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The Kennedy Center is a living memorial honoring President John Kennedy. The iconic Kennedy Center’s history began in 1958 as the National Cultural Center. It was a product of bi-partisan legislation signed by President Dwight Eisenhower, but as a strong supporter of the arts, President Kennedy became the driving force in raising the funds to complete the construction of the Center. He appointed his wife, Jacqueline and Mrs. Eisenhower as honorary co-chairwomen which I find fascinating since they were from different political parties but worked together on this important endeavor. Not something we see much of in today’s polarized political climate in the US. 

In January 1964, two months after President Kennedy was assassinated, Congress designated the National Cultural Center as a living memorial and renamed it: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Congress appropriated $23 million to fund it and fundraising continued with the Friends of the Kennedy Center volunteers. The volunteers worked earnestly across the country, raising money from private support and from nations around the world who respected President Kennedy and wanted to contribute to his legacy. Because the Center is a Federal Memorial, it continues to receive funding each year for the maintenance and operation of the facility but the artistic and educational programs are paid for through ticket sales and gifts from individuals, corporations and private foundations.

President Lyndon Johnson participated in the ground breaking ceremony in December 1964, and in keeping with its historic importance, he used the same gold-plated shovel which was also used in the ground breaking ceremonies for the Lincoln Memorial (1914) and the Jefferson Memorial (1938). The Kennedy Center officially opened in 1971 and the New York Times wrote a rave front page review which stated “The capital of this nation finally strode into the cultural age tonight with the spectacular opening of the $70 million [Kennedy Center]…a gigantic marble temple to music, dance, and drama on the Potomac’s edge.”

I always enjoy going to the Center and had the opportunity to attend several musicals including “Wicked”, “South Pacific” and “Book of Mormon.” I became a member for one year and appreciated their member benefits. As members, my daughter and I were able to watch a rehearsal of the National Orchestra. As a viola player, my daughter loved observing the behind the scenes of a professional orchestra.

Earlier this month,  I finally made it to one of the free performances at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. We arrived early enough to take the last free tour at 4:30 p.m. I particularly enjoyed seeing the contributions of artwork throughout the Center which had been generously donated by several foreign governments. Click here to see the book listing all the gorgeous gifts given to the Center.

The Millennium Stage offers free performances nightly from 6 to 7 pm. The Happy Hour at the Grand Foyer bar is from 5-6 p.m. Seating begins at 5:30 and you can take your drink/food with you to your seat. The monthly calendar usually comes out the last week of the previous month. Click here for a list of upcoming performances.

Tips for visiting The Kennedy Center:

  • If you’re 18-30, you can sign up for My Tix at kennedy-center.org/mytix which offers discounted and free tickets.
  • There’s a free shuttle between the Center and the Foggy Bottom Metro Station. Departing every 15 minutes from 9:45 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, 11:45 t0 midnight on Sunday, and 4:00 p.m. to end of last performance on Holidays.
  • If you want a good seat for the Millennium Stage performances, be in line shortly after 5 p.m.

Georgetown Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center

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Springtime always brings houseguests to our home and many of our visitors are first-timers to Washington DC. Although each person has their own particular interests/dislikes, and depending on their length of stay, there are sights I suggest everyone should see during their maiden journey into the city. My top 10 Washington DC (and surrounding area) must see list is as follows:

  • The Monuments at Night ~ The monuments are spectacular anytime of day but when they are lit up, they become magical. Bonus if there’s a full moon.
  • The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Performance ~ There are free performances of music or dance every night at 6 pm.For a schedule, click here.

Capitol Building from the top of the Washington Monument
The National Mall ~ Smithsonian Museums, National Gallery of Art and The US Capitol

  • Smithsonian Museums ~ It would take weeks to explore all the wonderful and free museums in Washington DC. Visitors should “speed-date” by walking along The National Mall and ducking into each museum to see the highlights. Visitors can return to the museum they liked best for a deeper dive into all the treasures. Some of the more popular displays are: the Hope Diamond at the Natural History Museum, the Star Spangled Banner flag at the American History Museum and the Kitty Hawk at the Air & Space museum. Click here for more information on all things Smithsonian.
  • The National Gallery of Art ~ My personal favorite. Again, this could take weeks to explore but it’s worth popping into the gallery for a few hours to gaze at the paintings and sculptures which spans from the middle ages to the present. Don’t miss the: Little Dancer (Degas)Self Portrait (Rembrandt van Rijn), and the paintings by the masters such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and many more. For information on hours and directions, click here.

