A walk around Arlington

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Though I’ve visited Arlington National Cemetery countless times since I was a kid, it’s a place that can’t fail to move you. From the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns to the even rows of tombstones stretching into the horizon, Arlington makes an impression on the psyche. Starkly, clearly, it symbolizes sacrifice.

But it’s not a depressing place. A cold place. More than 4 million people visit Arlington annually, and the famous cemetery? Well, it’s always busy. Children toddle along the pathways, clutching the hands of sweaty parents; tourists flock around statues, photographing stones and tree-lined paths. Eighth-graders in matching T-shirts board trams with their “I ❤ D.C." bags, shushed by harried chaperones.

And the views! As I'm often there with our photo tours, who can overlook the views? Climbing to Arlington House, once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the city of Washington stretches out spectacularly. City architect Pierre L’Enfant is buried there on the hill overlooking his vision. Winding up the paths away from the Eternal Flame still burning for President Kennedy, you may find yourself . . . alone.

But not really alone.

For a large stretch of land serving as the final resting place for some of our nation’s brave women and men, it’s really a place that celebrates life. I feel humbled, small, when visiting . . . but not sad, somehow. Reflective, maybe? Pensive?

And tired, too. It’s huge.

I’ll never see it all.

But we’ll keep trying.


High tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

High tea tiers


One of my only regrets about our 2011 trip to the UK was my inability to enjoy afternoon tea in the countryside. The signage, the sweets, the beverages at the tea rooms — oh, how they taunted me. Because we were with a tour (and on a schedule), I couldn’t pause to sip Earl Grey or nibble a scone. No how, no way.

The most painful place I had to leave — under complete duress — was in Kilkenny, Ireland, where they were serving a fantastic-looking spread at 4 p.m. I remember watching the minutes tick down as we drove away on our big bus, knowing I’d never be there again.

I’m a wee bit dramatic, I know. But there’s plenty of truth there.

The Jane Austen lover in me is just so enamored with the idea of high tea — and knowing how much I love beverages (and, you know, eating), I recently jumped at the chance to join my mother-in-law for the experience at the lovely Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The Victorian Drawing Room proved the perfect spot for our lunch and pinkies-out sipping.


Prince of Wales

Menu

Table and chair

Close tea


The days I have something decidedly fancy to do are, of course, when my hair simply will not cooperate . . . and my tender strands? Not a fan of Niagara water, friends. Not at all. I tried to gussy myself up for our reservation and act like the sophisticated traveler I desperately longed to be, but the reality is . . . well, I’m just a photo-snapping, frizzy-haired American tourist who likes sweets.

Lots of sweets.

The spread did not disappoint: sandwiches with cucumber, salmon, turkey and cranberry; savory scones studded with fruit; individual lemon meringue pies; tiny cupcakes; raspberry bars; shortbread so tender it actually melted in our mouths. We both went light at breakfast knowing this 12 p.m. date awaited us, and I was still stuffed — like really, really full — for the rest of the day.

We wound up requesting a box to take at least half of these treasures back to our hotel. I would pay a million dollars for one of those cookies right now.


Tea spread

Sweets

Lemon meringue pie


Isn’t that the way with vacation? You dine out constantly, have all these awesome meals, and then you just . . . get tired of it. Take it for granted. After a week away, I long for a simple, light and home-cooked meal — especially these days. But a week or two later, visions of scones start dancing in my head . . .

And they are so dancing right now.


Scones


The food was delicious, the service impeccable, the location stunning . . . but the company was the best! Because my parents-in-law live two states away, we don’t see each other as often as we would like — and this weekend away was wonderful for catching up with them and getting some time to chat with my mother-in-law, especially. An avid tea drinker, Alex loved the experience, too — and we both adored having our own pots brewing while we enjoyed our time there.

Should you find yourself in Niagara-on-the-Lake, tea in the Victorian Drawing Room is served daily from noon to 6 p.m. with a variety of options to suit your tastes.

It was really fun to feel sophisticated . . . if only for an afternoon. 😉


On the edge

American Falls and bridge


For someone so afraid of heights, you wouldn’t take me for a crazy waterfall fanatic.

But something about cascading water — plummeting, falling, twirling, twisting — always holds me captive. And of all the cataracts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing? Well, Niagara Falls stands alone. (Until I see the Devil’s Throat, anyway.)

My first visit was in 2004 on a family trip with my sister and parents; we hit Buffalo, Toronto and surrounding areas one muggy week in July. I had my first “legal” beer at a bar on the Canadian side of the falls, my dad teaching me how to tip the bartender as I tried not to gag on the light-colored brew. (Pretty sure it was Labatt Blue. Kind of a thing up north.)

