Keith Richards’ “Life”

I have been so pleasantly surprised by Keith Richards’ memoir that I would recommend it to any music fan.  Yes there is lots of titillating anecdotes of sex and drugs and rock & roll; and yes there is a fair amount of back story on the relationship between Richards and Mick Jagger.

For me, however, the most significant value of the book is that he tells the story of the music! He talks about his influences and he talks about how he arrived at certain sounds.  For example, both Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man were recorded on an early version of a cassette recorder!  He overloaded the microphone using an acoustic guitar.  That’s it.  There is no electric guitar and no amp on Jumping Jack Flash!  They took the cassette and recorded the master from that.  Mind-blowing!

He discovered that he didn’t need all 6 strings on his guitar so he simply took the lowest one off!  He abandoned classic guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E) for “Open G tuning” in which if you play all the strings just open, they play a G chord.  That gave him the distinctive sound you hear on Brown Sugar, Tumbling Dice, Honky Tonk Woman, and so many more.

After 50 years of well-publicized drug addiction, hard living, and clashes with the law, he hardly set us up to expect a well-crafted autobiography.  True, he had help from a writer, British journalist James Fox.  The book is very well-written and in my opinion, Fox deserves perhaps as much as 50% of the credit for this book.  I think he spent years teasing out the stories, organizing them into the broader narrative.

But Keith Richards is not the drug-addled zombie you might expect.  He’s witty and clever, and he has genuine insight into the significance of events in his life.  Go on youtube and look at any recent interview with him.  None of those have a writer, word-smithing his responses.  The guy’s an intelligent, thoughtful man with something to say.

Throughout a lifetime of fame, bad behavior, and conflict, he managed to maintain a family, and work with the Rolling Stones for 50 years!  He talks of his prolific song-writing abilities and he discusses the environments that led to certain songs.  How he sat in a window one day as a huge storm was rolling in.  At the time, his relationship with his girlfriend was challenged and he was facing a betrayal from his closest friend, Mick Jagger.  He started to play his guitar and put words to his thoughts and the line came out, “Ooh the storm is threatening, my very life today.  If I don’t get some shelter, ooh I’m gonna’ fade away” and the beginning kernel of the song Gimme Shelter was born.  I’ve listened to that song hundreds of times and it always puts a chill in my spine.

He describes the collaborative process of their songwriting.  Either he would begin with a snappy guitar lick, or Mick Jagger would come in with a catchy song lyric and together they would build on it and develop the idea until it was a full song.  Often they would bring in side men, session musicians on horns, keyboards, and such to round out the sound they wanted.

He talks at length about his influences.  The first time he heard Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel it changed his life.  He describes it as realizing for the first time that music, like a painting, did not need to fill every square inch of the canvas.  The stripped down haunting sound of Heartbreak Hotel put just a few important curves on the canvas and the listener took it from there.

Keith spent some time living in Jamaica and one result of that is some reggae influence.  It was the blues, however, that had the greatest influence on the Rolling Stones’ music.  It’s obvious in songs like Midnight Rambler, and Honky Tonk Woman, but I would highly recommend you explore some of the early Stones music that did not become so popular that it’s still played today.  Go back and listen to the album Exile on Main Street.  and not just the big hits like Tumbling Dice and Happy.  Listen to some of the songs you’d never really heard, or maybe forgot, songs like Ventilator Blues, or Rocks Off.  Listen to Sweet Virginia, one of their many country songs.  These guys traveled through the rural and southern United States and toured with a lot of black musicians and famous blues artists during the 60’s and it had a profound affect on the music.

The album Black & Blue never received a lot of critical acclaim or financial success but there are some absolute gems on it!  The song Hey Negrita was panned and more or less written off; but go back and listen to the jagged edgy blues in this song.  It is raw and dark and sounds more like musicians jamming after hours and less like a polished over-produced record album.  The album featured a song called Melody that had the unmistakable sound of Billy Preston, his voice and his piano.  He sings with Mick, and Keith rounds it out with his guitar, injecting blues riffs around the edges.

