Friday, November 27, 2015


The last several weeks have been busy, and blogging has fallen by the wayside. Over at Confuzzledom Bev had a great post using -ing words to update readers, and I realized that would be a good strategy on letting you know what I have been up to instead of silence while I try to find the time to finish a post or two about an actual events.

Latvia's Independence Day is November 18. I hope to write at least a short post about the wonderful celebration in Washington's Latvian community.

Life is so complicated sometimes!

For stress-relief, I've watched a couple of series via Amazon Prime and Netflix. "Mozart in the Jungle," about classical musicians in New York City, and "Master of None," with comedian Aziz Ansari, have been amusing and perfect for those cold evenings when I was too tired to do much else.

I'm one of those people who is always planning and preparing. With Christmas coming up, there is plenty to prepare - I already have my cards in hand, and have started working on addressing those. Gift shopping is coming along very slowly this year, so I need to pick up the pace on that. Also, now that I am teaching Latvian school again on Sundays, a part of my week is always dedicated to lesson planning. The European Union Film Showcase at AFI begins December 1, and it seems I'll only have time for two movies, but I have purchased my tickets for those.

After 8 1/2 years in the same workplace, my last day at this job is Friday, November 27. After a much needed two-week long break (looking forward to that!!!), I will begin a new job in mid-December.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Washington Walk

Washington is a city to which tourists flock, and for good reason -- with so many historic and free attractions, it is an ideal vacation destination. When one lives here, one occasionally forgets how many sights and historical monuments there are. On the same day I visited the Library of Congress, I met a friend for lunch near George Washington University, and given the stunningly beautiful weather, I decided to walk from the Foggy Bottom area (home to both GWU and the State Department) to the Library instead of taking Metro. Having slightly underestimated the distance, I walked over three miles, but the my brisk stroll was rewarding: the weather was glorious, and I noticed a couple of things I had never seen before, and photographed a few photos to share with my loyal blog readers.

The first part of the walk I passed newer office and apartment buildings which are not particularly scenic. Once I reached the White House, the views became more memorable. Due to recent fence jumping incidents, more barriers and fences have been set up outside the White House, and it's more difficult to get a good view. Besides you have all seen that photo a million times in the news!

Continuing toward the Capitol, there is quite a bit to see. Although I am no fan of Donald Trump, I suppose it's good that his company is renovating the previously under-utilized Old Post Office Pavilion, which occupies prime territory on Pennsylvania Avenue, not far from the White House or the Capitol. Next year the renovated building is slated to open as a luxury hotel.
Behind the National Archives (best known as the place where visitors stand in line to catch a glimpse of the Constitution), I spotted this statue and spot-on saying.
What is past is prologue.
Once a tourist has visited the many free museums and sights in Washington, the Newseum, a museum about news and journalism, is worth a visit. If you don't have the time (at least a couple of hours) or money ($22.95 plus tax for regular admission), at least walk past the front of the building, where that day's front pages from newspapers from each state are displayed. Front pages of even more newspapers can be viewed online.
That is the First Amendment inscribed on the left.
Next door you might be surprised to spot a row of Canadian flags, but there's a logical explanation - the Embassy of Canada has a slightly unusual location here on Pennsylvania Avenue. Many embassies are located on Massachusetts Avenue or in other areas not quite so close to the U.S. Congress and President.
Then I continued on to the front of the Capitol, which is currently looks different due to scaffolding because the dome is undergoing restoration. As is often the case, a school tour group was taking a group photo between the reflecting pool and the Capitol; they had just begun to disperse as I walked up to the pool, but I managed to snap this photo which I have titled "Portapotties & Pink."

The scaffolding on  the dome is quite impressive. Theoretically it should come down by Inauguration Day 2017, but I have heard through the Washington grapevine that the renovation will most likely take longer.

After my Library of Congress visit I walked from the Library to Union Station to catch Metro, and that meant passing the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. I must confess that I had never taken the time to inspect this impressive structure, which looked even more majestic in the bright sunshine, with an shockingly blue sky behind it.
"Equal justice under law."
A panel on front door of the highest court of the land.
And one final view!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Winter...What to Do?

