Monday, April 28, 2014

A Spectacular Spring Day in the DMV with Mom

After some effort, I've finally gotten the photos off my old camera (only because my newer and better one has gone missing - ack!) and I can write about the Saturday my mom visited.

The weather was absolutely fantastic, and we took full advantage of it. In the morning we drove to River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia. This lovely property on the Potomac River has a long history, but most interestingly was once owned by George Washington and his descendants. Now it is home to the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society, and fittingly has lovely gardens and flowers. We were there in an attempt to find cherry blossoms without needing to shlep into downtown DC along with a trillion tourists. Unfortunately these cherry trees were not yet blooming, however we did enjoy strolling around the grounds.
Yayyy, lots of happy spring daffodils!
A view in the meadow
Yep, the sky was gloriously blue and made everything look great.
Awesome birdhouse apartment complex
I adore hyacinths!
I'd never seen these type of flowers, but found them very pretty.
More daffodils!
Mom and I then headed to the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, sipped some iced tea in a cafe, stopped in my favorite gluten-free bakery, The Happy Tart, and browsed in a local artisans' store that was unfortunately about to permanently close its doors. Among other items, I spotted Latvian-American photographer's Inga Vitols' cards. Then we decided it was time for lunch, and we drove to nearby Rustico Restaurant for some gluten-free pizza. Mom also enjoyed tastes of a couple of local beers. By then we needed a break, so we went home for an afternoon rest.

Later in the evening we decided to check out what was in bloom at Brookside Gardens, which is the Montgomery County park system's botanical garden. I've been there a number of times, but never in early spring. We loved the huge number of daffodils hiding in the woods, as well as the several cherry trees gracing pond next to the Japanese tea house. Due to current construction, we were unable to walk around the entire pond, but we truly enjoyed ambling through this wonderful park and garden.
Trifecta! Two cherry trees and daffodils!
Pink weeping cherry tree, Brookside Gardens.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter Weekend: Markets, Friends and Hiking...and More Friends

My Easter weekend was rather non-traditional, but it provided plenty of fun and enjoyment. On Saturday a friend and I went to two farmers' markets: at one we bought plenty of eggs (farm fresh!), and at the other we visited a friend's coffee stand (delicious!). In the afternoon I baked muffins, then visited a friend and her two-week old baby (adorable!). Later two friends and I met for dinner (arctic char - fantastic!) to rather belatedly celebrate my birthday.

On Easter Sunday I decided that Jesus would definitely want me to be healthy, so I attended my regular yoga class, and in the afternoon joined friends for a hike at Maryland's Gambrill State Park, and later even enjoyed a short stroll near Seneca Creek. It was my first visit to Gambrill, and I was impressed by the large rock formations and the views into the valleys surrounding the mountains. (Thanks to B. for photos!)
Rocks in Gambrill State Park
Sunscreen season has certainly begun - I was in a rush on Sunday, and had forgotten to apply any. Luckily I spent only a bit of time in the direct sun, but even on Monday a short break outside the office meant I could feel the sun warming my fair Baltic skin a tad too much. Pollen is also here full force, but happily my seasonal allergies have been barely noticeable since I stopped eating gluten and cut back on dairy a couple of years ago.
Redbuds near Seneca Creek
On Easter Monday I dragged myself back to work (not having the luxury of any national holidays around Easter the way many European countries do), and then in the evening drove to singing. We always rehearse in the home of one family, and when I walked in, I was surprised to see a couple of visitors from Latvia sitting at the dining room table. One of the visitors sang with us for several years while he lived in the DC area for work. It was wonderful to see them again, and we relished a great evening of singing and catching up. Our time together, however, was marred to a certain degree by discussions concerning Russia's recent land-grab in Crimea, the continued Russian activities in Ukraine, and what Putin's future intentions might be. It is not an understatement to say that quite a few Latvians - both in Latvia and abroad - are afraid of what the future might hold.

Thus, I leave you with this video of Latvians celebrating a traditional (i.e. pagan/pre-Christian) Easter in Latvia last year. Watch through or skip ahead to about minute 2:00 to hear a folksong sung by my group. For the life of me I couldn't get the video to imbed into the blog, but the link is here!

The song is called "Rīgā iešu es, māmiņa" (translated: I will go to Riga, mother). In today's political climate, the last verses are particularly appropriate:
Vij’, Dieviņi, zelta viju
Visgarām jūras malu.
Lai nenāca sveša salna
Šai zemē ziedu rauti.
Rough translation: May God weave gold around the shore so that foreign frost cannot enter our land to freeze the flowers.