I “read” this book on audio and that made a huge difference!  It is read in parts by Johnny Depp, Joe Hurley, and Keith Richards himself. Depp, who modeled his Pirates of the Caribbean character after Keith Richards is great, and it’s a fantastic finish to have the author read the conclusion of the book.  It is Hurley, however, who steals the show.  He sounds more like Richards and after a chapter or two, your mind relaxes and assumes it is him.  There’s something about the audio, the rich British accent, the timing, it was a great experience.  The book is long, the audio version was 23 hours!  That 23 hours took me all summer to get through because I had downloaded it onto my iPhone and every time he’d mention some song or artist I would pause and go listen to it.  Thus, it ended up costing me a lot of money too because I bought a lot of the music he sent me to hear!

In the space of reading this book he has made me a huge fan of Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Gram Parsons, Ry Cooder, and more.  He made me a bigger fan of Elvis–early Elvis, rockabilly delta blues Elvis.  He’s made me appreciate the Rolling Stones music a lot more.  Now I hear things in the music I never noticed before.

I am a diehard fan of rock & roll, with a special emphasis on improvisational jam bands.  For me, this book was like a budding magician reading a book that explains how all the tricks were done.  Yes, it’s pretty cool to red about Keith partying with Jimmy Page in a hotel room in New York, or how he and John Lennon dropped acid together and drove across the English countryside in Richards’ Bentley.  More important however, is that this all led to the music, more music, different music, and better music.

If it’s been a while since you really listened to the Rolling Stones, grab a pair of headphones and put on the song Let It Bleed.  This is a great version of the blended textures and sounds of their music.  It has a country vibe, bluesy tones, an acoustic texture and slowly gains energy as the song progresses.  After the first verse Keith’s distinctive 5-string guitar tuned in open G kicks in and makes its mark.

One of his goals in their music was to avoid the traditional roles of two guitars, one banging out the rhythm and the other whaling away on lead.  Instead, he and Ronnie Wood weave two complimentary guitars together, both as rhythm, and both as lead.  The result is rich and complex.  In the book he challenges us to listen to Beast of Burden and figure out who is playing which guitar.

This is a significant book that sets down a historic marker for rock & roll music fans.  It has broadened my music perspective and entertained me all summer.  Not bad Mr. Richards, not bad at all!


Making Traditional Caribbean Pepper Sauce…Virginia Style!

Recently my son Andrew discovered this video recipe for hot pepper sauce.  Chris de la Rosa at Caribbean Pot has a great website on Caribbean food and his videos are very entertaining.   (more…)

Theodore Roosevelt Island

This post is one in a series of Ten DC Walks  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.15.31 PMTheodore Roosevelt Island is in the Potomac River between the Arlington, VA neighborhood of Rosslyn and the Washington, DC neighborhood of Georgetown.  A footbridge takes you from the VA side to the island and once there you are in a different world.

A footbridge brings you from the Virginia side of the Potomac to Roosevelt Island.

A footbridge brings you from the Virginia side of the Potomac to Roosevelt Island.

For a city park, it is remarkably peaceful!  The stretch of water by the footbridge is narrow and calm and often hosts kayaks, canoes and on this day, a paddle-boarder.

The stretch of water by the footbridge is calm and often hosts paddle-boards, kayaks, and canoes.

The stretch of water by the footbridge is calm and often hosts paddle-boards, kayaks, and canoes.

The island is filled with gentle hiking trails and different eco-systems.  Marsh, swamp, and soft green forest are all found here.  At the edges of the island the urban cityscape is plainly visible but for most of the walk you find yourself in a different world.

A view of Arlington, VA's Rosslyn neighborhood from under the Roosevelt bridge.

A view of Arlington, VA’s Rosslyn neighborhood from under the Roosevelt bridge.

For this 3-mile walk I did a wide circuit around the perimeter of the island, and then wound in to the interior.  In the center is a plaza and monument to Theodore Roosevelt, including a 15-foot statue of TR himself.

The center of the island has a charming plaza, featuring a 15 ft statue of Teddy Roosevelt .

The center of the island has a charming plaza, featuring a 15 ft statue of Teddy Roosevelt .

