had the same issue I had with finding accessories for their own hair texture. I want to help women accentuate their beauty regardless of their hair texture and live their authentic selves with a lot of style.”
During his 23 years with the Navy, David Ryan served many different roles—one of which was working for the Secretary of the Navy overseeing physical security policy and leading physical security research and development projects. This facet of his career exposed him to emerging technologies until he retired from the Navy in 2012. After that, he worked in the defense contracting industry for seven years. In 2019, he and his wife, Laura, took the leap into entrepreneurship by opening Code Ninjas in Falls Church and Alexandria.
“We were always interested in becoming business owners,” says Ryan. “We have kids of our own and the STEM space is a muchneeded skill that we felt was underemphasized in elementary and middle schools. We found Code Ninjas and thought it would be a great addition to our community and a great opportunity to bring coding and STEM to the schoolaged kids in our community.”
What makes Code Ninjas so unique is the model of learning it uses. “Code Ninjas is a fun, safe environment for kids to explore STEM topics, make friends with like-minded children and gain skills in problem-solving, social interaction, math, robotics, 3D design and printing and more,” Ryan says. “Our core curriculum is project- and game-based. The kids— who we call ‘ninjas’—start in White Belt and work their way up to Black Belt. They code and build games, and parents get to see the games that they make, play their games and share in the joy they have when they’ve created their own games.”
For Ryan, Code Ninjas isn’t just smart business—it’s something he’s passionate about. “Laura and I are both passionate about STEM education,” he says. “We hear from parents all the time about the impact we’ve had on their kids. It's not just about learning to code. It’s also about problem-solving, sequencing, math, social interaction and many other skills that their kids are getting at Code Ninjas.”
"We hear from parents all the time about the impact we’ve had on their kids."
The Old Town North Alliance recently welcomed artists to get creative with sidewalk chalk throughout the Old Town North community. Works of art were created on flat plaza surfaces as well as building walls. Attendees were invited to watch the magic happen, take a walking tour of completed works, visit the dedicated Kid Creation area and enjoy food and beer trucks available at Canal Center Plaza. To learn more about the Old Town North Alliance, visit www.oldtownnorthalliance.com.
SCAN FOR MENU
As Head Chef of Kaizen Tavern in Del Ray, Aung Pyae Sone (or “Kelvin” as he is lovingly referred to by regulars) believes that making sushi is an art. But Chef Kelvin’s menu does not stop there. Scan the QR code above for a peek at his deliciously curated menu and be sure to stop by for Happy Hour, every day from 3-5pm. Chef Kelvin + his talented staff create some of the best cocktails in Alexandria!
FINDING A WAY FORWARDFEATURING VETERANS MOVING FORWARD Story by Liesel Schmidt Photography Courtesy of Veterans Moving Forward
It’s a sad fact of life, but we live in a post-9/11 world. As a result, we have countless men and women living with the scars of time spent in warzones—psychological, emotional and physical scars that sometimes can make living a “normal” life challenging. But we also have generations before, from wars and conflicts that predate the atrocities of 2001. For those veterans, there can be a chasm, a lack of services that is available to the vets of today’s wars. As a vet who fell into that void herself, Karen Jeffries decided to change the status quo.
The impetus for that change came when Jeffries found that her husband, despite his need for a service dog, did not qualify because service dog organizations only accepted applications from post-9/11 veterans. With that hurdle in her way, Jeffries took measures to start her own nonprofit, which serves veterans from all wars as well as those with physical or mental health challenges.
Calling it Veterans Moving Forward (VMF), Jeffries, along with the like-minded partner she found in Robert Larson, founded an organization that brings life-changing help to veterans who previously fell into the gap of services. With the mission to provide service dogs, facility and emotional support dogs to veterans of any generation who served honorably and have physical and/or mental challenges resulting from military operations, accident or disease
experienced during or subsequent to their military service, VMF is open to applicants from the continental United States, Hawaii or Alaska. Service dogs are provided at no cost to the veteran or their family.
Since it was established in 2010, VMF works with numerous veterans and to date has placed 25 dogs with vets. “We currently have 40 applications in the pipeline and receive at least one application each week,” notes Chief Operating Officer Lori Sittner. “Our goal is to place four dogs each year, as it takes two years to train a dog. One of the challenges to how many dogs we can have in the training center is size, and we are currently in a small space, so that limits the number of dogs that we can work with at one time. Our current training center only accommodates six dogs at a time, so our longterm goal is to move to a space that is about 10 acres. We plan to have a training center as well as a house on the property so that our veterans can stay on-site when they are training with their service dog.”
