I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Sunday
Nov232014

Culture clash

 

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The art museum is housed in one of several grand buildings along the National Mall and the huge banner advertises the current star of the show: Degas’ Little Dancer.

 

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Like all the museums here, entrance is free of charge and from the minute we stepped inside, we were delighted we’d come.  The light and airy spaces were free of clutter and many were free of people too!

 

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Best of all were the long vistas through archways, offering a glimpse of the treasures beyond.  The daylight from the overhead windows made the the gallery more open and inviting.

 

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Beneath the central dome was a fountain surrounded by seasonal planting and it was easy to see why this was a popular place to meet or to sit and contemplate.

 

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But what about the art?  We were heading for the American galleries, thinking that since we didn’t have time to see everything, we’d have a single goal in mind.  I couldn’t resist a quick peek at a few Cezanne works however, having watched the BBC programme about artists and the French Riviera on the plane coming over.

 

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Oh, and passing by the star of the show, of course we had to take a closer look at her.  This is the original wax model, formed by Degas himself and dressed in the original ballet dress.

 

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She was actually beautifully displayed and the audience was respectful in allowing everyone a turn  to have space to view her closely.  No pushy pushy crowds here, thank goodness.

 

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As we made our way to the far corners, I continued to marvel at the way selected pictures were hung to be framed by the doorways.

 

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Eventually we reached our goal and whose work should be one of the first to catch my eye, but Winslow Homer.  The Boys in the Pasture is an old friend I like to visit when we are in Boston, but here, Dad’s Coming! has that same warmth and fine detail.  The storytelling is great, isn’t it?

 

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Sorry, I didn’t frame this Singer-Sergeant beauty "(“Repose”) so well, but I couldn’t resist the lavish fabrics which, from a distance look so realistic and yet, of course, when viewed at close quarters are mere brush strokes.  Emma Freud, your comment accompanying the portrait which I blogged about in London last week sprang to mind again.

 

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With a last glimpse through doorways to paintings we’ll save for a future visit, we made our way to the central hall again, though as we went, we took a short look around a temporary exhibit.

 

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The sight of lace curtains with bird motifs blowing in the breeze from an open window inspired Andrew Wyeth to paint the image.  Not only that, the powerful image influenced his work for years to come and many of these “window” works were exhibited here in the gallery today.  It was easy to see why windows made for such compelling subjects, because of the light and shade perhaps, but also the natural frame for whatever lies beyond.  These smaller rooms were pretty full of both art and of visitors so we didn’t linger.  However, I’ll look out for his work in future and will be interested to learn more.

 

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Leaving the art behind, we walked along the Mall and past the Natural History museum, where the skaters were enjoying the ice rink set out in front of the building.

 

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The National Museum of American History is in a rather more modern building next door and that was our next destination.  As always, we spoke to one of the volunteer guides at the desk and asked advice about what we mustn’t miss.

 

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So our first port of call was the “Star Spangled Banner” exhibit – the real, enormous, restored flag which flew in Baltimore and inspired the National Anthem.  Interesting and a good place to start, we thought.

 

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Well, to be honest, the rest of the museum proved to be a disappointment.  Rather than the serious history museum we were expecting, we found the exhibits to be more family oriented and lacking detail.

 

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Julia Child’s kitchen was possibly the most interesting exhibit but we passed by the remainder of the food themed area in favour of the transportation display downstairs.

 

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By now, we were recognising that we were not, perhaps, the typical visitor.  Having had the good fortune to travel widely in the USA and visit many more specialised museums and collections, this broad-brush, general approach just wasn’t going to cut the mustard.  The Auburn car collection we visited earlier in the year had so many absolute stunners on show that the one single car on show here didn’t really compare.  Anyway, when the city offers a Museum of the American Indian, is building a Museum of African American history, there’s also an Air and Space Museum not to mention so many other specialist museums in other cities around the country, what remains to show in a general “history museum” ?  My hopes of learning more about the pioneer life I’ve just been reading about in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were thwarted  - this just wasn’t the place for such things.  Never mind. 