The plaza is a pleasant park with fountains and different levels.  It is an idyllic spot for picnics, families out for a hike, and joggers.

Though the city is not far away, you would think you're in the middle of nowhere!

Though the city is not far away, you would think you’re in the middle of nowhere!

One of the many eco-systems found on the island is a wide marsh.

One of the many eco-systems found on the island is a wide marsh.

There is also a swamp, ebbing and flowing with the tide and rich with various creatures.

There is also a swamp, ebbing and flowing with the tide and rich with various creatures.

It’s a little tricky to get there because you have to be on the north-bound George Washington Parkway–which sounds easy enough, but try it!

Most of the island is accessible by a network of gentle hiking trails.

Most of the island is accessible by a network of gentle hiking trails.

A wide boardwalk takes you through marsh, swamp, and forest on the back side of the island.

A wide boardwalk takes you through marsh, swamp, and forest on the back side of the island.

Once there you can hike in any direction.  On the DC side of the island a wide boardwalk keeps you out of the swamp and marshy areas.  Along with ducks and wildflowers you will also see great views of Georgetown, Key Bridge, Rosslyn, and the Roosevelt Bridge.

The view of Georgetown’s Washington harbor on this day included a glimpse of the Pirate Ship.

Georgetown's Washington Harbor.

Georgetown’s Washington Harbor.

The view of Georgetown from Roosevelt Island.  At top is the skyline of Georgetown University, with Key Bridge in front and under that, the boathouses that host crew teams.

The view from the western tip of Roosevelt Island. Georgetown University, Key Bridge and the crew team boathouses.






The National Mall


This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

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As you can see from the map, this walk is really the “lower half” of the National Mall.  It covers many of the best sites, a few hidden gems and lesser known monuments.

The walk begins at about the corner of 14th and Independence.  This is roughly the mid-point of the National Mall.  Behind you is a great view of the “museum” half of the Mall.   (From left to right, the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Ave, The Museum of American History, and the domed Museum of Natural History.)


The first monument encountered is a biggie, the Washington Monument.  “The Monument” as it is known locally is in view during this entire walk and on this very windy winter day, the flags surrounding it were rippling so hard it sounded like a rushing river.


The monument shows white edges on the corners.  This is mortar where it underwent repairs from the 2011 earthquake that struck the DC area.  The monument was closed and encased in scaffolding for 2 1/2 years while the repairs were done.

The next monument encountered is the National World War II Memorial.  At the time of this walk it was still winter and the fountain was drained.  This is a beautiful monument and in my opinion really captures the age and character of that generation.  I will return and add photos when the fountain is operating.  The monument has a section for each state, a half dedicated to the Atlantic theater, and one to the Pacific.  It is solemn and impressive.



The World War II Memorial is at one end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, with the Lincoln Memorial at the other end.  The  pool is currently drained for restoration.  It looked like a giant roller-rink and offered little in the way of reflection!


As you walk toward the Lincoln Memorial, to your left you will see a domed gazebo.  This is the DC War Memorial.  It is a permanent record honoring the residents of the District of Columbia who gave their lives in military service to the country.

IMG_2860  Just before you get to the Lincoln Memorial, off to the left is the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  This is a very impressive memorial.  A Platoon of soldiers, laden with gear, wearing rain ponchos, spread out in a scouting formation marching through the brush.  At almost every angle at least one of them is looking at you, concerned, nervous.  The detail is inspiring and the backdrop is a black marble wall with faces, names, and a reflection of the Washington Monument.  This memorial deserves a post of its own one day.


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The next stop is one of the most popular monuments in all of Washington, DC.  The Lincoln Memorial, the backdrop for Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous ‘I have a Dream” speech, and memorial to one of our most beloved presidents.  I have lived in this area for over 30 years and it never gets old.  My children go here for Prom pictures, I ride my bike here on weekends, and always, it is packed with visitors.