In addition to the obstacle of space is that of funding. “The cost of training a service dog runs between $40,000 to
$50,000. Funding is always a challenge for any nonprofit, and as you can imagine, getting funding for a training center is monumentally so,” Sittner says. VMF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and depends on money from grants, fundraising and the generosity of donors that include both businesses and individuals. VMF does not currently receive any government funding to pay operating costs.
As many veterans are in need of VMF’s services, the organization knows the importance of finding dogs that fit the needs of those vets. “Our dogs are chosen from reputable breeders in Virginia and West Virginia that our program director knows personally,” Sittner explains. “We also are given full information about the litters when they are born. The veterans who come to us must all go through an extensive application process, and as they go through the application process, the program director/head trainer identifies a dog for that veteran based on the information listed on their application. Once the veteran is approved to receive a service dog, they are matched with their dog. The dog is then specifically trained for that veteran based on their unique needs.”
Aside from all the physical aid that service dogs can offer, what makes VMF and organizations like it so crucial is the emotional impact that the service dogs have on the veterans with whom they are matched. “It’s a terribly sad statistic, but 22 veterans a day commit suicide,” says Sittner. “There have been numerous studies showing that, after receiving a PTSD service dog, veterans self-report significant improvements to PTSD symptoms in addition to decreased depression and anxiety, and their quality of life improves. That’s huge. And making that kind of difference is why we do what we do. Our greatest accomplishment is in changing the lives of our veterans when they receive their service dog and we have seen such great results reflected in the ways that our veterans approach life now.”
As simple as the presence of a dog may be, for those vets whose physical or emotional needs overwhelm what they can do alone, that dog can make all the difference. It’s a way to give back to those who have given so much of themselves and a way to help them move forward to a life more fully lived. For more information on Veterans Moving Forward, visit www.vetsfwd.org.
Formerly known as Alexandria Love Your Pet Day, Paws in the Park recently combined shopping, music, dining and adorable adoptable animals into one exciting day. Best of all, proceeds were donated to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) to benefit animals all across Alexandria. Paws in the Park was a free event open to members of the community and their leashed pets. Over 60 vendors and more than 1,000 attendees participated in the inaugural event. For more information, visit www.pawsintheparkva.com.
BEHIND SMOKE + MIRRORS
CIA CHIEF OF DISGUISE: JONNASTORY BY DAWN KLAVON MENDEZ
Jonna Mendez has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. Whether being tailed by KGB agents on the streets of Moscow, or being followed by the FBI on M Street in Georgetown, the now-retired CIA master of disguise can change herself, or anyone else, to be unrecognizable.
Case in point: to illustrate new mask technology, the faircomplexioned spy from Kentucky once transformed herself into an attractive, 30-something Latina for an Oval Office meeting with President George H. W. Bush. Participants in the top-level meeting were shocked (except her boss, CIA Director Judge William Webster, who was seated beside her).
Mendez shares never-before-told stories in her autobiography titled In True Face, available next year. During her illustrious 27-year career, she led operational disguise missions in the most hostile theaters of the Cold War, from Havana to Beijing to Moscow and ultimately into the Oval Office. She is currently an author, lecturer, teacher and consultant on intelligence matters.
“Writing my memoir was a chance to reflect back,” Mendez said. “I had to actually dig in and research my life in order to write a book because when you leave the CIA after 27 years, you don’t bring home anything—nothing—they just debrief you and close the door.”
The 77-year-old Reston resident was a pioneer for women, shattering the glass ceiling in the male-dominated intelligence field. A former Chief of Disguise in the CIA’s Office of Technical Service (OTS), Mendez was also a specialist in clandestine photography. While there, groundbreaking methods were developed for disguise, carrying concealed cameras and protecting operatives in the field.
“I’m going to be remembered as a woman who got involved in the operational side of [the] CIA, and that was a unique place to be,” Mendez said. “It won’t remain unique, but I might be remembered as one of the earlier women who managed to step into that part of the work.”
Mendez sits on the International Spy Museum’s advisory board, and several of the Washington, DC museum’s exhibits display her innovative disguises, like a pregnant woman suit
complete with a secret camera. She speaks at museum events, educating visitors about the cloak and dagger life of a spy and the importance of the CIA.