My husband grew up in New York south of the famous sight, so they’re a wee bit “old hat” to him. On my first-ever trip to meet his family, we detoured from Buffalo to see Niagara — my second visit ever, and my first on the American side. I was captivated, especially when we donned ponchos to see American Falls from below. We got soaked; we smiled and laughed; I felt far away and happy.


Niagara 2010

American Falls from below


When I think of Niagara, I think of looking over the precipice with Spencer. Wind in our eyes and our hair; mist gathering around my shoulders. I remember our romance and how exciting it was to visit when everything was bright and bold and Technicolor. We were with the kind, wonderful woman who has become my mother-in-law, and the very dear friend who would someday serve as the best man at our wedding. The sun was shining, the roar was pounding in my ears . . . and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so happy.

Because of the company, of course.

And because of the giant, exhilarating waterfalls.


Niagara II


When I stand at the edge of Niagara, I have that free-falling, free-floating feeling — like my feet have gone out from under me. My toes tingle. My stomach flips. It’s like I’ve been dropped into a barrel and that barrel is ricocheting toward the edge. Like I can’t be righted, as though I’ve lost my balance; everything is topsy-turvy and uncontrollable.

It’s a strange sensation, an odd stomach-gripping feeling; it’s like I really do need to grip the railing and hold on.

Just a little like love, perhaps.


Niagara I


Though I’m many years out of school, it’s spring break!
And I’m breaking to enjoy time up north with our family.
I’ll see you back here on April 21! Happy Easter, friends.


The magic of being out after dark

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Spence and I went out last night — after working all day.

To Annapolis, a 50-minute cruise from home.

On a Wednesday.

To a loud, awesome concert.

It was . . . weird. Very fun. I felt young and old all at once, being out “past my bedtime” a good drive from home, sipping a cherry blossom lager that tasted like joy and smiling at my husband.

My husband. It still catches me sometimes . . . in a great way.

At 28, I often feel like the oldest young person I know. It’s not unusual to find me collapsed on the couch by 9:30 p.m., snoozing in a very unladylike fashion with a home show playing softly in the background. Back in college, I was a night owl constantly burning the midnight oil — because I had to. Commuting to school with a full course load and working part-time at the bookstore until far after dark, I got used to a rigorous schedule and running on fumes.

But things have changed. I’ve gotten more comfortable, perhaps a little lazier. I work full-time and “clock out” at 5 p.m., when we spend our evenings doing this and that. Without the chaos of year-long wedding planning times two, I find myself with so much free time now.

I love it, really. And it also makes early nighttime snoozes possible . . . but through this cold, cold winter, I’ve felt a little restless.

That’s why Wednesday night felt good — great, even. Live music. Good company. Chatting with strangers. Being out. After being encrusted with snow and ice for so long, even in the cold night air? It made me feel alive.

I remembered the early days when Spencer and I went to Annapolis just a month after we met, walking around the city for his birthday and still getting to know each other. He actually bought me a copy of Nicole Atkins’ album — the woman we saw perform last night — at a Borders that was still in business then. We listened to it the whole way home, the words pouring warm through our opened windows.

Four years later, I know all those songs by heart.


Remembering some (warmer) times

Outer Banks


This is never-ending winter is enough to make anyone stir-crazy. Just when I thought we were out of the doldrums and heading into cherry blossom season, one of my most favorite times of year, I got wind that we were looking at more snow on Monday. It’s currently 18 degrees.

Whut?

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I’ve been flipping through some of my favorite vacation photos in recent years. Though we tend to favor mountainous areas over beachy scenes, we have spent our fair share of time in the sand at my family’s annual Outer Banks vacations. We baked outside Westminster Abbey during our April 2011 trip to England, and also soaked up the sunshine at a mission in San Juan Bautista in California.

Let’s daydream on a chilly Friday, shall we?

And perhaps brighter days will be here soon.


Sunset

Battery Park

Redwoods

Grasmere

San Francisco

English countryside

San Juan Bautista


P.S. Though our plans aren’t completely finalized yet, we will be returning to several of these places this summer. Can you guess which ones?


Where Washington was born

Popes Creek


Sometimes I like my weekends with a dash of history — and this was one of them.

As soon as I got wind that we’d see temperatures climbing past the 60-degree mark on Saturday, I began pestering Spencer to make plans. I wanted to go somewhere different! New! Exciting! Somewhere I could take pictures! I mean, aside from my Twosday shoots, I’ve barely held my camera since Christmas.