The view that Lincoln has from his chair is usually awe-inspiring and literally reflective.  On this day, however, with the water drained from the Reflecting Pool, it was lacking something.  At the top of this post I have included what I consider to be one of the finest photographs I have ever taken.  This past fall I was here with a friend at sunset as I watched two Buddhist monks playing tourist.  The colors in the picture, the sunlight on the Washington Monument, and the moment just all came together.  That is what Lincoln sees from his chair.


The Lincoln Memorial is the farthest point from the beginning of the walk.  From there head up the other side of the Reflecting Pool.  Right before you get to the Vietnam Memorial is a sculpture called The Three Soldiers.  Officially part of the Vietnam Memorial, this is a striking piece of art and tribute to American Soldiers.  The uniforms they wear are reflective of all branches of the service.  The work is bronze but still shows color within the uniforms.  The soldiers look, with despair, at the solemn wall that is the Vietnam Memorial.


The Vietnam Memorial, like the World War II Memorial is reflective of its generation.  Dark and filled with conflict, the black marble wall is built into the ground and tapers at each end to grade.  On it are the names of the fallen, over 50,000 of them.  As you walk through, veterans act as docents, people leave flowers, and etch the names of loved ones by tracing over the name with pencil on paper.  The reflection of the Washington Monument and the US Capitol can be seen in the memorial.  I have walked through here many times and always found it to be a moving experience.



As you exit the Vietnam Memorial, walking toward the Washington Monument, there is a small lake and in it is a tiny island with a footbridge connecting it to the shore.  That island is a memorial to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.



It’s a peaceful, almost hidden spot away from all the big monuments.  The names (56 of them) are in order of the colony they represented.  One of my favorite pieces of trivia is here.  One of the signers from my home state of New Hampshire, was named Josiah Bartlett.  If you were a fan of the NBC TV Series The West Wing, you know that the President of the United States in that show was from a storied New Hampshire political family.  Though he went by Jed, his full name was Josiah Bartlett.


Continuing the walk, now on Constitution Avenue, you arrive at a small stone house on a corner.  It looks out of place among the marble and granite monuments. The Lockkeeper’s House was used back when a good part of Constitution Ave was a canal for shipping.  There was a lock here to adjust to changes in elevation.  This Washington City Canal connected the C&O Canal to the Anacostia River and barges were towed right past the US Capitol.    I find it amusing that once donkeys pulled barges right by the front door since now you can’t park a car within miles of the place!


As you continue up Constitution Ave you pass the most famous residential address in DC, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  This view of the Whitehouse is across the Ellipse and during Christmas time the National Christmas tree which the president ceremoniously lights would be right in the center of this frame.  Despite all the police cars, there was no incident going on, this is just the standard security around the perimeter.


The last site on the walk is the newest museum, still under construction.  The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture is scheduled to open in 2016, it occupies the last available space on the National Mall for a museum, right between the Museum of American History and the Washington Monument.


The last leg of the walk is across the National Mall at 14th St.  As you cross, look left.  On this day, the setting sun was was shining on a great view of the  US Capitol, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Castle.



The United States Air Force Memorial

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

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This route begins at the Pentagon City Mall and crosses under I-395 through a pedestrian tunnel. It skirts the Pentagon Reservation and ascends Arlington Heights along the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery.

Built to resemble the contrails of three Air Force jets performing the “Missing Man Maneuver” for a fallen 4th pilot, the United States Air Force Memorial is a beautiful work of art, engineering marvel, and hallowed place of honor.  It is set on a hill in Arlington, VA overlooking the Pentagon and beyond that the city of Washington, DC.

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Our walk began at a shopping center, the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, or Pentagon City Mall.  Because this walk takes you along the edge of the Pentagon Reservation, it’s difficult to park anywhere other than commercial parking.  From the mall, we entered a long pedestrian tunnel which passes under the major artery into DC, I-395.  The tunnel is surprisingly quiet and calm considering above is 9 lanes of constant heavy traffic.

I had hoped to include the 911 Pentagon Memorial in this post but recent snowstorms had closed the memorial temporarily.  I will return to that spot because it’s very beautiful and worth posting.

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As I emerged from the tunnel I immediately snapped a picture of the country’s military headquarters before seeing the small white sign that says “No Photography”.