Many people in the Northern Hemisphere often do not look forward to winter. I am one of them -- although my parents are from northern Europe and I grew up in the Midwest, I much prefer warm and sunny seasons to the colder and darker ones. Come November I begin to feel slightly anxious about the approaching winter. With the two last Washington winters having been rather harsh, I have been thinking about how to improve my relationship with winter (seeing as moving south from November through March is not a viable option!). The first step was purchasing a "happy light", which I have already begun trying to use almost every morning as the sun has been rising later and later, and setting earlier.

An October sunset
It seems my second step might be trying to adjust my mindset. The Atlantic recently published an enlightening article about Tromso, Norway, a city so far north that its dark winters are frighteningly long -- between November and January, the sun does not rise! This, of course, is in direct contrast to the summer, when between May and July the sun never sets. The article's author, Kari Leibowitz, received a Fulbright scholarship to research how people in Norway address winter, and spent ten months in Tromso doing research. I urge you to read the entire article -- it's fascinating. Additionally, during her time in Norway Ms. Leibowitz kept a blog, in which she features stunningly gorgeous photographs of various trips around the country in addition to pictures which show that the winter light there is quite beautiful.

In the vain of Tromso residents who look forward to winter, I figured one method of doing so is by constructing a list of activities to plan and look forward to this winter. Herewith I present....(drumroll, please!)....My Winter Wish & Plan List! This is not a "to do" list, nor is it a bucket list -- it is collection of activities which I would enjoy and that I may do in the coming five months. 

My Winter Wish & Plan List 
- Visit the National Postal Museum for the first time. See the PostSecret exhibit there.
- Catch new movies, especially "Bridge of Spies," "Suffragette," and "Sisters."
- Read! Particularly looking forward to Sherry Turkle's new book, "Reclaiming Conversation" (as I loved her work "Alone Together"). Have also heard lots about Lauren Groff's novel "Fates and Furies." I recently began reading "Notorious R.B.G.: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg," which is quite good.
- Visit the National Cryptological Museum (on the grounds of the National Security Agency, sometimes referred to as "No Such Agency").
- Interview at least one person for a blog post.
- Check out Artomatic 2015, an enormous free art exhibit.
- Bake cookies with my awesome new Latvian cookie cutters.
- Visit the newly re-opened Renwick Gallery.
- Host a literary evening.
- Of course: celebrate Latvia's Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, and Christmas, as well as my birthday.
- Visit at least one Christmas-themed event, such as a light display or Christmas music concert.
- Yay, "The Americans" is due to begin its new season in January! This is THE best show on television.

High water on the Potomac at sunset, March 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

An Autumn Day in Shendandoah National Park

Located relatively close to metro Washington area, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is a hugely popular destination for hiking and in the fall for leaf-peeping. While my recent visit coincided with unseasonably cold temperatures but did quite not coincide with peak color in some areas of the park, being able to visit on a weekday was a blessing, as October weekends in the park can be incredibly crowded.

After a pit stop in 0-60 Energy Cafe, a car-themed coffee shop in Winchester, we headed to the park.

Shenandoah NP is long and relatively narrow, and the road which runs along the ridge from north to south is called Skyline Drive. The entrance furthest north and thus closest to Washington is in the town of Front Royal, and that is where we entered. Although Skyline Drive has a total of 75 overlooks at which tourists can stop, the first overlooks when entering from the north end are not as impressive because the views include quite a bit of civilization and not that much natural beauty - other than the fact that by standing on a ridge one can see quite far. Therefore, I recommend skipping at least the first several overlooks and concentrating your efforts on exploring the park a little further south.

We did stop at the very first visitors center on Dickey Ridge - after all, it has restrooms! Here you can also speak with a park ranger, learn a bit more about your surroundings, and pick up books and postcards in the small gift shop. On a previous visit to SNP, I had purchased several editions of inexpensive park hike guides, which I have found to be very helpful. One guide features hikes to waterfalls, while another lists short hikes on the Appalachian Trail, yet another has hikes to peaks and vistas. My friend has done many hikes on the Appalachian Trail - mostly in New England - thus I knew that finding a spot on the Trail for our hike was the thing to do.

