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Philadelphia Common Sense
The marker is located at SE corner of S 3rd Street & Chancellor Street (Thomas Paine Place)

During my recent visit to Philadelphia, I came across the area where, on this day in 1776, Thomas Paine published his 47-page pamphlet “Common Sense“. He sold 500,000 copies which influenced both the political leaders and average colonists in uniting toward a common goal of independence.

The building is no longer there but I was thrilled to see the site where one of the most important documents of the Revolution was produced. “Common Sense” was definitely a game-changer. He wrote:

Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.  This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.  Hither they have fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”

It’s fascinating to me how quickly Paine became a supporter of American Independence. While he was still living in England, he met Ben Franklin who happened to be at a debate in which Paine was impressing everyone in the audience. It was Franklin who encouraged him to immigrate to Philadelphia in 1774 and within two years he wrote “Common Sense”. After writing his pamphlet, he served in the US Army and with the Committee of Foreign Affairs. He returned to England in 1787, where he bravely continued to write in favor of Independence. He wrote “The Rights of Man” in which he supported the French Revolution. Because he was targeted as an anti-monarchist, he fled to France but was arrested in 1793 for not supporting the beheading of Louis XVI. Thomas Paine was scheduled to be executed himself, but thanks to the efforts of James Madison (who was serving as US minister to France), he was released in 1794. He remained in France until 1802. By invitation of Thomas Jefferson, he returned to the United States and died in 1809 in New York.

Although Thomas Paine was British, to me he was the epitome of an American. To be an American, I think less of where a person was born and more about their state of mind. He was courageous, opinionated, and envisioned what could be, not what was. He also had a positive long-term outlook which I admire. And what an exciting life he led.

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Scottish Parade 2014

In 1669, Scottish immigrant John Alexander purchased a tract of land which would become the town of Alexandria in 1749. The men who eventually settled the town were also of Scottish descent and so it is only fitting that Old Town (Alexandria) celebrates its Scottish heritage with a wonderful Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend every first weekend in December.

This year’s celebrations include a parade on Saturday, 5 Dec at 11:00 am. The parade features:

Scottish Parade Santa
Santa on parade

Scottish Walk City of Alexandria drummer

Scottish Walk Shamrock and Thistle

Men in Kilts

Men in Kilts

Men in Kilts with Dogs

Men in Kilts with Dogs

Scottish Parade 4 fluffy dogs

...more dogs

…more dogs

and even more dogs...

and even more dogs…

There’re a lot more going on for the Scottish Walk Weekend than just the parade. Click here for more details. All proceeds from the events go to the Campagna Center’s core programs that help children and families.

If you’re coming to the parade with younger children, I recommend going to the starting point by 10:30 so you can see Santa and all the other participants getting ready for the parade. You might even be able to snag a photo with Santa.

The parade route will be:

Parade Route

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Despite the continued cool temperatures, I’ve been getting glimpses of spring. Most recently I saw the lambs at Mount Vernon. Such sweetness:

Lambs
Peeking around the corner

Lamb

Lamb III

The Rear View (lambs at Mount Vernon)
“Rear View”

Mount Vernon is requesting name suggestions for these adorable lambs. Go to their Facebook page here to give your clever names. Someone has already suggested Charles and Camilla in honor of the recent Royal visit.

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On March 27, 1912, Cherry Blossom (Sakura) trees were planted along the Tidal Basin in Washington DC. They were a gift of Friendship and Goodwill from the Japanese Government. The Japanese were thankful for the role the United States played in brokering The Treaty of Portsmouth which formally ended the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05.

But the original idea for bringing the beautiful Sakura to Washington DC came from Eliza Scidmore. She worked as a travel writer and photographer. In 1885, she fell in love with the Cherry Blossom trees while visiting her diplomat brother in Japan and thought they would look lovely around the marshy area that had yet to be developed (later to be the National Mall and Tidal Basin). It took her almost 20 years to have her dream realized.