“Jonna is so inspirational to our visitors and guests who attend programs with her,” said Amanda Ohlke, director of adult education at the International Spy Museum. “Her journey from secretary to CIA Chief of Disguise gives people such a lift.”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Throughout her career, Jonna worked closely with Antonio “Tony” Mendez, the man who eventually became her second husband and was also a renowned CIA officer and Chief of Disguise. The duo was instrumental in developing a series of
innovative tactics, brilliant evasion techniques, Hollywoodinspired identity swaps and an arsenal of brilliant gadgets so that CIA officers could outwit the KGB, according to their book, The Moscow Rules. During the 1980s, their gamechanging methods set the bar for clandestine maneuvers.
PBS once filmed a series about espionage and enlisted Tony and Jonna’s help. The television program tasked the FBI with keeping tabs on the legendary spy couple, following them to a hypothetical "drop."
The exercise simulated real-life missions in the field. Cameras waited at the ending spot and the couple endeavored to evade surveillance. As the duo led the FBI all over Georgetown, Jonna magically transformed her appearance numerous times during the exercise, starting in true face (what the intelligence
agency defines as no disguise), then becoming a fanny packtoting dog walker and moments later—somehow—an elderly mustached man with a limp. She evaded not only the FBI team assigned to follow her, but even fooled the PBS camera crew waiting to film her, who never suspected an elderly gentleman with a cane was Jonna Mendez.
Mendez came to play the spy game in a roundabout way.
Born in Kentucky, graduating from high school in Kansas and attending Wichita State, she traveled to Germany for a friend’s wedding at age 20. While in Bavaria, Mendez chose to forego her return ticket to Kansas and instead set out on a new life. She boarded a train to Frankfurt and, though she spoke not a word of German, got a job at Chase Manhattan Bank in a city where she knew no one. While living in Frankfurt, she met and married her first husband, an American named John Goeser, who informed her three days before the wedding that he worked for the CIA.
“I thought, okay, he’s with the government, he’s traveling all over the world and that will continue and I really liked that piece of it,” she said. “The CIA? Sure! If you thought it would give me pause, it did not.”
In 1966, the CIA recruited Mendez to work as a secretary. Though happy to be in the Agency, the secretarial pool was no challenge for her. Bored, she considered quitting, but her boss recognized her potential and did not want to lose her. Mendez was sent to “the Farm” in Virginia—the CIA’s 9,000-acre covert training facility—where she learned the craft of espionage photography. Ultimately, she was assigned to the OTS in the 1970s, where she spent her illustrious career.
A REAL-LIFE Q
“I had my sights set on it. I was really interested in that technical office and in the work they did,” Mendez said. “Even in the movies, I liked the gadgets. Remember Q? (Referring to the Head of Q Branch in James Bond films, the fictional research and development division of the British Secret Service) We were Q.”
Mendez was stationed in Europe, Asia and Washington, DC over the course of her career, honing her craft and eventually leading the OTS as Chief of Disguise. Her main goal was to protect assets and operatives in the field.
“My role always felt like offering them protection,” she said. “The disguises were a form of body armor. The subminiature cameras made it safer when they were taking pictures of things that maybe they shouldn’t be taking pictures of. We kept them safe.”
Mendez managed “technical wizards and operational specialists." OTS, she said, provided invaluable technology to keep assets alive in places like the Soviet Union, China and the Middle East. “That was the satisfaction for me and that’s what disguise was all about,” Mendez said.
Though CIA case officers collected information from agents that was passed along to policy makers, she played a different role. “I was not passing on the information; I was showing them how to collect it without getting caught. It was a very good place to be.”
Looking back over her extraordinary career, Mendez recalls the intrigue OTS offered visitors. “We had the dog and pony show. Anybody with a reputation came by because it was always so interesting to see our work,” she said. “We were always very visual.”
A COUPLE OF MASTER SPIES
Mendez’s late husband, Tony, was the other half of the legendary spy duo, achieving a CIA Trailblazer Award for being named one of the 50 most distinguished CIA intelligence officers of all time. Most notably, he helped rescue six US diplomats from Iran in 1980 and was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award-winning film Argo.
“Argo was his story and he did not want to tell it,” she said. “But [former CIA director] George Tenet said, ‘You have an appointment with Tim Weiner of the New York Times—we want you to go tell the story.’”