The Pentagon, as one might imagine, is extremely secure and you are not allowed to take photographs while on the grounds of the reservation.  We quickly passed through the perimeter and out the other side toward the Air Force Memorial.  The route takes you along the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery.  This is an older section and the stones are not uniform white tablets like the rest of the cemetery.  There is an entrance gate that leads to Patton Drive.

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The Air Force Memorial borders the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery where the entrance gate leads to Patton Drive.

The memorial is on a hill and we walked sort of up the backside of the hill to get between the setting sun and the monument.  Armed with only the photography expertise built into an iPhone 5, I was able to capture gorgeous shots of the monument and the cityscape of Washington, DC, all bathed in golden winter sunlight.

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I just can’t get enough of these sunset pictures with their warm hues and golden light!

As we got to the top of the hill, we walked through a residential neighborhood with a small park.  There we found a piece of Arlington history I had never heard.  This tract of land, known as Freedman Village was set aside by the government at the end of the civil war to offer housing and a community for freed and escaped slaves.

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The homes on this street were modest, small homes and though they are only a mile from the Potomac River it was not an exclusive address because they butted up against an unattractive World War II era military building, the Navy Annex.  This all changed recently when the Navy Annex was torn down giving these modest homes a spectacular view!

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Until recently this empty field was the rather unattractive Navy Annex, a World War II era military building. Although I’m sure it won’t last long, the homes on the edge of this field today enjoy a spectacular view!

The Air Force Memorial is set in a large open space on the escarpment of Arlington Heights.  The lines are clean and the view is panoramic.  It is a graceful soaring monument that fits its space well from any angle, from any distance.  It it a really enjoyable experience just to be there.

The monument itself is an impressive feat of engineering.  Three spires ranging from 201 feet to 270 feet.  They are equilateral triangles coated in stainless steel, described as “asymmetrical and dynamic”.  The different heights of the three spires make the monument interesting from all angles.  High tech weighting within the spires enables the balancing act required for the forms.

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the spires are equilateral triangles coated in stainless steel.

The memorial is a place of honor, and a permanent statuary honor guard stands watch.

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The honor guard at the United States Air Force Memorial

Behind the honor guard is a black glossy marble wall depicting the core values of the Air Force.  Once again, being in the right place at the right time, I was able to capture a stunning photograph with the setting sun behind me.  In one shot I could see the wall itself and its reflection of the honor guard, the Pentagon, the Washington Monument and city of DC, and the base of the AF Memorial spires.

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Hashtag “Right Place Right Time”

As we stood admiring the memorial and the light created by the sunset, we watched a military helicopter take off from the Pentagon.  Behind it, the US Capitol, Library of Congress, and the city of Washington glimmered.  Such power, such symbolism.

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It is this face of the Pentagon that was struck on 911 by Flight 77.

The sun just about set, we headed back down the hill.  This would actually be about a 3.5 mile walk and not one we wanted to do in the dark.

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At the base of the hill I turned back to catch the silhouette of the memorial in the setting sun.  I reflected on the fact that my own father was honored by this monument.  He flew cargo planes in Viet Nam.

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It is illuminated at night and also very beautiful in the dark.  It’s a low-key monument compared to the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial or the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument; but it’s not one you should skip.

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Washington DC’s Tidal Basin

IMG_1452   This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

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You can almost guess the time of day from this route. The gap in pictures is because at that point I was pointing into the setting sun.


In the spring this view of the Jefferson Memorial would be obscured by thick quilted cherry blossoms.


Temperatures approaching 60 degrees brought out lots of tourists during the week between Christmas and New Years.


The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial is across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial.

