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Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

Keeping it simple today

Keeping it simple today

We’re flying home this afternoon, but there’s time for one last outing before heading to the airport! But first, here’s the outfit du jour. (Well, I’ll pair it with jeans, but you guessed that, right?) I’m keeping it simple today; unlike here, there will be no one to schlep my luggage when I get home. This grey tee will be perfect. It’s a little nippy out there this morning, but a Caramel Apple Cider ought to keep me warm and I’ll walk briskly. I’m going to miss my virtual wardrobe—my real one isn’t nearly as attractive—but I’d like to thank Coldwater Creek for making me look good this last week, even if it was just virtually.

Jill and Paula are ditching me for Mount Vernon this morning. I can’t blame them, I’d love to see it myself. But today I have a different priority . . . and I know all my writing buddies will totally understand when I explain that today is the National Book Festival.
VV Sat - Book Fest Poster

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until I went to the Library of Congress on Wednesday. They’re setting up tents (aka “pavilions”) on the National Mall today and scores of authors are coming to talk and sign books. And it’s FREE—or paid for by the Library of Congress, I suppose. If that’s the case, I’m quite happy to see my tax dollars at work today.

First up on my personal agenda is John Grisham at the Fiction & Fantasy Pavilion. Next I’ll pop over to the History & Biography Pavilion to see Sue Monk Kidd. (On the way I pass the Teens & Children Pavilion where Paula Deen is holding forth. I can’t see her through the crowd, but I can make out the faint strains of “Butter” floating through the morning air.)

National Book Festival

National Book Festival

Naturally, the very sound of Paula’s voice makes me hungry, but the line at the concession stand is a bit daunting. It’s not my first day in DC, though, and I happen to know the Smithsonian Castle, just behind the History & Biography Pavilion, has a nice little café where I can get a Panini and warm up a bit. Next I’m off to the Mysteries & Thrillers Pavilion for a little chat with Lisa Scottoline. I had to change my return flight to catch her presentation, but I love her books so it was so worth it. Before I know it, it’s time to dash back to the hotel to cram my newly signed volumes into my carry-on (oof!), meet up with the girls, and head home.

Thus ends the virtual vacation. I’ve been keeping a running tally of my virtual expenses, and I think it’s safe to say I won’t be taking this exact trip anytime soon. I had to estimate and do some rounding up—and numbers are not my strong point, ever. But in case you’re curious, here’s how it came out:

Wardrobe: $1,400
Airfare & Hotel: $4,250 (I told you it was a nice hotel)
Tours, Souvenirs, Spa, and Incidentals (cab rides, Metro tickets, tips, etc.): $1,400
Food: $500
TOTAL $7,300

I’m sure I can visit DC for much less in real life—which is a good thing. Otherwise I’d probably abandon hope of ever seeing my nation’s capitol in this life. It’s been grand fun to go there virtually; I hope you enjoyed it! Now I’m going to catch up on all the things I should have been doing this last week instead of researching and writing about my pretend life.

But don’t be a stranger . . . next Friday I’m leaving on a real-life trip. More on that later!

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Not-too-casual Friday

Not-too-casual Fri

It’s our last full day in DC. While my virtual self will be sad to leave this fascinating city, my real self is getting mighty tired. Being in two places at once is exhausting! But never mind, there is yet more to see before we head home.

Today’s outfit is a little dressier, just because. It occurs to me that perhaps I should visit my local
Coldwater Creek and try on my virtual vacation wardrobe in person . . . nah. I can’t keep up with Jill & Paula’s outfits, too, so you’ll just have to take it on faith that they’re clothed and in their right minds. (And if you know them, that last part requires a lot of faith.)

When you walk in the door, here’s what you see. Impressive, no? And that’s just the beginning. There are creatures of all sorts, from dinosaurs to butterflies, on all sides and overhead.