Feeling just a little footsore, we headed back to the hotel, just a block or two away.  When we got there, we didn’t dare sit down or else we might not have the energy to get up again!

 

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So we jumped straight in the car and headed out of town.  After all, I had coupons for JoAnns and Michaels burning a hole in my pocket!

 

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I left my hero reading in the car whilst I went in JoAnns first.  20% off a total purchase of $50 or more, 25% off $100 or 30% off $150.  I had a little list!  Finding things wasn’t easy, however and it took a while, even though I didn’t have any intention of buying fabric once I saw the queue to have it cut.

 

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My purchases were more considered – large rolls of stabiliser for machine embroidery then, having done a little mental arithmetic, a few packs of sewing machine needles and other bits and pieces to take the total up to the discount threshold.  I won’t say which one!

 

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Meanwhile, my hero had come looking for me.  Thinking I’d have finished in JoAnn’s already, he’d been into Michaels next door and encountered such a melee, he’d decided to stay back in the car after all!

 

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All Christmas things in Michaels were 50% off.  No wonder people were wheeling trolleys full of fake evergreen trees, wrapping papers, boxes, bags and so much red and green “stuff”, it was very tempting to turn right around and go back to the car.  But hey, I had a coupon…

I found a couple of things I’d been looking for, got a few half price stickers for my December Daily album and used the coupon on a small pack of ink sprays before calling it a day.

 

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As I left, they thrust a coupon into my hand!

 

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We, however, progressed to the next row of shops, just around the corner.  G Street Fabrics is a well established Washington store and I knew it for quilting fabrics and Bernina sewing machines.

 

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It’s a large store, occupying a whole basement and I had a really interesting (and useful) conversation with the Bernina saleslady who was embroidering an attractive Christmas sampler.  I wasn’t in the market for a new sewing machine however, didn’t have any accessories on my list and so there wasn’t really anything further for her to help with.

 

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Looking around the rest of the store, though, everything seemed a little empty, especially bearing in mind the hoohah that was going on just around the corner.

 

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Sad to say, I left empty handed.

 

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This evening, we headed for one of the places we’d passed by last night.  The Capitol City Brewing Company looked promising and sure enough, it was an ok sort of place.  Best of all, it wasn’t so far to walk, because both of us were a little footsore tonight.  Might that be because we walked  more than four miles* back from breakfast this morning?

* “It’s not far”, he said.

Sunday
Nov232014

Footsore

 

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A bright and sparkling morning awaited us as we drew back the curtains.  Time to get out and enjoy the city – after breakfast!  We had a recommendation for Ted’s Bulletin on Capitol Hill and directions via the metro, so off we set in search of “our” station.  It’s in the adjacent McPherson Square – but where?

 

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We could tell it was around here somewhere from the rumbling we could hear through the grating in the pavement.  But we couldn’t see a station at all.

 

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Aha! Sneaky.  The sign is just around the corner, but blends in well with the scenery, don’t you think?

 

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First buy our tickets.  We’ve done this the world over and yet every machine has its little idiosyncrasies.  This one decided that just one card was enough and was reluctant to issue a second card.  Eventually, as we gave up and began to walk away in search of another machine, it reset and we started over. 

 

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No cute names here, just “Smartrip”.  Having bought $10 cards, we thought that maybe we’d better add a little more to each, whilst there was no-one about.  After all, there’s nothing worse than trying to do these things with a queue of locals behind, all in a hurry.

 

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We managed to tame the monster of a machine to add another $10 to each card and set off at last.

 

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The signs were clear and we noted we needed to travel seven stops – just as well, since the trains travel very fast, the stops are short and there are neither station announcements nor information about the next stop displayed on the train itself.

 

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We had the train to ourselves for a while.

 

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So, in lieu of people watching, we tried to work out the advert.

 

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Seven stops later, we were out into the bright sunshine again.

 

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This was a fairly smart, residential district with young families out and about enjoying the fresh air on a sunny Saturday morning.

 

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Ted’s Bulletin was a popular spot for breakfast too, so we had a short wait.  Never mind – it was well worth waiting for!

