Mrs. Obama’s farmer’s market has veggies (and kettle corn)

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Food trucks tell no lies

I don’t often eat at food trucks, but damn they’re tempting sometimes. Not just for saving money and time, but interesting items.

I wandered past a group near a downtown Metro station at lunchtime. And, the one thing about the trucks is they tell the truth of dietary habits. The pizza slice truck must have had 20 people in line. The salad truck saw none. Obviously, the salad truck must sell some or they’d be broke, but pizza and tacos and stuff we should skip are always the top sellers.

The truck with fresh lobster roll amazes me. That’s real commitment to fresh food being shipped daily. I thought it was pricey until once being in Maine and the same lobster roll there was $1 more. So, no more complaining over the price.

Honestly, a lot of the food doesn’t interest me and I’ve been known to grab a hot dog from a downtown cart occasionally between tours. I like the folks. They work hard in all weather just like me and some see my tour badge and cut the price. Professional courtesy, I guess.

But remember, the salad truck needs customers, too.

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I like Ike, his building not so much

It’s not the prettiest building in Washington.

Mark Twain called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building “the ugliest building in America” while former president Harry Truman called it “the greatest monstrosity in America.”

The EEOB is a French Second Empire style building shown by the massive amounts of steel columns. Ironically, it was considered out of fashion before finished in 1886. It was also called the Napoleon III style that included some Gothic features.

Look high at the top for the War Pediment, which looks like a Roman soldier above a window. On the north side of the building, the military symbol has a medieval suit of armor. A sword runs through the helmet while an eagle representing America sits atop it. Behind the armor are two U.S. shields that partially obscure four Roman military symbols. On the right is the fasces, a bundle of rods enclosing an axe that was a symbol of authority. To the left is the Roman standard of powerful legions. Left of the helmet is the battle axe that denotes strength and then there’s a torch that symbolizes light and knowledge. There are also spears and cannons plus cannon balls. Also, in the left corner are laurel leaves to crown victors and on the right are oak laves representing strength and stability. The whole pediment is 8 by 30 feet.

This is the third Old Executive Office Building and now named for former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The first two burned down, including by the British in the War of 1812. The shell of the original building is still used deep inside this office.

The President’s Executive Office, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council work inside this building. It was designed by Alfred B. Mullett.

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Wordless Wednesday: Caps corn maze

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George Washington and Purple Heart

Purple HeartThere’s a marker just a few yards left to the entrance into Mount Vernon that is often overlooked but a pretty cool remembrance of history.

George Washington wasn’t allowed by the Continental Congress to promote Revolutionary War soldiers based on merit. But, Washington found a way around it, establishing the Badge of Military Merit on Aug. 7, 1782.

According to The Purple Heart “… The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit directs whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”

While a number of badges were awarded, the only three known recipients were
Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons; Sergeant William Brown, 5th and Sergeant Daniel Bissel, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry.

The award was discontinued after the war, but Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing created the Purple Heart in 1932 in General Order No. 3 to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.

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If you’re a plane or space junkie, Udvar-Hazy worth the trip

For years I’ve heard great things about the The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Drove by the entrance plenty of times without stopping just like hundreds of other local attractions.

It’s worth the trip to the Chantilly, Va.  venue near Dulles International Airport. Maybe that’s a little far for tourists without a car, but if you’re a serious plane junkie then the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum downtown is not enough. There is a shuttle from Dulles to this Smithsonian museum.

I don’t detail attractions in my blog for the obvious Xs and Os that you can read on an official website. I discuss whether it’s worth going, what I liked and whether your family will, also.

First, I love attractions that are hassle free. It cost $15 to park very close, but admission is free. Just the customary quick bag check. They only allow one-legged tripods.

Continue reading

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Wordless Wednesday: Robin Hill winery

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Lily Pond: art for art’s sake, I guess

On this site was the first water to be piped through the streets for city residents.

I’ll let you have a moment to absorb all that.