African Elephant In the Rotunda

African Elephant In the Rotunda

The FossiLab, where you can watch paleontologists and trained volunteers extract fossils from rock and construct fossil casts and molds, makes me miss my nephew Josh, who had a brief but sparkling career as an archeologist (he was about 6 at the time).

But come on . . . we’re girls. I don’t care how cool the animals are—and they are—you know what I want to see: 45.52 carats of sparkling blue gorgeousness. Yep, I’m talking about the Hope Diamond. Who knew diamonds could be blue? Yellow, yes. Pink, yes. But blue? SO gorgeous. I think I need one; it would match my eyes. I’m reminded of the Sherlock Holmes’ tale of the Blue Carbuncle, another precious gem of a different color.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond

But back to the Hope Diamond: Did you know its one-time owner, Evalyn Walsh McLean, once hocked it? She was trying to raise money to pay ransom for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby. I can only imagine the look on the pawn shop owner’s face.

This little red number is rather nice, as well. Not so little, actually, the Carmen Lúcia Ruby is a 23.1-carat Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring with diamonds. Since the Hope Diamond is blue, the Carmen Lúcia Ruby is red, and they’re both set with white diamonds, one could wear them both at the same time and be in patriotic red, white, & blue. Though perhaps that would be just a touch gaudy?

Carmen Lúcia Ruby

Carmen Lúcia Ruby

We’re not done here, but we’re thinking seafood for lunch. Maybe we’re influenced by The Sant Ocean Hall? There’s a whale suspended from the ceiling (it’s a model; no whales were harmed in the making of…) and fishies galore. Whatever the reason, we decide to repair to Johnny’s Half Shell for a little riparian refreshment.

Johnny's Half Shell

Johnny's Half Shell

Chef Ann Cashion is another James Beard Winner and the weather is nice enough we can eat on the patio—a combination made in gastronomic heaven. After dealing with the weighty matter of appetizers: spicy grilled chicken wings, easy on the spice (Jill), mixed green salad (Paula), and shrimp cocktail (me), we can sit and ponder life until our main courses arrive. Jill and Paula both choose the grilled halibut with Carolina black rice salad and red pepper oil. I decide on Chesapeake bouillabaisse (fish, shellfish, and a mini-crabcake in a rich lobster broth—yum). It’s a lovely lunch and well worth the cab ride over here…and back, because there is more to see this afternoon. And don’t worry, Vacation Rule #1 will definitely be enforced.

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Another Coldwater Creek option

Another Coldwater Creek option

They’re predicting scattered thunderstorms again today, so I’ll keep my outfit simple. This rich brown wrap top is similar to the one I wore in real life on Monday (except newer and nicer), so I know it’ll be comfortable when dashing through the raindrops. I’ll add a pair of brown slacks (they’ll dry faster than jeans if I get splashed) to my ensemble and be good to go.

We shop @ the same place

We shop @ the same place

Jill wanted you to know she was wearing this. (She shops at the same place I do.) Paula was late for breakfast, so her outfit didn’t make the deadline. You snooze, you lose.

I’m told the National Air and Space Museum is the most popular of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums. Really? I mean, it’s interesting and all, but I wouldn’t classify it as number one on my list. My father would have loved it, but it strikes me as a little too technical for my taste.

I must admit, we did enjoy watching “Cosmic Collisions” at the Albert Einstein Planetarium. Described as an “immersive theater experience” you feel the sensation of zooming through the cosmos on a thrilling trip through space and time. It was fun and no one got…spacesick? What’s the intergalactic equivalent of carsickness? Whatever, we all survived.

Smithsonian Institution Photo SI2003-35575, Eric Long/NASM

Smithsonian Institution Photo SI2003-35575, Eric Long/NASM

I’ll grant you, the Wright brothers’ plane is fun. I visited Kitty Hawk several years ago and can recommend The Bishop’s Boys, an excellent biography of Orville and Wilbur (I’m sure those names were all the rage back in the day). They were definitely the right people in the right place at the right time. (Or would that be the “Wright” people…sorry.)