 

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We resisted the peanut butter and bacon cake, not to mention the home made pop tarts.

 

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Nevertheless, we still left feeling totally stuffed, so decided to walk back rather than take the metro again.  After all, it felt so good to be out in the sunshine.

 

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In no time at all, we were almost at the Library of Congress.

 

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A little bit of cone avoidance was in order, because these were special Library of Congress cones!

 

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As we approached the back of the Capitol building, we thought we’d take a selfie.

 

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Even with all the scaffolding around the dome, the Capitol is a stunning building, isn’t it?

 

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Walking around to the front, we remembered doing a tour when we were last here in 2002 and standing on the spot where the President stands to give the inaugural address.  Today, we weren’t so bothered and carried on past the sightseers, stopping only to take a picture of the view.

 

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The National Mall was looking rather greener than it did back then, too, because we were here in the summertime and it was incredibly hot and dry.  It’s much more pleasant to be here at this time of the year, that’s for sure.

 

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Though the birds were skating on the ice of the reflecting pool.  Though it was warmer today than yesterday, it’s still pretty cold – around 3C according to my phone.

 

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We headed across the Mall, then, towards Constitution Avenue and the National Gallery of Art.  We felt we’d walked our breakfast off by now and were ready for a bit of culture.  I’ll tell you about it in the next post.

Saturday
Nov222014

We are here

 

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Last night, when Heathrow was very quiet, we had a little assignation.  A phone call with a ten minute warning to grab my bags and head for the valet parking, where a wave from my hero signalled me to put them in the boot as he went off to sort out the paperwork.  The last packing adjustment was complete and all my Bernina notes, London clothes and a couple of small purchases which didn’t need to be taken across the ocean and back were left in the car – and I hoped that I hadn’t left something important behind!

 

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The travelling companions were glad to be together again!

 

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The vehicle of choice for today was an A380 rather than the 205.   We were headed for Washington Dulles Airport, sitting somewhere in the red bit of the swoosh.

 

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Seven and a half trouble free hours later and there we were.  A bright, crisp afternoon with temperatures hovering around zero and thankfully, no snow!

 

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With my hero switched into US-driving mode, we headed into the city and checked into our hotel.  It’s remarkably quiet here, hardly any traffic and not so many visitors either, which is great.

 

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We couldn’t linger and wanted to make the most of the bright sunshine to ease the time difference so wrapped up and set off four blocks west to Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

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You know who lives there, don’t you?  We didn’t have a dinner invitation though and no-one was skipping on the lawn today, so we took the pictures and moved right along.

 

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No, of course we weren’t the only ones there!

 

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The Capitol building is shrouded in scaffolding, but that’s fine because we’ve been there, done that, even if it was a few years ago!  We kept on walking though, as much to stay warm as to stay awake.

 

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I was amused by the signs here – I guess that you shouldn’t attempt to simply drive through without stopping?!

 

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We decided to leave the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial for another day and instead, walked up the Mall towards the Capitol.

 

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It turned out that we were walking the Federal Triangle Heritage Trail.  Who knew?

 

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So that’s what we did.  Except that around about the half way point we were starting to get hungry.  And cold. We quite fancied a drink, too.

 

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So turning up 7th St and spotting Carmines, we went right on in!  This Italian restaurant was new to us and seeing the prices, we wondered if we’d chosen wisely – it all seemed rather expensive for the simple, Italian family food it was offering.  But all soon became clear – it’s served “family style” – a huge bowl of pasta for several people.  Oh my goodness, we were stuffed when we left!  But it was good, it hit the spot and the lack of fuss suited us perfectly.

 

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We walked back to the hotel through bustling streets and past a couple of familiar restaurants – Rosa Mexicana and Legal Seafoods are amongst our favourites in New York and Boston respectively – though whether we’ll sample them here, we’ll see.  We passed so many great possibilities for our time here, I very much doubt that we will go hungry.

 

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So there we are.  Goodnight Washington.

