the march cocktail hour: a pittsburgh getaway, endless hiking, and the march for our lives

Saturday, March 31: Welcome to our March cocktail hour! It’s still a bit too chilly and damp to sit on our screened porch, so we’ll stay dry and warm inside. I can offer you a Jalapeno Margarita, one of my favorite drinks since I discovered it several years ago at Lolita in Philadelphia, or a Pinot Noir or Pilsner Urquell. I know it’s still officially Lent, so for those of you so inclined, I can also offer sodas or seltzer water of various flavors. Tomorrow, April 1, we can celebrate the strange intermingling of two oddly mismatched holidays: April Fool’s Day and Easter.

Spring is here, but not without its whims.  We had snow last week, which accumulated and then vanished within two days; this week we’re under drizzle, although temperatures are inching upwards.

I hope March has been good to you so far. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies, binge-watched any television series? Have you learned anything new, taken any classes or just kept up with the news? Have you marched or otherwise participated in political protests?   Have you been planning your adventures for the year? Have you had any early spring getaways? Have you sung along with any new songs? Have you dreamed any dreams? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you undertaken any new exercise routines?

We went to Pittsburgh for a three-day weekend on March 2-4.  Here, we visited the University of Pittsburgh, numerous memorials to the titans of American industry, a magnificent botanical garden and conservatory, the merging of the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers – forming the Ohio River at Pittsburgh’s point – and some offbeat museums.  I’ll eventually write more about our trip on my new blog:             ~ wander.essence ~

We went with our friends Karen and Michael to the Ice House Café where I had only two, I emphasize, TWO dirty martinis, and felt pretty darn loopy!

Michael, Karen, Mike and me 🙂

Not feeling so great the following day, I accompanied the American Pilgrims on the Camino for a 10-mile walk starting from Arlington National Cemetery, walking past the Martin Luther King Memorial, shown below, up the National Mall and around the back of the U.S. Capitol, and then back down the Mall again to the Lincoln Memorial.  Someone from the Philadelphia chapter read parts of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech aloud to the group in front of the Lincoln Memorial, bringing tears to our eyes. Then we walked back to Virginia.

Martin Luther King Memorial

I honestly don’t know how I’m going to walk 12 miles/day carrying 15 lbs. in a backpack, day after day, on the Camino.  I was wiped out after this walk, and I only carried 5 lb.  Granted, it was all on pavement, which is hard on the joints and feet!

On that same day, March 10, my oldest son turned 27, but we only got to talk to him by phone since he now lives in Colorado.  He just got a new job as an apprentice butcher, something he’s been wanting to do for some time.  This desire took me by surprise, as he was vegan for a long time!

On March 17, I went on a 7.5 mile hike with the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group at the Jug Bay Wetlands Natural Area at Patuxent River Park in Maryland. It was enjoyable, despite being a cold and dreary day. Near the American Indian Village, we came to a parking area filled with horse trailers and folks trotting around on their horses.  They told our group they are a group of friends who ride their horses together regularly.

Overall, I walked 103 miles this month, more than the 68 miles I walked in February.  I’ve now put 95 miles on my Keen Targhee boots and 44 miles on my Merrill Trail Runners. I’ve pretty much decided I’ll walk in the Keens on the Camino.  I’ve also started increasing weight I carry in my backpack, alternating between 5-8 pounds twice a week.  The backpack will be the worst part about the Camino, as the walking itself doesn’t bother me, except for some right knee pain.

We saw the movie The Leisure Seeker about an older couple, played by Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, one of whom suffers from dementia.  They take their old RV – dubbed “The Leisure Seeker” – for a road trip to Key West to visit Hemingway’s house.  It was funny and sad at the same time, but I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorite movies.

We had a snowstorm on Wednesday, March 21, with a couple of inches of accumulation, but it melted over the next couple of days.

Just after the snow melted, we went on Saturday, March 24 to the March for Our Lives, organized by the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students were gunned down by an unhinged ex-student.

The March for Our Lives mission statement includes:

Specifically, we are working towards…

  1. Universal, comprehensive background checks
  2. Bringing the ATF into the 21st century with a digitized, searchable database
  3. Funds for the Center for Disease Control to research the gun violence epidemic in America
  4. High-capacity magazine ban
  5. Assault weapons ban

The March was exciting and the speeches by the students extraordinarily moving and inspiring.  I felt choked up the whole time I was there; I was impressed by the people, young and old and of every ethnicity, who came out in large numbers. Students gave rousing speeches, including Martin Luther King’s granddaughter, 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, which we were there to hear.  Unfortunately, we missed the speech by Emma Gonzalez.  According to USA Today, “About 200,000 people attended the rally, according to Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc., a Virginia-based company that calculates crowd size.” Marches were held all over the country as well.

