Friday, February 25, 2011

A Weekend of Pasttimes

Part 1: Finding Talent
One of the great things about the Washington DC area is the musical talent that we have everywhere.  There are live bands, cabarets, musicals, and operas chock full of talented singers and musicians.  It is easy to focus on Glee, and Lady Gaga, and other popular musicians, and to forget about who we have right here.  But, don't.

Recently in Shirlington's Signature Theater, I saw Katherine Thompson sing in a cabaret.  She appeared in "Giant" in a previous Signature season, but in real life, singing her own songs, she really shines.  Over the course of her scheduled nightly appearances, she also featured guest singers to give them a chance to sing and shine.

Part of what makes Katherine great is that she has asthma.  Any day that she has an asthma attack, she has to take an inhaler which puts particulates on her throat, affecting her voice.  Despite this contrary health condition, Katherine "sings through" the hardship with the same passion as on days when her breathing is fine.  She does not let something as small as asthma or inhaler stand in her way.

It is easy to find local talent to hear someone passionate and live.  Whether you hear Katherine or another singer, go outside your front door.  Leave the television, Glee, and American Idol behind -- and find a local band, cabaret, or piano bar, and let yourself enjoy it.  Find the talent!

Part 2: Enjoy the Weather!

There are a lot of places to walk around the NoVa and Washington DC area.  Over the past few weeks, we have seen hints of Spring, and this invites us outdoors.  This afternoon, I walked along a trail in Georgetown with some French-speaking friends.  We got exercise, fresh air, and an easy snack afterwards.  We were walking along the C&O canal, and some parts of it were what you'd expect ... while other parts had no water!  There was a sign at the "Visitor Center" about taking barge rides on the canal.  Well, in the photo I include here, you can see the status of that past-time.  Nevertheless, we all had a great time.  We took advantage of the great weather, though, and had a great time.  Below are some resources for you to find places to go walking.

Part 3: The "Other" Air & Space Museum: Udvar-Hazy Center

If you or someone you know has any interest in planes and helicopters, then this is the place for you.  There is also a little bit of history that you can see through the scope of air travel evolution.  Located in Chantilly, you have the advantage of visiting a larger museum with fewer tourists.  Some of the highlights of this museum are the touch screen views of what its like inside the cockpit, and the mix of public and private sector aircraft.  Some of the planes that I spotted were Air France, Boeing, a silver-colored Pan Am plane, a Pennzoil plane, and a West Virginia Air Guard plane!  Helicopters are highlighted as "vertical flight," pointing out that while these aircraft literally can go up and down, whereas planes glide upward slowly.  There are multiple levels that you can stand on to see the planes and helicopters, the floor and a catwalk halfway up to the ceiling.  There are also a Cinemax theater and Simulator rides. 
If this is a trip for you, here are some  suggestions to improve the trip:
  • Admission is $15 parking per car.  Pack a mini-van and split the fee.
  • The only food there is a McDonalds, if you don't like it you can bring food to eat at an outside picnic table.  The museum also will give you lists of restaurants in the area..
  • Bring extra cash, the Cinemax costs up to $8 per person, and so do the simulator rides.
  • There are restrooms on the ground floor and catwalk level.
  • The museum is open 10 - 5:30 daily.
Have fun!  I know I did.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Event Alert!

If you are a parent in the DC area, you love crepes, and you have not yet been to the Hillwood estate (featured in one of my earlier blogs), then I have a treat for you.

The French Alliance is having: La Chandeleur: An Event for Children

Sometimes known as “Crêpe Day,” February 2, or La Chandeleur, is celebrated in France with food and games. The Alliance Française and the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens invites families to celebrate this holiday in festive French fashion by eating crêpes, listening to a story, and decorating a plate with fanciful designs and flourishes inspired by Hillwood’s French porcelain.

Admission is $15 for non-members, $10 for children, $8 for Hillwood and AF members, Free for children under the age of 2. Reservations are required and may be made at either the AFDC at 202-234-7911 or at the Hillwood at 202-686-5807.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lost Creek Winery & Speakeasy DC

Lost Creek Winery

One January Saturday, at around noon, I drove out to Leesburg to join a Meet-Up Group for a ladies'-only event at Lost Creek Winery.  It looked like just what I needed to relax, unwind, and have a quiet day while I struggled to fight a cold.