It wasn’t until she caught the attention of Dr. David Fairchild that the plan starting to take shape. He was a plant explorer and an official at the Department of Agriculture. In 1906, he personally imported seventy-five flowering cherry trees from Japan and planted these on his property in Chevy Chase, Maryland to test their survivability this area. By 1907, encouraged by the success of their own trees, the Fairchilds began to promote the idea of importing Cherry Blossoms for Washington DC. By 1909, First Lady Helen Taft was involved which meant the White House was on-board and it all came to fruition within a few years.

I’m not a fan of introducing plants or animals into an area where they aren’t indigenous. There have been too many destructive results from both intentional and unintentional introductions. As an example from a very long list, Fireweed (also known as Madagascar Fireweed) was discovered in the 1980s in Kohala’s cattle pastures on the Big Island (Hawaii). Many believe it was brought in via ground cover seeds from Australia where it is also invasive. The weed is toxic to cattle and is estimated to cost the Australian government and cattle industry over $2 million a year.

Even the beloved Cherry Blossom trees were not without incident. The original two thousand trees had to be burned once they arrived due to heavy bug infestations. Despite the possibility of a diplomatic disaster, the risk to the native trees, plants and crops was too high to be ignored. Thankfully, another 3,020 Cherry Blossom trees were sent and haven’t had any negative side-effects on the local environment ~ unless you count too many visiting blossom stalkers.

This is what the Tidal Basin in Washington DC looks without the blooms…
Tidal Basin Cherry Blossom Trees

Waiting for the Cherry Blossoms

but in a few weeks it will look more like this (these were taken at the end of the bloom period in 2012):

Jefferson Memorial and Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms and a pagoda

Cherry Blossoms and Washington Monument

Cherry Blossoms in Bloom

The 2015 Peak Blooms Prediction is April 11-14 which mean the blooming period will start a few days prior and can go for up to 14 days past the peak times. I’m excited I’ll be running in the Cherry Blossom 5K which is on April 12 this year ~ and hopefully the prediction is correct.

The National Park Service provides much more historic details and information about the trees as well an event list for the Cherry Blossom Festival at their website. For those unable to visit Washington DC during the Cherry Blossom season, there’s a webcam for your viewing here. The live feed isn’t active yet but will be in a couple of weeks. Enjoy!

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According to the National Weather Service, Boston set a new record this past week for the most snow in a seven-day period: 40.2 inches. The average annual snowfall is 47 inches. We managed to fly in and out between the two blizzards. Despite the snow and cold, we wandered walked briskly around Boston Common which is approximately 50 acres and is the oldest park in the United States.

Boston Common Sign

Boston Common is the starting point of the Freedom Trail (a 2-mile walk with historic markers explaining the history of each stop). Due to the cold, we only managed the sites around the Common. The tour is self guided or arrangements can be made with a tour guide.

Boston Common Ice Skating
Ice Skating

Boston Common snowy pathways
Boston Common Paths

In the winter, Boston Common is used for ice skating and letting your dog romp through the snow. I imagine in the summer it’s a lovely gathering place for lovers of the outdoors.

The Common has a rich history:

  • Until 1817, there were public hangings
  • British troops used the Common as a campsite prior to the Revolution and was the departure point when they left to confront the colonist at Lexington & Concord in April 1775.
  • Many activists have given speeches in the Common including Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Many of our Founding Fathers, Presidents, Vice Presidents and other historic figures have walked through this park. I kept imagining John Adams, Sam Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock wandering around the area.

Boston Common Dome and Learning Statue
The Massachusetts State House was built on Beacon Hill which sits across from the park. The land was originally owned by John Hancock (first to sign the Declaration of Independence and the first elected governor of Massachusetts). The beautiful, bright dome is made of copper and 24k gold.

Boston Common
Another view of the State House

Boston Common with Dome and Learning statue
I can’t decide which angle I like best!

Boston Common Learning statue with dome in background
With so many colleges and universities in the Boston area, the Learning statue is very appropriate.