I did this walk on an unseasonably warm day between Christmas and New Years.  Temperatures nearly reached 60° and there were lots of people out taking advantage of it.  The Tidal Basin is a man-made body of water between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel.  It serves a functional purpose as a buffer between the river and channel slowing the current of the tidal flows.  Without it, the channel would fill with sediment. IMG_1424   It also serves as ground zero for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.  The basin is lined with cherry blossom trees and during the 2-3 weeks when they are in bloom the paths are crowded like the streets of Manhattan.  The views are fantastic and it’s a great walk.IMG_1427 One infamous event took place here in 1974 when Congressman Wilbur Mills was stopped by police near the Tidal Basin.  Mills, a democrat from Arkansas was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  In the car with him was a stripper known as the “Argentine Firecracker” who went by the stage name of Fanne Fox.  As police stopped the vehicle she jumped out of the car and into the Tidal Basin!  The incident sparked a typical Washington media firestorm and a short while later Mills was reelected with 60% of the vote.  Same as it ever was. IMG_1434

As you stroll around the Tidal Basin you will enjoy dramatic views of monuments like the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.  The location also includes the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the George Mason Memorial but I will leave those for another walk of West Potomac Park.

IMG_1437   When I was a kid i had a toy called the View-Master.  It was a sort of personal slide projector that you looked into like binoculars.  Round slide sheets inserted into it and the user slid a lever to advance the slides.  Because of the stereographic quality of putting one image in front of each eye, the experience created 3-D images with gorgeous colors.


The reflection of the Washington Monument on this warm winter day was like a painting!


One brief section of the Tidal Basin gives a view of the US Capitol (presently undergoing a dome restoration).

One of the slide sheets showed scenes around Washington, DC including all the monuments, the cherry blossoms, and views around the Tidal Basin.  I can still remember those images and now with the exception of some new monuments, little else has changed in this scene.

I parked in a free lot underneath the 14th St. Bridge in the zone where East Potomac Park transitions to West Potomac Park.  From there the path around the Tidal Basin and back to the car was almost exactly three miles.


The US Capitol

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Scaffolding covers the Capitol dome for a massive restoration project. The work is done at night with the help of over 700 LED lights to guide the workers.

This is the second in a series of 10 DC Walks.  Click the link to see the rest!

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC. The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!


This weekend my wife joined me and we walked around the US Capitol.  I have been going out just before sunset and that has been producing fantastic photos.  The soft low light of the winter sunset creates warm glowing colors and everything looks so beautiful!  Even the scaffold-encased Capitol dome looks magical with the pink light of sunset!

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The Museum of the American Indian makes a statement before you even enter it. Golden limestone was used to resemble rock formations that have been shaped by wind and water over the centuries,

We started at the southwest corner of Capitol Hill near the National Museum of the American Indian.  Dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture of native Americans, this building is one of the newest on the National Mall.  The building is made from golden limestone and is inspired from rock formations shaped by wind and water over the centuries.  It is ethereal and mystical.

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The oldest of the 4 House Office Buildings, the Cannon Building was constructed in 1908.

From there we walked up the House side of the hill, past the famous House office buildings, Cannon, Rayburn, Ford, and Longworth.  If you watch any shows based in Washington DC, House of Cards, Scandal, the West Wing, Homeland, they all feature footage from these seats of power.  You walk past benches where scenes have been filmed, past the Capitol veranda where inaugurations take place.  It’s both a powerful symbolic location and a beautiful open park at the same time.

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The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

As you reach the top of the hill, the magnificent Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress comes into view.  This building is worthy of a blog post all its own.  It has a rotunda with mosaic tiled interior over the “Old Reading Room”, and a Gutenberg Bible on display.  Outside, the building is no less magnificent with elaborate sculpture, imposing columns, and entrances.

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It’s not an easy neighborhood in which to stand out.  The US Capitol is across the street and the Supreme Court is next door! Not a problem, however, for the ornate architecture of the Library of Congress.

Next to the Library of Congress is the Supreme Court with its imposing steps, visually setting the court above all else.  Here, on a casual walk, is the origin of Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe v Wade, and Bush v Gore to name just a few landmark cases!

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Part of the Supreme Court’s design is the large imposing steps that set the court on a higher plane, symbolically putting it above all else.

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The US Supreme Court

As you pass the Supreme Court you round the corner to the Senate side.  We had an unseasonably warm day in the mid 60’s and there were tons of people out jogging, with strollers, on bikes, and just sight seeing like us.