Argo eventually won an Oscar for Best Picture at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013. The film chronicled how Tony created false documents and disguises that were smuggled into Iran and then, under the guise of filming a science fiction movie, helped six Americans hiding at the Canadian Embassy flee Teheran. Only after the motion picture was set to be filmed did Tony write the book Argo “Tony said at the beginning, ‘Well, then we’ve got to write a book, because you know what [the moviemakers] will do? They’ll change it.'”And so, Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History was written.
During her CIA career, Jonna Mendez lived a life shrouded in secrecy, requiring lying to friends about her profession for decades. “I had best friends that I never could even tell them where I worked, much less that we’d almost saved the world last Thursday,” she said.
Upon retirement in the early 1990s, the dynamic duo of Tony and Jonna eventually chronicled their experiences together in the clandestine field— with full CIA approval—in several books including Spy Dust and The Moscow Rules.
“I HAD BEST FRIENDS THAT I NEVER COULD EVEN TELL THEM WHERE I WORKED, MUCH LESS THAT WE’D ALMOST SAVED THE WORLD LAST THURSDAY.”
“It was very satisfying to write a book about our work, where we could explain what we did and how cool it was and how it helped out when we were part of it,” she said.
Tony Mendez passed away from Parkinson’s Disease in 2019.
SHATTERING THE GLASS CEILING
In her upcoming memoir, Mendez reveals how she navigated internal barriers in the male-dominated field of intelligence. Being undermined and overlooked were unfortunate elements of her CIA experience, but she didn’t dwell on it. “That was not top of my mind; that was just the way it was,” she said. “Watching women struggle up the ladder, afterthe-fact, it was painful—it wasn’t painful in the middle of it because you were in the middle of it.”
Mendez said women in intelligence careers today are making advances, but there is still progress to be made. “Guys don’t want women out there in the field. That’s the best part of the work and they don’t want to give it up,” Mendez said. “I think they know that women can do it just as well; sometimes better.” Those that know her are encouraged by her influence on the next generation of women.
“Jonna Mendez continues to inspire all that hear her speak, but especially young women that might want to serve as future intelligence officers,” said Chris Costa, executive director of the International Spy Museum. “She persevered at a time when intelligence was a male-dominated world. Now, we’re richly rewarded by seeing her audiences animated by her spy stories.”
NOT SLOWING DOWN
Today, Mendez is busier than ever, traveling extensively and speaking about her life as a master spy. At the popular International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, visitors might be fortunate enough to hear one of her presentations, revealing now-declassified clandestine secrets. Esteemed museum colleagues who work beside her embrace Mendez’s contributions to history and her lasting legacy.
“The top of the list for me is she’s just a good human,” said Senior State Department Advisor Dexter Ingram, a member of the museum’s advisory board. “It’s better than any novel, it’s better than any movie—she’s exciting—she brings out the best in others and it’s a blessing to have her in our lives.”
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"If I can motivate one woman to not give up on her dream and to be successful right alongside her husband, then I will feel my role as a military spouse has been successful.”- Chantae McMillan
CHANTAE MCMILLANREALTOR • MILITARY SPOUSE • OLYMPIAN Story by Liesel Schmidt
Portrait Courtesy of Chantae McMillan
Twelve years after her first time on the Olympic track and field team, Chantae McMillan is gearing up again to make a run at gold, spending countless hours training to throw the javelin in the 2024 games.
For the millions of people who watch the games, McMillan is an inspirational representative of the USA. But for those who know her backstory, she’s an inspiring example of what a military spouse can do when they chase their own dreams. “I’ve heard from other women how inspiring this is for them as spouses to see what I’m doing, showing them that it is possible to do more as a military spouse,” she says. “That’s my goal as a military spouse. If I can motivate one woman to not give up on her dream and to be successful right alongside her husband, then I will feel my role as a military spouse has been successful.”
A military spouse since 2019, McMillan’s frame of reference coming from a military family equipped her with full knowledge of what military life would entail when her
husband joined the Army. Even with the adjustments that came with becoming a military spouse, McMillan made it work with her own career goals. “It’s meant finding where to train at new duty stations and having my coach work with me remotely, sending my workouts and then scheduling time blocks to go train with my coach in person,” she says. In 2021, I made the choice to leave my husband at Fort Rucker while I went to train in Ohio with my coach for five months, gearing up for the Olympic trials. For the most part, I do not let his career affect my career. We both want our shared successes and understand we have to make sacrifices in different ways to achieve that.”