Friday, April 18, 2014

More Etsy Finds with Latvian Connections

Nik J Designs offers fabric pouches, bags, and buckets. Nikki is married to a Latvian-American, and she teamed up with an old camp classmate of mine to design a few of her own Latvian-inspired fabrics, which I just love - particularly the "zalktis" version.

Pouches in the "Saule" design
Pouches in the "Zalktis" design
The Manerovs sell a variety of jewelry, but I found this ring to be quite interesting.
Ring to show your love for Latvia's capital city, Riga
Although winter may finally be over, if you are looking to prepare for next year's cold spell and need to stock up on accessories, Latvians are known for their beautiful and colorful traditional hand-knit mittens. These lovely black and purple ones are from Kidd Creative.

If you'd like to upgrade to something more modern (and more expensive), then Anita's Homemade offers this stunning pair.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Take a Trip: Seafood and Strolling in Annapolis, Maryland

Super exciting news first: spring has finally sprung in D.C.! Just in time for mom's visit this past weekend, we had absolutely fantastic weather - the type of weather I'd been dreaming about all winter. I think mom was excited too, as she had just seen the last bit of snow melt in her yard a few days ago.

Although this is unlike me - to do things out of chronological order - I will write about our Sunday outing first, as I already have accessible photos of that. Saturday will need to wait!

I had contemplated and discussed several plans with mom. Possible options included getting up very early and heading into D.C. to see the cherry blossoms (nixed because we have both seen them before, because we didn't wish to wake up that early, and because of the unimaginable number of tourists who frequent that area when the weather is so beautiful), and driving out to a winery or two. The idea of eating seafood somewhere near the water was brought up, and I decided this was the best idea given the weather and the fact that fresh local seafood is abundant here. The restaurant I choose was Cantler's Riverside Inn, located on the waterfront in a residential area of Annapolis. Mom and I were fortunate that a friend of mine joined us, and even acted as driver and photographer. Thanks, B.!
Views from the deck at Cantler's - you can arrive by boat if you wish.
Maryland seafood restaurants are best known for crab feasts: your table is covered in heavy brown paper, you are given mallets and picks, then the waitress dumps a basket of steamed crabs (for which you've specified their size - the larger, the less hassle to pick and the more expensive) on the table, and you start cracking and picking your way to the meat. I, however, prefer to have my food served ready-made when eating out, so the restaurant we went to had a full menu of options: appetizers, sandwiches, and platters of steamed, raw, fried, broiled seafood. Each of us ordered a different sandwich, and unfortunately I think we were all slightly disappointed. Next time I'll take mom or another guest to Harris Crab House, which is located on Kent Island and requires a slightly further drive - across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge - but is well worth it.
Before lunch at Cantler's
After our lunch, we drove into downtown Annapolis to walk around for a while. It seemed that many other tourists and locals had the same idea, as the streets were packed with cars and the sidewalks with pedestrians. We popped into a few shops, admired the beautiful state capitol and other historic buildings, and stopped at an ice cream shop for dessert.

Latvian word for people ("cilveki") is on this sign promoting diversity!

State House
Did you know Annapolis was the U.S. capitol for several months?
After some quiet time at home, mom and I met some of my friend's at a restaurant in downtown Bethesda. We knew we could not stay out too late, as mom had a flight home early the next morning. On our way back to my place, we did drive through the Kenwood neighborhood, which is known for its cherry trees. The main streets are boulevards, and have four impressive rows of blooming trees running down each. It was a beautiful sight that mom witnessed for the first time (she's seen the cherry blossoms in downtown DC on several occasions), and that we relished.
Kenwood Neighborhood (Source: Bethesda Magazine)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fun Latvian Tidbits and Bonus Estonian Tidbits

An interesting recent news item featured the former President George W. Bush -- and his artistic talent (or lack thereof, depending on your opinion). In the last several years, he has taken up oil painting as a hobby, and has painted portraits of many world leaders with whom he had worked while President. Two dozen portraits are being shown in an exhibit titled "The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy" at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. One portrait on display is that of former President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
Look on the top row, far left.
Pretty good likeness, don't you think? (Source: Associated Press)
Latvia's neighbor to the north, Estonia, is often in the news due to its technological prowess. However, it is no slouch in the cultural arena, either. The photo below is testament to someone's wit and imagination.
Estonian Opera's parking lot gates
While on the topic of Estonia and culture, I must recommend an outstanding film which I recently re-watched. "The Singing Revolution" is the story of Estonia's struggle for independence from the Soviet Union (which was very similar to Latvia's fight). It is a moving and powerful movie, and it can be purchased or rented from Amazon (at least if you live in the United States). I saw it in a movie theatre in Washington, D.C. twice when it was released (the theatre kept having to extend the film's run due to its unforeseen popularity), but watching it a third time I was just as moved. It is a valuable film to watch, even if you are familiar with Baltic history.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Take a Trip: Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland

This past weekend provided a brief and approximate glimpse into what spring should look like in my area. It was mostly sunny both Saturday and Sunday, although a bit on the cool side - particularly on Saturday, when there was a rather chilly wind. However, given the overcast, gloomy and unseasonably cool weather we had experienced as of late, the weekend was a very welcome change.