What a gem!  At Lost Creek Winery, couples, families, and friends can go for a quick and friendly wine tasting, buy a bottle, and then -- here's the fun part -- sit down at a table in front of the fireplace.  Not only that, but you can either bring your own cheese, or buy it there.  Sausage and other foods is also available.  Then, while you are relaxing with your group, you can hear a soulful singer entertain you.

A visit to this winery is no fancy affair, it is the perfect place to taste and buy wine while also wearing jeans.  For those interested in visiting, here is the website:

Speakeasy DC
Who doesn't love a good story?  You can't think of anyone, can you?  Are you a good storyteller ... do you want to tell better stories, or know someone who wants to?
I discovered Speakeasy DC when I went with a Meetup group to an open mic event on fashion and clothing.  The event started with a professional comedian to break the ice, but it was every day folks like you and me who told the rest of the stories.  Some were funny, many were funny, but it is not stand-up comedy or speechgiving.  Speakeasy DC has classes on the old-fashioned skill of telling a story.  The open mic events are pre-planned, so you can not sign up upon showing up for the event, but you don't have to take a class to participate.
If you're wondering how entertaining the events are, I was so inspired by the event that I went to, that I signed up for the next open mic topic: Grass is Greener.  How easy is that?!  I don't think there's a soul who can say they haven't looked at someone and said, 'your grass is greener than mine!' I'm not talking about yards, FYI.  ;-)
For classes or events, or to sign-up to participate in an open mic night go to:
Have some fun!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dumbarton Oaks!

Here in the DC area, in early November, we still have some delicious Fall weather.  The leaves are turning or have turned, and it is still warm enough to walk around without bundling up.
I decided to savor this climate, which we all know can turn on a dime, to enjoy Dumbarton Oaks public park, garden, and museum.

The public park  
The official Dumbarton Oaks grounds only open at 2 PM in the winter (which starts November 1), but is free in the "winter season" which is a  savings over the high season cost of admission ($8/ adult, $5 for each child and senior citizen).  I arrived early, so I began my tour of Dumbarton by going for a walk in the park literally next to the Dumbarton Oak grounds.  The park has an informal dog run, and paths where local families took their kids for a picnic, and some just went for a joyous Fall afternoon.  The public park is very natural and beautiful, with a small stream that is evidently popular with children.  There is no public rest room.

Dumbarton Oak garden 
In the Fall season, the Dumbarton Oaks grounds are not crowded, which is nice for everybody.  Parents let their children run loose without worrying they would bother other guests, and everyone got a sense of having the grounds somewhat to themselves.  The grounds are large, which you get a hint of by the large front yard leading up to the house.  They include terraces, a rose garden, fountains, and sculptures.  Parents might want to note that there is only one bathroom stall available for public use in the green house.

Dumbarton Oak museum 
The house itself is closed to the public, but around the corner is a museum entrance, which the last private owner of Dumbarton Oaks is individually responsible for.  The last private owner, Mr. Robert Woods Bliss collected Byzantine and pre-Columbian art, including armor, gold pieces, and ceramics, while he owned the grounds.  He also created an enormous music room which earns the envy of any present-day entertainer.  The music room has 15th and 16th century furniture and a mural dated 1928 in a back alcove.  On the right upon entering, it has a beautiful old piano.  The basement has public restroom for visitors -- I recommend these restrooms to parents who are spending the afternoon at Dumbarton!  But remember, it only opens at 2 PM.

Bonus Information 
Like many of the large and beautiful homes of earlier times, the grounds were used for historical events.   Dumbarton Oaks hosted the "1944 Conversations", a meeting of American, British, Russian, and Chinese diplomats and statesmen who met to discuss and negotiate for international peace, friendly relations, international cooperation, and reaching common ends.