As we headed down the hill the sun was beginning to set.  We discovered something I had never noticed before.  The Summerhouse is a small brick hexagonal grotto with a fountain and some benches inside a brick enclosure.  It’s very charming!

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This small, almost hidden brick grotto is called Summerhouse. Built into the sloping west front lawn, it is a charming spot to rest and cool off on a hot day.

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The Summerhouse on the front west lawn of the US Capitol

Built over a hundred years ago, it is simply there to be pretty and offer travelers a spot to rest and restore.  It has a decorative fountain as well as drinking fountains.

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As we reached the bottom of Capitol Hill we arrived at the massive reflecting pool.  There is also some awe-inspiring sculpture!  Giant lions on pedestals, a stately Ulysses S. Grant astride his horse, and President James Garfield all have prominent spots.  There are also two large compositions that vividly depict civil war battle scenes.

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This large sculpture is one of a pair of vivid recreations of civil war battle scenes.

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In the center of a prominent intersection at the base of Capitol Hill is a solemn sculpture honoring assassinated president James Garfield.

As we got to the reflecting pool, the sun was setting and we were just in time for some spectacular pictures.  The light was perfect!

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The I.M. Pei-designed East Wing of the National Gallery.

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The last shards of sunlight turn the Canadian Embassy pink and gold.

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The setting sun highlights the silhouettes of the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Castle on Washington, DC’s National Mall.

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On the weekends (especially in the winter) parking on the National Mall is pretty easy.  If you pick a spot near the Museum of the American Indian and walk up the hill and around the Capitol it comes out to just about 3 miles.  There is also a metro stop called Smithsonian.  It comes up right on the Mall, but would make for a longer walk around the Capitol.

We had the good fortune of a gorgeous day, perfect sunset, and light crowds.  I felt a little guilty as my many friends in New England are battling heavy snow and arctic temperatures!


How to Make Cobbler – A Technique, Not a Recipe!

For years I have tried to make the dessert pictured above.  There are lots of desserts that I consider a variation of a pie.  There are crisps, “brown betty’s”, cobblers, etc, and I have always liked the cobbler for its rustic appearance, and the fact that it gives equal billing to the crust and the filling.

The perfect cobbler for me is one that has a fabulous filling that could stand on its own and then dots the top with something that is in between a crust and a cookie, almost biscuit-like.

i recently discovered the key for the texture and consistency I was searching for and it is VERY EASY!  After reading this brief post, you will be able to make your own, and even better, this is a technique, not a recipe, so you can make it your own, change it up, use seasonal ingredients, and experiment!


You could literally chop up any fruit and put it in the dish and move on to make the crust!  It can be that easy if you need it to be, and if you are limited on time, or if the fruit is so ripe and perfect that it needs no enhancement.  You can use apples, pears, berries, peaches, etc, etc.

Here’s an idea that I did combining a few flavors.  It worked out well and you’re welcome to try this but remember, you can’t go wrong, try different combinations.


Apples and Pears, sautéed with butter, bourbon, thyme, brown sugar and cinnamon.

I took 2 apples and 2 pears, peeled, cored and sliced them.  I melted butter in a pan and sautéed them, adding fresh thyme and a little bit of cinnamon.  As they were beginning to brown and getting soft, I added a couple tablespoons of brown sugar.  What I had in mind was a variation on Bananas Foster.  The sugar melted and began to caramelize, and that’s when I added a quarter cup of bourbon.  Apples and bourbon are a great flavor combination.  Knowing this was going to bake afterward, the quarter cup was a good amount to impart flavor without the dessert tasting boozy.

Bourbon with apples is a great flavor combination.  See safety note below about cooking with liquor.

Bourbon with apples is a great flavor combination. See safety note below about cooking with liquor.

Safety Note:  Liquor is highly flammable!  Never pour from the bottle into a skillet on the stove!  Instead, pour the amount you need into a separate measuring cup and put the bottle away.

I used bourbon but rum would have worked, as would brandy.  I did not bother with flaming it but that might have added caramelization.  When the bourbon was almost cooked off, I added just a couple shakes of salt and put all the fruit in my baking dish.