Here are some photos of the day:

After the march, Mike and I stopped in at Laredo DC Mexican Restaurant, where we enjoyed some small plates and margaritas, making our day, in effect, a March for the Margarita. 🙂

The last Monday in March, I drove down to Richmond to visit my daughter, and we enjoyed a fun dinner together at Little Nickel, a cute new restaurant with a touch of tiki in Southside Richmond.  You can get a feel for it in an article by Richmond Magazine: “Uncommon Cents at 4702 Forest Hill.”  I found the decor and the atmosphere delightful, along with my daughter’s company.

The next day, we went shopping, as we always do, and then enjoyed a delicious meal at Garnett’s on Park.

I’ve been reading away, and have finished this month:

From this collection of books, I most loved Eventide, about the fictional town of Holt, Colorado (I love Haruf’s writing and his characters), and Katherine Anne Porter’s stories, which took me back to the early 20th century: to Mexico, Texas, Kentucky and Berlin. It was also fun to read about a couple’s Camino in In Movement There is Peace, which gave me a good feel for what to expect when I walk the Camino. I have now finished 23 books out of my 45-book goal for the year.

The way we deal with our nauseating political news these days is by watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In his opening monologue each night, Colbert relentlessly makes fun of our so-called President, and he is so on-target and hilarious that we can feel a bit of peace knowing that laughter might be the only thing to save us from the daily shock of it all. I love Colbert in general, and find him a fantastic comedian.  One night he sang a song, “Sleep Through the Static,” with Jack Johnson, where he revealed another charming side of himself.  I loved this!!

One more month until I leave for my Four Corners Road Trip.  You’ll be able to read about it on my new blog ~ wander.essence ~ as I prepare for and embark on the adventure.

I can’t wait to read about your March.  I hope it was a good one. 🙂

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an evening with the crowds at the united states botanic garden

Saturday, December 28:  This afternoon we head downtown to the United States Botanic Garden.  Beside the Conservatory is a garden called Bartholdi Park, where we catch some interesting views of both the conservatory and the U.S. Capitol, along with some berries, dried flowers and a famous fountain.  Bartholdi Park is named for French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty.  He was actually working on the Statue of Liberty at the same time he was creating this fountain, originally called the “Fountain of Light and Water.”  The fountain was completely restored and modernized in 2011 as part of an ongoing effort at the U.S. Botanic Garden to demonstrate the best practices in gardening, energy efficiency, and effective use of natural resources.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

We’re surprised to find a long line to get into the Conservatory.  Luckily, we don’t just mindlessly get in the line.  I walk up to the front entrance to scope out the situation and find the line is for the model train exhibit.  We don’t care about the model trains, so we bypass the line and head directly into the conservatory, where there is no escape from the hordes of people.  Just inside the main entrance is the Garden Court which features replicas of the reflecting pools and important Washington buildings, including the Capitol, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Castle and the White House.

We head further back into the Conservatory to the World Deserts, filled with succulents, grasses, shrubs and other flowering plants.

We wander, sometimes stuck at a dead standstill because of the crowds. In the Garden Primeval, we find a reconstructed Jurassic landscape of ferns and other ancient plant groups that have survived for 150 million years.

In the Orchids area, we find a beautiful display of mythic plants. The Botanic Garden’s orchid collection numbers about 5,000 specimens, with hundreds on display at any given time.  Sadly, I can’t take many good pictures because the of the waning light.

We stroll through the Jungle, a tropical rainforest that overtakes an abandoned plantation. The Conservatory dome rises to 93 feet and has a mezzanine level from which to view the jungle canopy.  Adam decides not to go up on the metal catwalk because he did a case study in an engineering class where a metal catwalk collapsed, and he feels there are too many people on it.  Mike, Alex and I go up despite Adam’s warnings.  It’s really only crowded in one area; once we bypass the crowd, it’s much more sparsely populated. Lucky for us, we survive the dangers.

Finally, we head outdoors to take a walk past the U.S. Capitol.  It isn’t often I see it in blue light.  A big Christmas tree is twinkling a rainbow of colors on the lawn and crowds of people are milling about everywhere.  I guess because the temperature is a rare 54 degrees today, people have decided to come outdoors in droves.