With retirement in her near future, McMillan recently became a licensed real estate agent. “While I continue to train over the next two years, this gives me another career avenue to pursue,” she says. “I’ve joined a great team and enjoy the work, which is especially fulfilling when I truly connect with clients and guide them successfully through finding what they need.”
Woodbine Rehabilitation & Healthcare recently celebrated its 30th anniversary under the stars. Guests had the opportunity to meet Marquis leadership, toast the Pulmonary Team and tour the bright, beautiful renovations to the Woodbine community. To learn more, visit www.woodbinerehab.com.
While it may have been built in 1960, the house that stands at 1126 Priscilla Lane in Waynewood is nothing you’d expect to see from the period, boasting a third-floor addition made in 2006 and a floorplan that was completely re-worked to a more modern aesthetic. “The house itself is quite unique,” says owner Elaine Donovan, who recently listed the home for sale. “The space throughout the house is incredibly versatile and flexible, offering plenty of space for an office, home gym or guest bedroom suites, and the walkability of the home cannot be beaten. Outdoor enthusiasts can walk to Ft. Hunt Park and the GW Parkway trail. For those with young children, outstanding public elementary and middle schools are within walking distance. And it's only a short drive to historic Old Town Alexandria, Washington-Reagan National Airport and Washington, DC.”
Other highlights of the home include the outdoor living space that Donovan specially designed. Featuring a brand-new back porch that was installed in June 2022, the professionally-landscaped backyard also boasts an in-ground pool and hot tub. “The outdoor space provides endless opportunities for family gatherings,” says Donovan. “We also played many games of basketball on our half-court in the driveway.” Donovan’s personal favorite aspect of the home is a nook on the third-floor landing that offers incredible natural light and a great view of both the front street as well as the backyard. “It's a perfect place to curl up with a good book,” Donovan says.
Listing agent Nick Africano is enthusiastic about what the home can offer a new owner. “What makes this home so unique is the fact that the owner took one of the traditional split foyer models and made it her own,” he notes. “She had a plan custom-designed by an architect, and no detail was spared in making it exceptional. The home features high end tiles and unusual granite choices, so it’s definitely got some wow-factors, as well as three sitting areas and two flex spaces. It’s completely the only one of its kind in the entire neighborhood, and that makes it all the more attractive—and that continues outside. The yard is fully utilized, with a pool area that has separate controls, which allow you to use the hot tub year-round even with the pool closed during the winter. There is green space, play space, a screen porch and a shed area. Both inside and out, we call it an entertainer’s dream.”
To schedule a tour or discuss your home buying or selling needs, contact Nick Africano at 703-851-6201 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorien Hotel & Spa recently hosted a celebration event for the grand opening of the Tasting Room. After a ribbon cutting ceremony, guests were invited to sip, taste and get a sneak peek of the new menu which features authentic European cuisine with an American twist and innovative cocktails. To learn more, visit www.lorienhotel.com.
To this day, I still remember my first glass of proper Champagne. I was prepping dinner for my girlfriend (she would later become my wife) and it completely stopped me in my tracks. I suppose we had something to celebrate— that part of the memory is long gone, but the wine remains.
I tried to get a reprieve from my prep duties so that I could concentrate on the wine. The Champagne had a level of detail and complexity that I didn’t think was possible in sparkling wine: wildflowers, mint, bright orchard fruit, lemon confit and pastry cream. My experience up to that point was with Champagnes made more in an aperitif style by big brands. I use “brands” here quite deliberately. I’m not naming names— some of the large Champagne houses are quite good, perhaps even the best, but the fact that Moët et Chandon, for example, is rumored to make around 30 million bottles each year makes it a completely different beast, than say, a small grower-producer with a few thousand cases per annum.