It’s going to be warmer tomorrow and the forecast for the next few days is weird:  it was 0C today and the predicted temperatures for tomorrow, Saturday is 8C, Sunday 13C, and then on Monday it suggests it will be 22C.  What?!  So maybe we’ll wear two layers tomorrow, wear just one on Sunday and then on Monday, perhaps we’ll just need a T shirt and sunscreen?!

Whatever the weather, we’ll have fun.  That I know.

Thursday
Nov202014

Next step

 

Leaving the 205 at Liverpool Street, I gathered my bags and headed for my other favourite bus in this part of London – the 23.  Thankfully, it starts right outside the station, so I was not only assured of a seat, but one with room for my suitcase too.  It’s an absolute bargain of a sightseeing tour as it passes through the City to St Pauls, up Fleet Street and past the High Courts, Somerset House and along the Strand to Trafalgar Square.  It continues through Piccadilly, up Regent Street and Oxford Street to Marble Arch offering a perfect view of the Christmas lights and the wonderful shop windows, so lavishly decorated at this time of the year.  The last stretch along Edgware Road isn’t so interesting but nevertheless, it’s a great spot for people watching and in my opinion, there’s no better – easier - way to get to Paddington.  Patience is needed, however, because the traffic doesn’t always flow quite as smoothly as one might hope!

 

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Unlike the regular passengers who spend their journey time on the phone or reading the newspaper, I’m always looking out of the window.  As we passed the Bank of England, I caught sight of a familiar character through the stonework.  I’d forgotten that there’s a Paddington Trail to follow and this young bear was clearly part of the fun.

 

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Needless to say, I found another in the station which bears his name Winking smile

 

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For the next part of my journey, my ticket was a screen on my phone.  I’d paid dearly for it this morning: it’s reputed to be the most expensive rail journey in the country, so when I saw it was very crowded indeed, I was determined I was not going to stand!  Eventually, I found somewhere to sit, accompanied a firm but polite request with a hard stare and the young man moved his rucksack from the last remaining seat in the carriage.

 

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The Chief Scout was waiting to greet me when I arrived at Heathrow!

Thursday
Nov202014

(Almost) anything is possible

 

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The day got off to a rather good start.  When ordering my breakfast in the Pret A Manger just down the road, the barista didn’t respond immediately to my arrival at the counter.  The manager happened to be watching and “rewarded my patience” (I had to wait all of ten seconds) with a latte on the house.  What’s not to like?

 

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Hannah was ready to start when I got there and we were soon reviewing the small triumphs of yesterday – buttonholes, buttons and the magical tapering facility which I had not even known about.  OK, so some of my samples needed a little more care and attention, but hey, I got that square almost right!

 

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Today was all about embroidering and using the machine’s inbuilt software to design and modify stitches.  I’d played around with the stitch regulator yesterday to create this little bit of free motion quilting – that clearly needs more practice too.  So, until I can manage that process reliably, I’ll need to learn how to program the machine to do it for me.

 

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Well, ok, it’s no masterpiece, but the facility of being able to scribble on the screen of the machine, to press “go” and then to sit back and watch the scribble turn into a stitch is a great trick to have at my disposal.  Still, I’d have preferred those scribbled curves to have been smooth and not jaggy, just as in my drawing.  I searched for a means of making the stitches smaller but although I could reduce the size of the whole pattern, there wasn’t an obvious way to increase the stitch count.  Hmmm.  Well perhaps my super duper machine does have its limitations after all!

 

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After lunch, I explored the ways in which embroidery designs can be modified without returning to the software and how the most basic of stitches can be turned into interesting (and sometimes messy) patterns.  Throughout the day, I’d had so many opportunities to have all my questions answered, to find out more about some of the accessories and see first hand what can be achieved with them and best of all, to establish contact with and learn from the real expert. I’m looking forward to setting aside a few days to work through the pages of notes I took and to spending time reinforcing what I’ve learned here.

 

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With my head buzzing I stepped out along Goswell Road, admiring the colours in the leaves which were blowing around my feet.  In amongst the many was the one…

 

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Lovely!

 

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A few minutes later, my vehicle of choice was approaching and I was on my way back.  Not home, but to collect my luggage for the next stage on the adventure!