The space stuff is really cool, too. (They’re protective of those images so I can’t show you any.) But much as I hate to admit it, my favorite thing at this museum was the talking Albert Einstein bobblehead. How can you not love a cute little genius who says things like, “Let me help you vit dat.” and “You seem smarter than you actually are!”

Isn't he darling?

Isn't he darling?

On the whole, none of us is that thrilled with this place. Maybe it’s because the three of us recently visited the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, where we got to talk to a real, live, NASA rocket scientist who worked on the early space flights. This place is a lot like that, only bigger. (Much, MUCH bigger.) But never mind, we can cross it off our list of places we’ve been and move on to our next adventure, which will take us across the Potomac to Alexandria.

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Lunch at Zola

Lunch at Zola

After collecting my friends at the hotel we whisk ourselves off to at late lunch at Zola.

Described as “straightforward American cuisine” with “inspired and imaginative combinations of fresh ingredients reflecting our country’s rich cultural diversity,” it’s an elegant choice for a late lunch. Considering that it’s right across the street from our next adventure, the location is perfect. I opt for the lobster mac & cheese, just because I can. Maine lobster, fontina cheese, asparagus spears . . . yum. Jill chose the salmon BLT (with avocado mayo) and Paula, bemoaning the lack of a taco salad, went with the handmade burger. It was all delicious.

Over lunch, as our next stop is the International Spy Museum, we decide to choose spy names. I went with “Natasha” in honor of my old friends Rocky & Bullwinkle. Jill is Sophie and Paula, Scarlet. Armed with new identities, we decide to skip dessert (shocking, I know) and head to the museum for an afternoon of intrigue.

Int'l Spy Museum

Int'l Spy Museum

Once inside, we realize our plotting and planning was for naught—we’re assigned a spy profile and given 5 minutes to memorize details of our cover (name, age, place of birth, destination, etc.) before we’re allowed to proceed into the exhibit area. (How fun is that?!) I was even stopped by the museum “police” later and questioned about my identity. I think I managed to avoid blowing my cover, but I’m not sure…I eventually made it out alive, so I think I can claim to be a successful operative.

The exhibits are amazing…it’s like being in Q’s lab with James Bond. (Well, not exactly like that… I mean, Jill and Paula are my friends, but they’re no Pierce Brosnan, if you know what I mean.) We learn the stories of spymasters from Moses to Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth I to George Washington, Cardinal Richelieu to Joseph Stalin—all of whom relied on intelligence to be effective leaders. My favorite had to be the section on D-Day and all that went into making it a success.

Spy Stuff

Spy Stuff

Playing spy was grand fun, but did confirm I was right not to take that job with the CIA. I really did interview with them once, many years ago, but I was thinking analyst and they were thinking agent…and since I absolutely hate keeping secrets, that was never going to work.

We round off the evening with an Old Town Trolley Monuments by Moonlight tour. After all, the last time Jill was here she hardly got to see a thing (other than Nancy Pelosi at the opera). The tour is a great way to sit and see the sights, and while it’s a little cloudy for much moonlight, the government has done a fine job with their landscape lighting, so it’s a lovely view whatever the weather. It’s good to end the day with a relaxing trolley ride, because tomorrow we have a lot of walking to do. Until then . . .

DC at Night

DC at Night

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There’s a 40% chance of rain today, which means it’s a perfect day to stay indoors. As the employee of a publishing company I probably shouldn’t say this, but while there are many, many books I need to read, there are not all that many I need to own. Sorry! Just keeping it real. The rest of you need to buy lots of books, OK? Preferably those published by Thomas Nelson.