On Saturday a friend and I took advantage of the dry weather, and decided to explore the Cascade Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) outside of Baltimore. Other than the fact that I have difficult time remembering how to spell and pronounce the awkward word "Patapsco," it was a lovely outing. Founded in 1907, PVSP is one of Maryland's oldest state park. It is also quite large - over 16,000 acres and 170 miles of hiking trails. 

The visitors' center was closed for construction, but luckily I had thought ahead to print out a couple of maps from the park's website. The park has a number of developed recreation areas, and I'd decided that we needed to visit the Avalon/Orange Grove area, as that's where the Cascade Trail is located and that seemed as the most interesting option. Almost immediately after hitting the trail we saw why the trail is named that way, as there is a gorgeous stream that flows through the forest and forms rapids, cascades and small waterfalls in numerous places.
In some spots crossing the stream was necessary - either by small bridge or by stepping stones. The trail ended on a street in a suburban subdivision, so we turned around and retraced our steps, but did add on a loop in the woods that did not have any water views, but did cover some nice hilly areas. The great thing about the loop was that there were no mountain bikers on it, and while we were there we didn't even run into any other hikers. Although the sign at the trailhead very clearly stated "Hiking Only"in large letters, there were numerous bikers on the main trail. The entire trail was very well marked with blue blazes.
After our hike we checked out one of the park's two swinging bridges that cross the Patapsco River. It swung a bit too much for my liking while we were in the middle of it! There was a paved trail along the other side of the river that looked to be great for running or biking.
Swinging bridge
By this time we'd worked up quite the appetite, so we found a picnic table on the river and had lunch. I am definitely interested in checking out more of PVSP, even if other areas have no waterfalls!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Latvian Links: Serious and Funny

In case you missed it, Latvia's former (and much loved) President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was interviewed by National Public Radio (NPR) earlier this week. The interview can be read about and listened to here.

I recently discovered a really fun Latvian website called MildasLaiks. This can only be appreciated by Latvian speakers, as it contains comics in Latvian. As explained on the website: " interneta komikss par to, kā Mildu atbrīvo no viņas tiešajiem pienākumiem pieminekļu sfērā un nu viņai beidzot ir iespēja pašai izbaudīt uz savas ādas, kā tad tas ir dzīvot, visu kontinentu un galaktiku lieliskākajā valstī – Latvijā." While many of the comics feature Milda, not all do, and the one through which I found the site is the map of Riga below. I don't even understand all of the inside jokes/references, but the ones I do get are pretty funny. Number 8, for example, is the airport which is labeled "Exit to Ireland." Number 15 denotes the huge restaurant and entertainment complex Lido, which is a favorite spot for tourists, thus earning it the explanation "foreign visitors' feed lot."
By Aivars Baranovs & Andrejs Klavins. Source here.
Hope you are enjoying your weekend (and some sunshine!) where ever you are!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Planning to Take Ten Trips

A view from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
Inspired by Bevchen at Confuzzledom - who in turn was inspire by Clare at Need Another Holiday - I have decided to be more mindful in planning travel for the rest of the year by planning at least one trip each month. This winter dragged on far too long, and I feel as if I've accomplished precious little in the first three months of the year. I definitely have pent up energy that needs to be used. I will not have any clear and fast rules; a daytrip will count as travel, as will returning to a spot I've already visited (family circumstances and events often dictate that). Last year I had the opportunity to visit quite a few new places (Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania; Greenville, South Carolina; Grand Teton National Park; Yellowstone National Park; Craters of the Moon National Monument and that corner of Idaho). I was also able to spend more time in Shenandoah National Park, which I'd visited only briefly in the past. This year might involve visiting more spots to which I've been before, but that remains to be seen!

Tentative Plan
March - daytrip to Leesburg, Virginia - Check!
Enjoying wine and conversation: Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, Virginia

April - various daytrips (am expecting a couple of visitors, which makes it necessary to explore the area)
May - Europe!!!!! (Not that I'm excited or anything!)
June - Michigan
July - Michigan, plus daytrips
August - ???
September - ???
October - ???
November - ???
December - ???

Suggestions welcome!

And let me know what your travel plans are!
Will I make it to Cape Cod this year? Remains to be seen...