Once we left the park, we stopped along the Freedom Trail…

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After having Georgetown Cupcakes and Baked & Wired pumpkin muffins on Friday, the last thing I needed this morning was a donut. But I couldn’t resist checking out the newly opened Sugar Shack in Old Town. There was a line out the door as we drove up to 804 N. Henry Street but it moved quickly and we were ordering our donuts within 10 minutes.

The original Sugar Shack, located in Richmond, was named one of the top 10 Tastiest Donuts in the USA.  During his time representing in Richmond, Virginia Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax) enjoyed Sugar Shack so much, he decided to bring his favorite donuts to Northern Virginia by opening his own shop. After tasting my first one (caramel with nuts on top), I’m glad he did ~ they are decadently delicious!

Not only are the donuts tasty but the store is also helpful to the community. Sugar Shack Alexandria has teamed up with Together We Bake (a non-profit that trains women in need)to staff the labor-intensive kitchen where each donut is hand-crafted. No machines! The flavors, such as mint julep, maple bacon, s’mores, change frequently but there’s always the standard ones (chocolate, glazed, etc).

Sugar Shack Hanging Donut

Sugar Shack Donut Display
Some of the many choices.

Sugar Shack Coffee
Delicious Coffees

Sugar Shack and GW
Looking through a porthole inside the shop

I highly recommend Sugar Shack the next time you’re in Northern Virginia and get a craving for donuts and coffee!

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A cold, rainy day in January made it the perfect time to visit Luray Caverns. The temperature in the cave remains constant all year so it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the outside ~ it’s always 54°F  (12°C) with the humidity making it feel more like  65°F (18°C).

Virginia has over 4,000 caves in varying sizes and Luray Caverns is the largest and most grand of the Virginia caves, It’s also the third largest cave in the United States. It’s a two hours from Washington DC and gets an average of  over 3,000 visitors a day. The tour takes about 1 hour and winds through 1.25 miles of paved walkways through enormous chambers. There are about 70 stairs so beware if you have bad knees.

Having gone on a much more organic cave tour in Doolin, Ireland with only six other people and having to wear a hard-hat, Luray Caverns felt much more commercial and sterile. But the Caverns are massive, beautiful and definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Shenandoah area. Every once in a while I felt a drip of water which is called a “cave kiss” and considered good luck.

Luray Caverns Discovered point sign
Luray Caverns were discovered in 1878 by Andrew Campbell

Luray Caverns XX
The calcite (crystalline form of limestone) reminds me of candle wax.

Luray Caverns XXIIII
Stalactites (growing from the ceiling) and stalagmites (coming up from the ground) are everywhere.

Luray stalactites
I tried to stay at the back of the group to get photos but then it was hard to hear the guide.

Luray Caverns Rock Fish
Known has “The Fish Market” These stalactites are amazing and looked fake since their formation is so symmetrical.

Luray Caverns Redwood Tree
Looks like a waterfall

Luray Caverns Mirror Lake
My personal favorite in the cave is Mirror Lake. The illusion of it being so much larger than it is had been staring at it for a while.

Luray Caverns II stalactites
A beautiful chandelier made of calcite

Luray Caverns Dripping
Another chandelier like formation

Luray Caverns Archway
Archway in the cave

Luray Cavern Fallen
A fallen stalactite ~ looks like tree that’s been cut

Luray Caverns Organ
Another item which was a bit jarring ~ the Great Stalacpipe organ which vibrated off the walls and played “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” tune. According to the guide, there have been over 500 weddings at this location.

Even though the Caverns are on the US Historic registry, they are privately owned by the Graves family and unfortunately, as is too often the case, the siblings are squabbling over the future of Luray Caverns. A much more in-depth article here in case you want to read the details.

After the tour, we drove a little ways on the beautiful Skyline Drive which is beautiful even in the dead of winter.

Skyline Backpackers in the wild
We were looking for bears but only came across backpackers in the wild

Skyline Drive Ice Fall
Along the Skyline Drive: Icicles

Skyline Drive
Shenandoah National Park is fantastic year-round (well, maybe minus the snow days). In the winter, there will be less crowds but I’m looking forward to seeing it in the spring and fall as well.

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