Sexy Librarian? by Coldwater Creek

Sexy Librarian? by Coldwater Creek


Where was I? Oh yes, the library. That would be the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. (I get a little giddy thinking about that.) This is my idea of a cool—dare I say sexy?—librarian outfit. If I had actually finished my MLS instead of dropping out when I a) ran out of money and b) got a job I really liked, this is what I’d like to think I’d wear to work at my state-of-the-art public library. Instead, I’ll (virtually) wear it to the grandaddy of all U.S. public libraries.

The Library of Congress (LOC) was established in 1800; the British proceeded to burn it down 15 years later. But (cue heroic music) Thomas Jefferson saved the day by selling his personal library (more than 6,000 volumes) to the feds for $23,950. Not chump change, but a bargain nonetheless. Get this: his bookshelves were also boxes, so when the books arrived, they were already in order. Tom may have had his issues (don’t we all?) but dang, that man was brilliant.

There is WAY more to this place than books—and if you arrive expecting to see rows of shelves a la your local library, you’re in for a surprise. Books are brought out by request and must be referenced in the library; you can’t check them out. You can virtually turn the pages of Thomas Jefferson’s books, zoom in on architectural features, and much more via kiosks located throughout the building. It’s a very high-tech place! But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s see how it looks:

The Great Hall Photography by Carol M. Highsmith

The Great Hall Photography by Carol M. Highsmith


See what I mean? As their site says, “When its doors opened to the public in 1897, the Library of Congress represented an unparalleled national achievement, the “largest, costliest, and safest” library in the world.”

Detail from Giant Bible of Mainz

Detail from Giant Bible of Mainz

Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg Bible

In the Great Hall are two Bibles: the Giant Bible of Mainz, which represents the end of handwritten manuscripts and a Gutenberg Bible, representing the beginning of the printed word. Both were produced in the same city during the same period. The “giant” Bible is 22” x 16”. Imagine hauling that to church every Sunday!

As a singer, I naturally have to visit the Gershwin exhibit. They have manuscript and printed music, lyric sheets and librettos . . . it’s all I can do not to indulge in a little min-concert. What is it about this town that makes me want to sing? I am in a library, however, so I restrain the impulse yet again, and wander off with “Someone to Watch Over Me” playing in my head.

Bob Hope

Bob Hope

The “Bob Hope and American Variety” exhibit is fun, too. He was the speaker at my college graduation (Oral Roberts University) and I somehow scored a seat on the front row for the ceremony. Thanks for the memories, Bob!

Gosh, I haven’t even gotten to the second floor yet. There are all sorts of important historical documents and things to talk about, but in the interest of time I suggest you just go see for yourself: http://www.loc.gov/index.html

Meanwhile, I have to get back to the hotel—Jill just called (you remember Jill, from the opera last Saturday). She and Paula, another friend, decided I was having too much fun here on my own and flew in to DC as a surprise this morning! I’m going to meet up with them and we’ll all go exploring this afternoon. Later!

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I’ve shown you all I can from the National Gallery of Art, but before we go, I have one last piece of advice from Luci Swindoll to share: “Before leaving the museum, buy a little something in the gift shop to commemorate the day, and your time there. Doesn’t have to be expensive…just noteworthy, or meaningful to YOU. You’ll know it when you see it…and why you want to buy it.”

Found it! This collection of note cards featuring details of the iconic painting “Cakes” by Wayne Thiebaud, which is in the Gallery’s collection. Each note card has one of four cake recipes on the back. They’re perfect for me, and at only $8.95, reasonable, too.

The perfect souvenir

The perfect souvenir

Still in the spirit of Art Day, I’m heading north to the National Portrait Gallery, which I see is located across the street from MCI Center, home of our Women of Faith events. It (the Gallery, not the arena) is home to the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House. Since an invitation to visit the First Family has been conspicuously absent, this is my best shot at seeing our former Commanders in Chief. (That’s if you don’t count the time I chatted with former President George H.W. Bush in the basement of the Meyerson one night before chorus rehearsal. He was charming.)