The Lily Pond in John Marshall Park at 4th and C Sts. N.W. by the Canadian embassy is one of the silliest things. Indeed, it commemorates the city spring first used as a water source, hence the life-sized lily pads, frogs, turtles, fish and dragon flies.

Part of a 1983 makeover of the park, the Lily Pond is 2 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. The granite and bronze fountain designed by American artist David Phillips makes a fine place to rest.

I guess it’s art for art’s sake . . . or for pete’s sake.

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U.S. Botanic Gardens more than a greenhouse

One of the joys of becoming a tour guide is stopping at places I’ve driven past a million times.

High on the list is the U.S. Botanic Garden on 1st and Maryland Ave. S.W. on the footstep of the U.S. Capitol. I just figured it was some small green house and not worth stopping.

I was wrong. As usual.

I stopped by on a Saturday and it was pretty crowded with families looking for a low-stress activity. Something you can just walk around and combine with other places.

George Washington wanted a botanic garden in the new capitol city showing the importance of plants. The mission has more than succeeded.

The conservatory has world deserts with some pretty wild looking cactus. They look like that could jump up and grab you. The children’s garden lets kids burn off some energy. The Garden Primeval smells like the beginning of time with high humidity for ferns and ancient plants from 150 million years ago. The Jungle is a tropical rainforest where you can climb to a second level for a better overall view. The orchid room has more than 5,000 varieties with 200 on display.

There are replicas of major monuments and buildings scattered throughout that kids especially love at Christmastime. It’s a good chance for a pop quiz on what they’ve seen already around town.

Overall, it’s free admission, easy to get in and out and you can stay however long you like. The Botanic Garden is easy on the eyes and a mental break from so much history around town.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Irish Sea

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Bugler welcome visitors to Arlington National Cemetery

ANC buglerThe first makeover of the Arlington National Cemetery welcome center in 20 years included six large murals of scenes around the cemetery. However, the centerpiece of the room is a Taps bugler patterned after Staff Sgt. Jesse Tubb of South Lake Tahoe, Calif. who’s part of the U.S. Army Band. The lifesized model shows Tubbs playing the song performed throughout Arlington during funerals.

Nearby are murals depicting the 1963 funeral procession of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, space shuttle Challenger Memorial, history of Arlington House, Freedman’s Village, the cemetery’s history and funeral processions.

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Congressional is still the cemetery for Congress

Congressional Cemetery was once a happening place for U.S. Senators or Congressmen to spend their eternal years. Eighty were buried there until 1870 when the sandstone centographs were deemed ugly.

So the black marble stone of Stephen Joshua Solarz near the gate caught my eye. The nine-term New York Congressman was buried at Congressional in 2010 after dying of cancer.

Solarz was a foreign policy expert, even once joking that he wasn’t that big in his Brooklyn district but was very well known in Mongolia. Solarz opposed President Reagan sending Marines into Lebanon in 1982 and the 1991 Gulf War.

But, turned out a man who specialized in world affairs was a homebody at heart and is buried just a few miles from the Capitol. Makes you wonder.

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Wordless Wednesday: OBX sunset

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5 things to know before visiting Washington

Visitors arrive in Washington expecting to see the president walking down Pennsylvania Ave. in open warfare with Congress. Instead, you probably won’t see a politician.

Washington is a city of surprises. I’m a native, maybe the only one you’ll know since reportedly only 40 percent of the 700,000 residents are natives. Frankly, nobody I know believes that number. It’s maybe 10 percent. Hell, 20 percent of residents were born in another country so we’re outnumbered from the start. Even five percent are from New York so meeting a “War-shingtonian” as multi-generational locals like me say is unusual.

Now I know you’re going to the National Mall. And by the way, it’s not a store. You’d be surprised how many people ask.

But aside walking to the right and even more importantly stand to the right on escalators so locals can get to work while you’re gawking at the sites, here are a few other things you should know.

Things farther than they look – You see the Washington Monument. It doesn’t look too far so you walk. Twenty minutes later, you’re still not there. Politicians aren’t the only ones with optical illusions.