Capitol Building with scaffolding

  • The U.S. Capitol Building ~ Take a tour of the Capitol building and stop in to see the Senate in session.
  • The Library of Congress ~ The building is gorgeous especially the Reading Room. There’s an original copy of a Gutenberg Bible (circa 1455)  on display in the lobby. It’s the first bible (major book) printed in Western Europe using movable metal type and was one of the turning points from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance era.
  • Mount Vernon Estates ~ Mount Vernon is located 14 miles south of Washington DC along the GW Parkway. The house and grounds are lovely. Give yourself about four hours in order to tour the home, wander the grounds and visit the on-site museum. Mount Vernon is accessible by public transportation, boat, biking and private vehicle (parking is free). For directions and assistance on getting there, click here.

Arlington Guard

Washington Monument

  • Washington Monument ~ Tickets are free but have a $1.50 service charge per person and anyone two years and older are required to have a ticket to go to the top of the monument. Tickets go on sale three months prior and I highly recommend purchasing them online the day they go on sale. Tour buses snap them up quickly. Click here for more information. If you’re unable to get tickets online, there are a limited number of Same Day tickets distributed at 8:30 am at the National Park Service building located at 15th street near the monument. These are free same-day, timed tickets and one person can get up to six. The line forms much earlier than 8:30am so get an early start.
  • Georgetown ~ It’s a dynamic area of DC to wander around; parts of it are serene and parts are packed with people. Stop in to see the gorgeous Georgetown University campus, take a peek at The Exorcist stairs (and run up them if you’re in great shape), walk along waterfront park and stop in for coffee/pastries at Baked and Wired.

Please note: All buildings in Washington DC have security at the entrances and be prepared to go through a scanner. There are lists of prohibited items on each website. It’s best to pack lightly when touring around DC.

I’ve used my list for the last five years for about thirty first-time visitors. Only one houseguest went rogue. She preferred to visit the National Cathedral, Catholic Basilica, the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum. That’s the great thing about Washington DC ~ there’s something for everyone!

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It’s easy to impress first-time visitors to Washington DC. A lot of people have a negative preconception of the capital city and they are pleasantly surprised when they see all it has to offer. By far, the most common comment I hear from first timers is “We didn’t realize DC is so green and beautiful.” Followed closely by “There are a lot of good looking guys here.”

Last week, I invited a long time Northern Virginian to go into the city with me. Since she hadn’t been to the city in a long time and had already seen all the typical tourist sites, I decided to expand her horizons a bit.

My first suggestion was for her to visit the Madison Building located at 101 Independence Avenue SE to get her Library of Congress Reader ID card.  The free Reader card gives a person access to multiple reading rooms including the stunning Main Reading Room. It’s best to register online prior to going to the ID office where they will take a photo then print your ID card. It takes less than ten minutes. Click here for all the information needed to obtain a reader ID card.

Library of Congress Reading Room I
Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress
Library of Congress the stacks

Once she obtained her card, we decided we should utilize our cards. There are several reading rooms to choose from but, since we’re both interested in photography,  we headed to the Prints and Photographs room. The head researcher was incredibly helpful and we really appreciated her taking the time to explain in detail how to find photos both online and in the reading room.

We then ventured a couple of blocks over to the Russell Office Building  (2 Constitution Avenue) to visit Senator Warren’s (VA-D) office for gallery passes. Both the Senate and House galleries are open to visitors whenever either legislative body is in session. I’ve been to both galleries on a few occasions and find it fascinating to watch our Representatives in action.

The galleries are not part of the U.S. Capitol tour but passes to enter either gallery may be obtained from the offices of your respective Senator or Representative. For International visitors, go to the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center to inquire about gallery passes.