Dumbarton Oaks has a relaxed outdoor element to it, as well as educational elements.  It is up to the guest what he or she gets out of it.  I will tease you with one fact though -- the house started with the Rock of Dumbarton in 1702!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

National Harbor Revisited

Last weekend I attended an event at National Harbor, but without photos or the chance to visit the village, could not do it justice for you.  Well, I liked National Harbor so much, that I went back to get a sense of it so you could hear more about it, and see photos as well.
First of all, the website tries to make you think that "National Harbor" is a city for an address.  It isn't.  No GPS will have the city listed as such -- its Oxon Hill, Maryland.  You can drive there and park, which is $3 / hour, or take the pricey ferry from Alexandria, which is $8 one way, $16 round-trip.
The National Harbor, a new gem that is essentially south of Washington DC, across the Potomac from Alexandria and Mount Vernon, is still developing.  It is, however, developing into a cross between Reston Town Center and Shirlington -- but on the water, with restaurants and even condos that have a view.  Cute and hip, National Harbor has sit-down restaurants and a Pot Belly, Ben & Jerry's and a gelato place, a Majorga coffee shop (thank God not another Starbucks) and a Fossil store.  It has a cute pet shop, a hotel right there, an established event area, and is down the road from Gaylord.  Today, the event area had a lobsterfest!

New and clean, National Harbor is a place to go on a sunny day for a bike ride, a meal, and a stroll.  For the stroll, I can recommend walking between National Harbor's "downtown" area and Gaylord.  It really is a beautiful area, and this time I have photos to prove it!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

National Harbor & Oktoberfest

This weekend I discovered not only the first of the area's Oktoberfest celebrations, but also our newly developed National Harbor.
Oktoberfest is an activity for beer-drinking groups whether the group members drink in moderation or excess.  There were two kinds of tickets: regular or VIP.  Regular ticket holders are given 6 chips for the price of admission and a plastic mug.  Each chip buys the drinker 2 oz of a taste of beer.  VIP members pay $20 per ticket but have unlimited tastes of beer and their cup is filled up to 6 oz per taste.  The event was filled with 20 somethings and was sprinkled with attendees in costume.  There were vending booths who might have sold goods, but the populace there was, without a doubt, there for the beer.  Bratwurst and knockwurst were sold in addition to potato pancakes and regular fair food.  To get there, you could drive and park, take the water taxi from Alexandria, or take a taxi from anywhere nearby.  The water taxi is a pleasant but pricey experience compared to drive and park, but worth taking once.
The real treat of the event being at the National Harbor was the harbor itself.  Maryland had invested in creating an attraction, and succeeded.  Cirque du Soleiel has chosen to stage this year's Washington DC area show at the Harbor, and people from all around go to the National Harbor for shopping and eating on the waterfront.  There are even public bathrooms that are well-maintained and a beach with a statue of Poseidon lying in the sand.
I did not remember my camera for this event, but I encourage readers to Google search the National Harbor in Maryland, and if you haven't been there, give it a try.  There is plenty of pleasant walking space, as well as a nice area for shopping and eating.  I plan to take out of town visitors there!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Signature Theater Cabaret: 4 Stars!

There are two things that make a cabaret great: a good music selection, and great talent.  The first of the new cabaret series, The Lost Songs Of Broadway, 1950-1960 featured many songs that were omitted from musicals or were written for musicals that never got to the stage.  As the singers point out, that doesn't mean the songs aren't good.  The combination of songs tonight included humor, sentiment, secrets, sadness, and almost always, love.  What made these songs great were the three powerhouse voices that sang the songs.

There were two women and a young man, a soprano, a mezzo-soprano/alto, and a tenor.  The soprano, Erin Driscoll, has a soaring powerful soprano that is widely heard without being shrill.  And Erin applies a healthy dose of acting so that you really get the feeling of the song.

The mezzo, Sherri Edelen, is an experienced singer with humor, versatile mood singing, and joyous ease.
The young tenor, Jake Odmark, is a welcome returning face to Signature.  He gets appropriately into the mood of the songs, which has presented difficulty for past tenors.  He also enjoys the female company that he sings with.
Every song was sung well and the pianist also applied clever and entertaining accompaniment.

The question on my mind, now and always, is why the young sophisticates of the area have not yet learned to enjoy the cabarets at Signature.  If the joy of great singing isn't enough, any audience member can bring wine and a cheese board, dinner, or dessert into the theater -- as long as you buy it there.

For those of you with a sense of adventure for culture, I urge you to buy tickets to the cabaret.  You will not be disappointed!
Cabaret: Original Soundtrack Recording (1972 Film)Cabaret: The Illustrated Book and Lyrics