Given all of the winemaking processes that go into the production of Champagne, it just hadn’t occurred to me that they could be so, well, vinous—that they could be complex, age worthy, convey terroir and pair so well at the table. The Champagne I’m proposing for your consideration today has
all of that in spades: Lilbert-Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Perle NV ($112). The Lilbert family has been cultivating vines in the village of Cramant in Champagne’s Côte des Blancs sub-region since at least the mid-1700s. The Côte des Blancs, as the name suggests, is predominantly planted to Chardonnay (approximately 98%), but its historical name, Côte Blanche, is also telling. It is a roughly 12-mile stretch of slope running northeast to southwest from Avize in the north and Vertus in the south, prized for its exposed bedrock of pure white Cretaceous chalk. The villages of the Côte can be grouped geographically from north to south, based upon the style of wine they produce. Generally, the villages of the north, where the Lilberts are based, like Avize, Chouilly and Cramant, have some clay in their soils, which tends to yield wines with riper notes of citrus and brown spices. Whereas the southern villages of Oger and Les Mesnil-sur-Oger tend to be purely chalk, yielding wines
with an intense minerality. The Lilberts own a scant 8.6 acres of vines divided between 15 parcels in the grand cru villages of Oiry (10%), Chouilly (30%) and Cramant (60%). Everything is done by hand at this family-owned and family-run estate. Their total production is less than 2,500 cases. Today’s wine, Perle, is the house’s rarest and most sought-after wine and it taps out at under 500 cases made each year.
Perle is a special selection of the oldest vines from all of their parcels, most of which were planted in 1936. The dosage is kept low (three to four grams per liter), and it is bottled at lower pressure than most Champagnes (four bars of pressure, rather than six), yielding an expressive wine that speaks of its place. It is just the thing to pour for your family to make them feel cherished. Be sure to steal a generous pour for yourself and take a break from your dinner prep to savor it.
This holiday season, I recommend pairing it with gougères, savory choux pastries mixed with salty cheese. They freeze well and are just the thing for entertaining. The recipe hails from The Wine Table by Vickie Reh, chef, sommelier, former colleague and friend. The book is equal parts travelogue, cookbook and wine book. Give it a read!
Other recommendations include: Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Cuis 1er Cru NV ($65), Pierre Péters Grand Cru "Cuvée de Reserve" NV ($70) and Pierre Péters Grand Cru "Réserve Oubliée" ($130).
Makes roughly four dozen small bites
• 1 cup water
• 3 oz (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
• 1 tsp kosher salt
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 4-5 large eggs + 1 egg beaten for egg wash
• 1 cup very finely shredded Gruyère cheese + ½ cup for garnish
1. Heat the water, butter and salt in a fourquart sauce pan over high heat until the butter melts and the water boils. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the flour. Using a wooden kitchen spoon, stir until
no lumps remain. You may have to mash some down. Then, return the pan to medium heat while stirring for three to four minutes until a thin film begins to form on the bottom of the pan. This film is crucial, as it ensures a dry dough. Transfer the dough to a large kitchen bowl and stir for another minute or so, allowing the dough to cool slightly.
2. Beat the eggs to combine the yolks and whites. Add the beaten eggs to the dough in a quantity approximating one egg at a time, then beat until incorporated before adding the next egg portion. This may be slow going at first. The dough should be roughly the consistency of rich mashed potatoes in the end, plopping back into the bowl when lifted by a spoon. Mix the cup of finely-shredded Gruyère into the dough at this time.
3. Brush each gougère with the egg wash and sprinkle each one with the reserved Gruyère. Bake in a 425-degree oven, preferably on convection, until golden brown, for about 18 to 22 minutes. You should rotate the baking sheets twice during baking. Depending on the size of your baking sheets, you may need to cook them in batches. The dough can be held at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap during this process (up to two hours).
4. Once golden brown, remove the gougères from the oven and use a metal spatula to place them on a cooling rack. Pierce the side of each one with a pairing knife to allow steam to escape. Serve them warm or at room temperature. After they cool, they may be frozen. To reheat, bake them in a 350-degree oven for less than 10 minutes. Do the same to re-crisp if serving the next day, even if not frozen.
Caption to accompany the above image. What ist his? Where is it? An expalnation would really help us to engage our readers! :)
Scan here to read last month's Perfect Pairings, featuring Lionel Faury's Condrieu of France's Rhône Valley and a Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Sage Recipe!
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ALX Community recently celebrated its third anniversary on the Old Town waterfront. Members were invited to enjoy food, beer, music and fall activities. The evening also served as a kickoff event for a Thanksgiving food drive for the City of Alexandria's Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Centers. All are encouraged to make donations at ALX Community - Waterfront (201 N. Union St., Alexandria) now through November 21.
To learn more, visit www.alxcommunity.com
The Arlington and Alexandria Chambers of Commerce recently joined forces to host a Breakfast Connection at Crystal City Sports Pub. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in roundtable power networking, exchange business cards, develop new prospects and share a 60 second pitch with each table. To learn more about upcoming events, visit www.arlingtonchamber.org AND www.thechamberalx.com.
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