The passes are good for one year (October to October) and when the House of Representatives is not in session, visitors with passes may visit the House gallery on weekdays from 9:00 am to 4:15 pm. The House gallery is closed on holidays and sometimes due to unplanned temporary closures.

The Senate gallery is open during scheduled recesses and visitors are admitted to the gallery weekdays from 9:00 am to 4:15 pm. The Senate gallery is closed on holidays (unless the Senate is in session), and during any recess or adjournment of less than one week.

Both the Senate and House are closed on weekends, unless they are in session.

To get your gallery passes, you’ll need to visit your respective Senator and Representative. If you’re not sure who your elected officials are, please go to League of Women Voters and enter your zip code.

If you’re a local or frequent visitor, you may want to get your own Reader card to do research or visit a Senate session to see you government in action.Library of Congress rain day II

At the United States Capitol

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For the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing a lot about Port City Brewing Company. They recently earned the national title of Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival in Denver. They beat out the other 517 breweries in the small brewery category.
We were welcomed by a friendly, good looking bartender who explained how the flights worked: $12 for six tickets and an extensive taster menu:;
Tidings Ale ended up being my favorite one. It’s a Belgian Strong Blond and has honey, ginger, cardamom and coriander. I mostly tasted the ginger – mild and very refreshing.  
Every Friday night, the Borinquen Lunch Box food truck parks out front from 5:30 to 9 pm. DELICIOUS! I had the arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), tostones (fried plantains) and a vegetarian empanada. John devoured his Cubano sandwich. If you’re looking for some authentic Puerto Rican food, I highly recommend stopping by for a bite (or take away).
This was the first of many visits – I’ll definitely be checking out Trivia Night but will pass on science fiction night. I’ll wait for history trivia. There’s also Beer Yoga and Comedy Night.

Port City Brewing Company is located at 3950 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria. Give it a taste…

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While the construction crew building the Hotel Indigo dug deep, the remains of an 18th century ship’s fifty-foot hull was unearthed at 220 South Union Street in Old Town, Alexandria.

It had been scuttled sometime in the late 1700s when the town used it as part of the landfill for the waterfront which was extended out to a deeper part the Potomac River. The new waterfront allowed Alexandria to become a thriving international port.  In photo: Before the landfill (late 1700s), the waterline went to where the crane is located.

3-D laser scanning, photographs and measurements have been completed and now the ship is being dismantled so it can be moved to a wet environment for further study and hopefully conservation.  For more information about this and other discoveries in Old Town, go to: Alexandria Archaeology Museum which is located in the Torpedo Factory on King Street.

When they announced the area would be open to the public for two hours, I was hoping to get onto the construction site for a closer look but it was not to be.

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We decided to take advantage of the record-breaking warm temperatures this winter and go on a hike to celebrate the last day of 2015.   At the top of Buzzard Rock

Located in the George Washington National Forest , just west of Shenandoah National Park, is the Buzzard Rock trailhead. It’s just outside Front Royal and the address is 3087-3189 Mountain Road/Route 629. Parking is limited (if it’s full, see the link at the end of this post for larger parking areas). The drive from Washington DC takes about an hour and a half.  The 1.5 mile trail is marked with white spray paint on either a tree or rock along the path. At the beginning, the terrain is rolling and  gentle with a sprinkling of small creeks and a campground area. As you approach the top, the hike becomes steeper and rockier.   Beautiful stream My daughter jumping across the stream
For all the biology enthusiasts: lots of lichen along the trail. My favorite is the blaze orange…  Looking out toward the Front Royal Fish Hatchery and Passage Creek.

Note the white marking on the tree on the right. Good thing there are marks because some areas become a bit rocky.   At Buzzard RockThe views are lovely, even in the winter. I’ll be back to see the scenery in spring and autumn…

A quick comment on hiking etiquette: Most hikers we saw, greeted us with a “hi” or “hey”. But almost all of them didn’t realize hikers coming down should yield to hikers going up. Also, hike quietly ~ there was one woman speaking loudly into her cell phone as she walked down the hill (not stopping for us as we were ascending) and her partner gave us an embarrassed shrug.

If you decide to go, you can get detailed information, maps and how many calories you burn on the hike: here.

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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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