I turned to the trusty Internet, of course, and found the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Colonial Beach, Va. It’s a skip across the bridge for us, so we shed our thick outer layers to cruise across the Potomac River for a look.

Run by the National Park Service, George Washington was born on this property in 1732 — exactly 282 years before our visit. That’s right, folks: we somehow timed our trip with George’s birthday, which was February 22! (Thanks, Jess, for pointing that out!) Color me downright impressed, right?

I mean . . . I totally planned it that way.


Monument 1


We knew we were in for a relaxing visit as we pulled into the parking lot with only a handful of other vehicles in sight. No crowds. After chatting with a friendly park ranger, we watched a short video about Washington’s life here along Popes Creek — he lived on the plantation until age 3 — and then set out to do some exploring on our own.


Bench

Couple


There’s nothing like seating yourself on a bench to feel warm sun on your face after the winter thaw. My icy heart opened at the sight of blue water and bluer sky, peering at the buds on trees to see if anything was beginning to open. Nothing yet, but all in good time.

The estate was quiet, tranquil, with only one other family walking around. We had the place to ourselves, a fact pointed out by the kindly park ranger — and I was impressed by their “this place is yours, too” attitude. They were very friendly, extremely welcoming. It felt good.

Though the original home where Washington was born burnt down in a Christmas Day fire back in 1779, the house’s foundation is now marked by oyster shells near the memorial house constructed in a similar style in 1931. We didn’t go inside, preferring to linger among the trees and herb garden, but it boasts a kitchen house and some furnishings authentic to the time.


Placard

Memorial House

Herb garden

Sun dial


The site’s major attraction is its expansive views along Popes Creek, which empties into the Potomac. Our park ranger told us the plan is to keep the plantation looking much the way it would have back in the 1700s, living farm and all. There were, in fact, many animals on the property . . . including a hog that was so scared of us, he squealed and hid until we’d left the path near his pen.

I felt kind of bad about that.

The cattle and horses couldn’t have cared less. It was lunchtime.


Horse

Sheep through fence

Cattle

Farm


After we’d finished disturbing the local wildlife, we motored on to do some antique shopping and have lunch in downtown Colonial Beach, itself a beautiful waterfront town. We talked about presidents and history and life and everything in between, and it was pretty great.

Man, I love a good random day trip. You never know what you’ll stumble upon — or whose birthday you’ll inadvertently celebrate. Happy 282nd, George!

Heck yeah, America!


Bargains and a barn

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Last weekend was beautiful. Really beautiful. Not like winter at all here in Maryland, with abundant sunshine and temperatures in the 50s and a glorious hunt of spring to come. (In six more weeks, apparently.)

When we ran out Sunday to complete a Craigslist transaction (always nerve-wracking, but we meet folks in very public locations — and this man turned out not to be a serial killer, thankfully), Spencer and I swung into a local barn renovated to hold . . . well, to hold junk. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s a combination of a thrift store, salvage shop and last-resort home for stuff no one else wants.

My husband can’t get enough of it.

Spencer leaves no box unturned, no screw unscrewed. A yard sale devotee and serious handyman, Spence loves the thrill of the hunt — and in the dead of winter with no Saturday morning sales in sight, we tend to pop into places like the Bargain Barn more often.

I used to dread going into places like that . . . out of pure snobbery, I guess. I just didn’t “get” the allure of pawing through others’ discarded ephemera, seeking this or that at a discount. I never found anything. I never really looked.

But Spencer has introduced me to the wide world of treasure-hunting. We all know the saying, right? One man’s trash . . . ? I didn’t believe it until recently, but I’m starting to see the light. I haven’t found anything life-altering, but I have found a skein of hard-to-find Christmas yarn (woo!), some books, nice artwork. We came across some Ethan Allen nightstands Spencer lovingly refinished years back for our bedroom, plus an assortment of tools he wanted at a steep discount.

The Bargain Barn isn’t quite the haven of disaster I once fashioned it, and I really do enjoy the feeling of giving used items a new home — and second chance. Though I’m not the craftiest of folks, I’ve been spending lots of time hovering around home blogs and see the value in repurposing, freshening up something old again.

Giving new life to things as we build our new life.

And who knows what we’ll find next time?


Sidenote: My normal Twosday/Wordless Wednesday posts should resume in coming weeks. I wasn’t feeling well some of the weekend and without my camera, so inspiration has been a little lacking. But I’m hoping to pull myself together here shortly!