John Adams by John Trumbull. Image Courtesy Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

John Adams by John Trumbull. Image Courtesy Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

This is John Adams. I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since I first saw the musical 1776 in junior high. I think I’d have enjoyed having dinner with John and Abigail; they were lively conversationalists and nice people, besides.

Of course, I’ll have to visit the BRAVO! exhibition, which showcases individuals who have brought the performing arts to life. (Sorry, couldn’t find any images to share.)

The National Portrait Gallery shares a building (the former Patent Office) with the American Art Museum. They also share the Lunder Conservation Center, where you can see behind-the-scenes views of the preservation work done by the museums. Another fabulous feature of the building is the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, recently named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of seven architectural wonders. Trees, plantings, a water feature, and free Wi-Fi…and all under an elegant glass canopy. Since there’s a chance of rain today, that’s a real plus.

Kogod Courtyard by M.V. Janzten (by way of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's flickr photostream)

Kogod Courtyard by M.V. Janzten (by way of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's flickr photostream)

We looked at a lot of pictures this morning, so I’ll just show one more.

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning. Image Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning. Image Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

Look at the suppressed emotion in the woman in the window. Is she waiting for her lover? Praying she’ll see her missing child run up the drive? Wondering where the heck the milkman is? Who knows?

The spa

The spa

Sad to say, my virtual feet are tired. I think it’s time to head back to the Mandarin Oriental Spa for another decadent treatment. (It’s a vacation, after all.) This time, I’m going for the Cherry Blossom Ritual, 1 hour 50 minutes of pure bliss. It begins with a foot ritual followed by a cherry scrub which is high in antioxidants to help strengthen the immune system and also removes dead skin cells and stimulates circulation. The ritual is then followed by an Aromatherapy Massage where the therapist will incorporate hot stones on the back. The use of stones aids the therapist to work deeper, giving relief to deep-seated muscle tension. A delightful cup of Cherry Tea concludes this Ritual.

It'll be dressier w/black slacks

It'll be dressier w/black slacks

The only proper way to follow a decadent spa treatment is with a decadent dinner. Fortunately, my hotel is home to CityZen, “one of the ‘Hottest Restaurants in the World’” per Food & Wine Magazine. The Chef, Eric Ziebold, is a James Beard Award winner. I’ll need to change for dinner (no denim allowed) so I’ll pair Sunday’s black trousers with this silk top which I found, not at you-know-where, but at Zappo’s.

CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, DC

CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, DC

I’m not feeling decadent enough to choose the six-course tasting menu (six courses. Mercy.) so I’ll opt for the three-course version.

Let’s see… Asparagus Thermidor (Warm Spring Asparagus with Mustard Cream and Maine Lobster Emulsion) to start, then Millefuille Of Prime Midwestern Beef (Bone Marrow Bread Pudding, Scorzonera Butter, Spring Asparagus and Béarnaise Gastrique), and finally, who can resist the Cityzen Candy Bar (Soft Chocolate Nougat, Caramel Peanuts and Chocolate Crunch with Port Reduction Sauce).

Sigh. I’m too contented to write any more. Nighty-night.

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On our agenda today is the National Gallery of Art.

It just looks artistic

It just looks artistic

Today’s Coldwater Creek shirt was chosen because it seemed, well, arty. (I think it’s the sleeves.)

  • While I like art museums, I tend to just wander around and look at the paintings without putting much thought into the process. However, there is actually an art (pun intended) to visiting an art museum—so I invited my friend, art lover and museum visitor extraordinaire Luci Swindoll, to share some tips about how to get the most out of a gallery visit.
  • Luci Swindoll

    Luci Swindoll

    Here’s what she had to say: “The National Gallery is a fabulous museum, housed in two gorgeous buildings—the West Wing (built in the 1940s) and the East Wing (built in the 1970s). I say this because the buildings themselves are such works of art. The earlier one was designed by John Russell Pope, and the newer by I.M. Pei.”