The crust is very easy.  Simply, it is equal parts butter, flour, and sugar.  For a standard baking dish you can use a stick of butter, half cup of flour, and half cup of sugar.

Melt the butter,


Stir in equal parts flour and sugar,


Dot the top with crust.  Do not worry if there are gaps.  It’s not a pie and does not require uniform smooth coverage.  Some spots can be thick, some bare.  Think rustic.

Bake at 350º for as long as it takes.  If you put uncooked apples in, they will take longer.  If you sautéed first as I did, you need only cook the crust.  Probably about 30 minutes.  Watch it toward the end and pull it out when the crust is “GBD”, or golden, brown, and delicious!

Send me comments on your version and good luck!


New Year’s Day at Arlington National Cemetery


The view from the John Kennedy gravesite, straight down the Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial. It was across this bridge that a horse-drawn caisson famously brought the fallen president to this final resting place.

This is the first in a series of 10 DC Walks Click the link to see the rest!

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC. The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!


Happy New Year!  I love the new year holiday for its lack of pressure.  I also love the blank canvas of a new year ahead of me.  I usually take this time to work on goals and one of this year’s goals is to blog more.


Arlington House, once the home or General Robert E Lee sits at the top of the hill overlooking the cemetery and the city of Washington, DC across the Potomac River.

I thought about what caused the long gaps between postings and came up with two reasons.  One is that I try to make every post a polished well-written piece and thus turned a creative enjoyment into work.  I routinely have amazing adventures and this year I’m striving for 50 postings so they won’t all be polished.  There goes my chance to get picked up by the New Yorker!


Each year an organization called Wreaths Across America lays a Christmas wreath at every gravestone.

The second reason I have gaps is that I have taken to posting only about fun travel.  I live in an amazing city and often take advantage of what it has to offer.  So expect a lot more Washington, DC and northern Virginia this year!  I post a lot more often on Instagram so I suggest following there too!


Entering the cemetery on foot near the Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) Memorial this is the first view you see!

New Year’s Day was a mild winter day and my wife and I decided to take a long walk in nearby Arlington National Cemetery.  At Christmas time an organization called Wreaths Across America lays a small Christmas wreath at every gravestone in the cemetery.  It’s beautiful–and on New Year’s Day not very crowded.

I’ve been getting some really good photos lately with the soft low light of the winter sunset so we went out at 4:30.  We did indeed get some great light and great photos.


Late in the day the military precision of gravestones is dappled with the soft light of the winter sunset.

We arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just before 5.  The sun had set behind us, the moon was rising in front of us, and the very solemn ceremony of the Changing of the Guard was about to take place.  The Honor Guard watches over the tomb at all times, any weather, everyday, every hour.  The Changing of the Guard is a beautiful show of respect for unidentified fallen veterans and it makes one feel very patriotic.


When the ceremony concluded, it was dark.  The city and a nearly full moon offered plenty of light, but we were a mile and a half from where we had entered and took our time walking back.  It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had at a DC monument.  Nobody seemed to care that we were still there, and we saw very few other people.


Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

While walking through a cemetery in the dark seems like a spooky experience, for some reason I didn’t experience that.  I just don’t think troublesome ghosts are going to mess with the US military!  Very quickly our eyes adjusted to the darkness and we walked back to our car which was parked at the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial.  It was very cool to have the park to ourselves in the dark.


A moonlit walk through the cemetery was a rare treat and had a special feeling.

The GPS on my phone tells me the walk was a total of nearly 4 miles and I would estimate we covered less than 50% of the cemetery.  I highly recommend a visit for the gorgeous views and the healthy dose of patriotism!


The Eternal Flame of the JFK gravesite in the lower foreground. As the sun sets on Washington DC across the Potomac River the National Mall stretches from the Lincoln Memorial on the left to the Washington Monument (center) to the US Capitol on the right.


Corned Beef & Cabbage

So easy to make, so traditional! This year I sautéed the cabbage instead of the traditional boil.


I paired it with a Guiness and we celebrated a rare “white St Patrick’s Day”!


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