Making our way down Skyline Drive to our chosen hiking destination, we naturally stopped at several overlooks to take in the sweeping views and fresh (cold!) fall air.
Tunnel through Mary's Rock.
Eventually we reached our destination, the Pinnacles picnic area, and bundled up to head out on the trail.
Follow the white blazes!
The trail here was relatively level and made for a hike that was not too strenuous, although in many areas the trail was covered in small stones and fallen leaves, making it difficult to look around at the woods while also watching where we were putting our feet! The peace in the forest was absolutely wonderful; during our two hours on the trail we met only two other hikers.
Whoops - almost fell right off the trail!
Our time in the park was a bit limited as I needed to be back in Washington for an evening class. The hike was supposed to be two miles long, but we had missed a turn relatively early on, so we ended up walking further - at least 2,5 miles, maybe a bit more.

After our hike, we stopped at one last overlook on Skyline Drive; this area of the park was more colorful.
Enjoying the scenery.
Before leaving lovely Shenandoah we stopped in the Skyland area for a quick lunch (although both restaurants were so busy that we only managed to grab some snacks from the coffee stand). We also had the opportunity to chat with a ranger who was displaying coyote, red fox and gray fox hides. But our time in Virginia was coming to an end, and we headed home.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

History & Wine in Winchester, Virginia

Leaving Maryland in the rear view mirror after our visit to Distillery Lane Ciderworks, we headed toward the Shenandoah Valley. We made a quick stop at Winchester Ciderworks, where the tasting cost $5 and took place outside. The ciders were not to my liking, but my friend picked up a can of the Malice cider, which was also purchased by the case by a local who stopped by, so they do have fans.

As we drove toward Winchester's Old Town, we had to stop at the highly visible Virginia Farm Market - for the pumpkin displays alone. However, the market turned out to be a produce and treat paradise. All of their current apples were available for sampling -- the Cameo was among the sweetest I had tasted, while my friend loved the Nittany, and we bought a few of each for future snacking. Less healthy options such as donuts could also be sample and purchased.
After a picnic lunch in the car, we explored part of Winchester's old town, which contains many historic buildings, most of which have been restored and some of which can be found on the pedestrian mall. It being Sunday, not all the stores were open, but I was glad the cozy bookshop, Winchester Book Gallery, was open for business. I could have browsed for a long time and spent a great deal of money as their selection of books, cards, and gifts was well curated.Yet I managed to limit my purchases to a few cards and one children's book, the absolutely lovely new "Thank You & Good Night" by Patrick McConnell. The shop had fantastic decorations.

The loft area was dedicated to children's books, as well as a cozy reading corner. I could easily spend an hour or two here!

The murals in the children's area were just as wonderful as the murals on the first floor.

Many of Winchester's old buildings were constructed of stone and brick, and looked like they will last another two hundred years.
After strolling around town, we were chilled to the bone and chose to examine a winery recommended by a local. What a perfect suggestion that was! Located a bit south of Winchester, in the small town of Stephens City, Valerie Hill Winery & Vineyard is a true destination winery. The tasting rooms are located in a 200-year old home, which provides a comfortable and rather cozy atmosphere. A couple of rooms had tables that seat four, while the area in which we relaxed had a couch and smaller tables for two.

Although the tasting ($8) was tempting, the moment I saw mulled wine ($5 a glass), the deal was sealed. Many northern European families, mine included, serve mulled wine at Christmas, but it's also the perfect drink on a chilly autumn day. Chili and cornbread were also being offered, and a duo was singing and playing guitar on the heated porch. We arrived close to 4:30pm, which is last call on Sundays, but one could tell that most guests had spent their afternoon enjoying the wine and the atmosphere. The woman at the table next to ours had chosen to do her writing and studying at Valerie Hill instead of a cafe or library. In warmer weather the winery also has outdoor seating on a patio and in the backyard.

Our slightly boozy day of exploring had been fun, but it was time to find a hotel in Winchester and rest up in preparation for the next day of adventures.