Alex is doing his normal hand stands everywhere, and a woman walking beside us says to him: “Stop showing off!” She tells of her Danish grandfather who could do hand stands up the stairs in his younger years; he continued doing hand stands until he was 90. He was such a character that he used to lie on his balcony at his nursing home in the nude because he said he “needed the sun.” He lived to 96. I think Alex is hoping to be doing hand stands until he’s 90. 🙂

We head to a small dive of a bar, called Space Bar, in Falls Church that’s known for “two dozen taps + infinite grilled cheese.” Baffled, I look at the beer menu and don’t have a clue what to order.  I usually drink Bud Light Lime, which some people would argue isn’t beer at all.  We have to order at the bar, so Mike goes up and tells them, “My wife is looking for a girly beer that is very light, something along the lines of Bud Light Lime.”  The bartender recommends a Sly Fox Royal Weisseale, which I would describe as similar to a Blue Moon (which I also like).  Beeradvocate describes it as having “flavors of banana and cloves with an often dry and tart edge, some spiciness, bubblegum or notes of apples. Little hop bitterness, and a moderate level of alcohol. Poured into a traditional Weizen glass, the Hefeweizen can be one sexy looking beer.” Wowzer!

The boys are now both of legal drinking age, so they both order Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stouts. According to Beeradvocate: Russian Imperial Stout, this is the “king of stouts, inspired by brewers back in the 1800’s to win over the Russian Czar.”  It boasts “high alcohol by volumes and plenty of malt character… with huge roasted, chocolate and burnt malt flavours.”

Adam takes a drink of his Yeti and makes a contorted face. I sip it as well; I want to immediately spit it out.  Adam says, “That tastes like Star Wars.  I mean it tastes like literally eating a DVD of Star Wars.”  I can’t help but laugh out loud, because it’s so off the wall, but so true.

The menu at Space Bar is all grilled cheese sandwiches, as they say, of infinite variety.  I enjoy every bite of my grilled Portobello & red onion and garlicky spinach with Havarti and cheddar on rye.  I’m glad it’s about time for New Year’s Resolutions, because I need to change my bad eating habits and try to get in shape in the coming year. 🙂

the national mall: the smithsonian castle, the enid a. haupt garden, & the national carousel

Saturday, December 7:  The Enid A. Haupt Garden is a 4.2 acre garden in front of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C.  Created in 1987, the design of its three distinct gardens reflects the cultural and aesthetic influences celebrated in the Smithsonian Castle and the surrounding museums.

entrance to the enid a. haupt garden
entrance to the enid a. haupt garden
enid a haupt garden and the smithsonian castle
enid a haupt garden and the smithsonian castle
the enid a. haupt garden
the enid a. haupt garden
the enid a. haupt garden
the enid a. haupt garden

The Fountain Garden is modeled after the Alhambra, the 14th century Moorish palace and fortress in Spain (andalucía: granada’s alhambra).  It sits beside the National Museum of African Art.

the fountain garden
the fountain garden
sculpture in the fountain garden
sculpture in the fountain garden

The Moongate Garden, beside the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, gets its design inspiration from the Temple of Heaven, a 15th century religious complex in China (**the journey, “moon fresh” jerry, the temple of heaven & an acrobatic extravaganza).

the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
view of the Castle from the Moongate Garden
view of the Castle from the Moongate Garden

The Andrew Jackson Downing Urn was designed in honor of Andrew Jackson Downing, who in 1850 transformed the Mall into the nation’s first landscaped public park using informal, romantic arrangements of circular carriage drives and plantings of rare American trees.  Downing’s design endured until 1934, when the Mall was restored to Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan.  Downing, the father of American landscape architecture, designed the White House and Capitol grounds.