    (Comment from Susan) I find that particularly interesting as I spend much of my time in another I.M. Pei building, the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. I can definitely see a family resemblance.

    East Building photo 1981, M. Brack

    East Building photo 1981, M. Brack

    (Luci) “What I’d do is ask somebody at the front desk about the most important (or valuable) piece in each school, and, I’d try to see those if your time is limited. If you can take more time, I’d stroll around in the different rooms, asking questions of the guards about what you like and about the history of this or that.”

    (Another comment from Susan) Despite Vacation Rule #5, it never would have occurred to me to chat up a guard about a painting. I’m SO doing that.

    (Luci) “Notice the dates of the artist and the paintings. Were they painted early in the artist’s life…or late? How do those differ from the other and what does that mean? What does that say to you?
    Typically, the earlier in life, the more rigid the painting, less abandonment…more “coloring within the lines”. And later in life, there’s usually more expression of paint. Does that tell you anything about your own life…as a person?

    Look for the “movement” in the painting. Does it look like there’s LIFE in the people or the animals? How so? Ask yourself all these different questions and make your own decisions apart from what you might read or others might suggest. Do the same with sculpture. Take notes…then put those in your journal when you get home (or, in your case…in your blog).”

    All righty, then, I’m ready to explore! (Thanks, Luci! I’ll send you a virtual postcard.) FYI, the following art images are all from a friendly Web site called Museum Syndicate and represent a few of the artworks that caught my eye. Please forgive me if you don’t appreciate my opinions of the art; I’m just calling them like I see them.

    The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jacopo Bassano

    The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jacopo Bassano

    The first piece is “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes” by Jacopo Bassano. Painted in 1545, the colors of this piece are just glorious. (I’ve always loved oils best for their depth of color.) There is definitely movement in this one!

    Relativity by Maurits Cornelis Escher

    Relativity by Maurits Cornelis Escher

    Here’s one I could stare at all day—or until I get a crick in my neck, whichever comes first. How on earth does someone come up with that? Did Escher have eyes like a fly or something? I wonder if that’s how God sees the world, as a series of interconnecting events with no up or down…

    Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough

    Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough

    Georgiana! She seems like an old friend. I’ve been to Chatsworth (her house) and everything. What a brilliant and fascinating woman, and how sad that she was married to such a pompous jerk. You can see how smart she is, just look at her eyes. Gainsborough was brilliant with that diaphanous shawl, wasn’t he? It can’t have been easy to paint something that’s basically transparent.

    This next one made the museum’s must-see list. It shows New York’s 5th Avenue, temporarily named “Avenue of the Allies” when the U.S. entered WWI.

    Allies Day, May 1917 by Frederick Childe Hassam

    Allies Day, May 1917 by Frederick Childe Hassam

    I am not such a fan. Good color, lots of movement, nice light, but it looks a little too much like something a talented kid would do with crayons. (Maybe that’s from not actually seeing it in person?) Impressionists, as a whole, don’t impress me much; give me a Dutch Master any day. Perhaps that’s because the Impressionist’s soft, fuzzy world looks too much like my view anytime I remove my glasses.

    The Cottage Dooryard by Adriaen van Ostade

    The Cottage Dooryard by Adriaen van Ostade

    This one I love. Doesn’t it look like the illustration to a fairy tale? Once upon a time…

    Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl by James Whistler

    Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl by James Whistler


    Another Gallery recommendation. Such subtlety in all those shades of white… but does anybody else think the head on the bear rug looks like a dog?

    Whew. All this study of art made me hungry. I’ve heard good things about the Pavilion Café, and my Beef and Blue Panini does not disappoint. (Shaved seasoned roast beef with sautéed mushrooms, sautéed Spanish onions, and Stilton blue cheese spread served with a demi-glace jus on ciabatta bread.) And you can’t beat the view; it’s in the Gallery’s Sculpture Garden. I’ll just go enjoy that for now. Until later . . .

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