Andrew Jackson Downing Urn
Andrew Jackson Downing Urn
Andrew Jackson Downing Urn
Andrew Jackson Downing Urn
Andrew Jackson Downing Urn
Andrew Jackson Downing Urn
parting shots of the smithsonian castle
parting shots of the smithsonian castle

Near the Smithsonian Castle is the Carousel on the National Mall.  The Carousel on the Mall was built by the Allen Herschell Company in 1947.  It’s known as a traveling machine.  The horses are four abreast, all jumping.  The Sea Dragon, added later, is the most popular seat on the carousel.   It is the only operating carousel in Washington, D.C.

the Sea Dragon on the Carousel on the National Mall
the Sea Dragon on the Carousel on the National Mall
the national carousel
the carousel on the national mall
the carousel
the carousel

Finally, in the middle of the National Mall, I can see the Washington Monument at one end and the Capitol at the other.  The Washington Monument’s 500 tons of scaffolding is now coming down, little by little.  The scaffolding enabled workers to perform $15 million in earthquake damage repairs, beginning early this year. The monument will reopen in spring 2014.

the Washington Monument, with the scaffolding half removed
the Washington Monument, with the scaffolding half removed
the U.S. Capitol
the U.S. Capitol

Stay tuned for further episodes of Washington’s sights as I eventually carve out time to revisit them all. 🙂

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the united states capitol

Sunday, August 25: Since I returned home to the USA at the end of July after three years living abroad, I’ve been posing as a tourist in my own country.  I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C. area for most of the last 25 years, and though I don’t live in the city itself, I live in one of the largest of the metropolitan area suburbs:  Fairfax County, Virginia.  The monuments in Washington seem commonplace to me since I’ve seen them so many times.  In fact they seem so commonplace that I’ve hardly ever bothered to photograph them.  Isn’t it funny how sometimes you don’t even notice the things in your own backyard?

Today I venture into Washington on a Sunday morning in search of photos for the Instagram Weekend Hashtag Project: The project is called Partwatching and the goal is to take creative photos of people interacting with art.  I’m heading for the National Gallery of Art, where I hope to surreptitiously capture people interacting with art.   However, before going there, I decide I’ll talk a little stroll around the United States Capitol, the iconic symbol of Washington.  I’ve taken the tour of the interior before, but today I just walk around the grounds out front.

The United States Capitol, according to The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, is a symbol of the American people and their government, the meeting place of the nation’s legislature. It is built in neo-classical style with a white exterior.  Construction of the U.S. Capitol began in 1793. In November 1800, the U.S. Congress met in the first completed portion, the north wing. In the 1850s, major extensions to the North and South ends of the Capitol were authorized because of the westward expansion of our nation and the resultant growth of Congress. Since that time, the U.S. Capitol and its stately dome have become international symbols of our representative democracy.

the U.S. Capitol
the U.S. Capitol

Though it has never been the geographic center of the federal district, the Capitol is the origin by which the quadrants of the District are divided and the city was planned (Wikipedia: United States Capitol).

The U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol

The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is a presidential memorial at the base of Capitol Hill, honoring American Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. The sculpture of Grant on horseback faces west toward the Lincoln Memorial, which honors Grant’s wartime president, Abraham Lincoln; together, the Grant and Lincoln memorials define the eastern and western boundaries of the National Mall.

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The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial

A striking feature of the central statue is Grant’s calm attitude amidst the raging fighting going on around him. This is not surprising because Grant was known for his calmness and coolheadedness during battle. In sharp contrast to Grant are the sculpture groups on either side, Cavalry Charge and Artillery (Wikipedia: Ulysses S. Grant Memorial).

Statue in front of the U.S. Capitol
Cavalry Charge sculpture in front of the U.S. Capitol
Statue in front of the U.S. Capitol
Cavalry Charge in front of the U.S. Capitol
Statue in front of the U.S. Capitol
Artillery Sculpture in front of the U.S. Capitol

Standing on the grounds of the Capitol and looking West, I can see the National Mall stretching before me, with the Washington Monument, covered in scaffolding, standing between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.

The Mall and the Washington Monument
The Mall and the Washington Monument
the Mall and the Washington Monument
the Mall and the Washington Monument

I hop into a small traffic circle with a garden and a statue, behind which looms the dome of the Capitol.

the U.S. Capitol
the U.S. Capitol
the U.S. Capitol
the U.S. Capitol

I love the view below of the National Mall and the Washington Monument.  The Monument is like an alien object now; it’s covered in black scaffolding while it undergoes repairs due to structural damage from the 2011 earthquake.  My first reaction when I saw it upon my return was the same irritation I felt when I went to Angkor Wat and found its front facade covered in scaffolding and green netting.  But… now that I’ve gotten used to it, I think I like it!  Maybe they should keep it like this forever. 🙂

the Mall and the Washington Monument
the Mall and the Washington Monument
The U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol
the U.S. Capitol
the U.S. Capitol
steps up the U.S. Capitol
steps up the U.S. Capitol

I then head to the National Art Gallery, in search of people interacting with art.