Downtown blocks are one-tenth of one mile. In New York City, that would be two or three blocks. So, if you’re walking from Fifth to Eight Street, that’s three-tenths of a mile. Washington is a walkable town. It’s just a little farther than you think.

Humidity sucks – Visit in the summer at your own risk. Oh, you think you come from somewhere hot, but not many of you are used to the humidity our swampy town offers. I know because I’ve seen visitors hit the deck. You’re going to sweat a lot. Please, drink a lot of water. When I have day walking tours, I may drink 100 ounces of water. Don’t worry, the water fountains are safe here so just refill your bottles often.

Metro is subway and bus – It’s a little confusing to first-timers. Same company runs both. Not especially well, but they do both. The worst problem is no more paper tickets. You’ll need to buy a plastic card for every person. They cost $10 each, which is credited for use. But, many tourists only need a few dollars and lose the rest. Sorry – no refunds. But, you can donate it to different charities, thank you. For a family of four, maybe a $40 investment makes taking a cab the better value.

No special food – We’re not a foodie town. Oh, there are lots of great restaurants, but as far as a signature dish, it’s not crabs. That’s Maryland’s thing. Washington can only boast of half smokes, which are hot dogs mixed with stuff you don’t want to know, covered in chili. Honestly, they’re OK, but it’s not fine dining.

White House iffy – Since 9/11, you need tickets from your House of Representative member to tour the White House. No exceptions and it takes three to six months to get tickets. If you did plan ahead, remember to bring a photo ID, cell phone and nothing else. No bags. As for outside, sometimes the northern park is closed for a whole lot of reasons that are never explained. Nor do we know for how long. If closed, walk to H and 16th Sts. to get at least a peek of the White House.

OK, one more tip — come in the fall. It has the best weather and smaller crowds. Winter is really sparse, but it’s pretty cold to be outside.


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Petersen House is a must stop for Lincoln fans

For many years, I’ve walked past Petersen House en route to Ford Theatre. I should have detoured across the street years earlier.

President Abraham Lincoln died at Petersen House on April 14, 1865 after shot the night before at Ford’s on 10th St. N.W. near F St. Moving the president so he wouldn’t suffer the indignity of dying in a theater, the military was in the street amid thousands knowing Lincoln couldn’t survive the trip to the White House, but not knowing where to go. William Petersen, who owned a boarding house across the street, waved to the troops from his doorway to bring the president inside.

I figured the house would be fairly big. Instead, it’s three rooms for public viewing. The bedroom is pretty small and the bed even smaller. How all those people in the famed painting were there I question.

The cool part of the home is you can take photos even with a flash.

Petersen House is a five-minute stop, but at least it’s a famous stop. But now the new Center for Education and Leadership is open and greatly enhances the experience.

The Aftermath Gallery tells what happened to assassin John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators. The Leadership Gallery explains why Lincoln still resonates in today’s society. And the 34-foot tower of books featuring 205 current titles of the 16,000 books on Lincoln is so interesting to review while descending the stairs. The tower is 6,800 books overall. Of course, it leads to a gift shop where I paid $25 for a book.

Combined with Ford’s, the two sites are well worth seeing to gain a full appreciation of Lincoln’s final hours.

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Cenotaphs define Congressional Cemetery

They hit you right away. Amid the acres of graves, the rows of cenotaphs made me say, “What the . . . “

(And shame on you with dirty minds even if you guessed right.)

Congressional Cemetery has 168 nearly identical cenotaphs remembering or marking the graves of deceased congressmen and senators. Perfect rows of Aquia sandstone just like the White House and U.S. Capitol.

A cenotaph is Greek for empty tomb, but can also be the initial tomb for someone later interred elsewhere. It can also serve as a marker for someone whose buried elsewhere or cremated.

However, some congressmen are buried under a cenotaph while others are elsewhere in the cemetery like James Gillespie. There’s a cenotaph for every congressman who died in office from 1833-76 beginning with James Lent.

Cenotaphs were no longer used in 1876 when Massachusetts Sen. Geporge Hoar said, “the thought of being buried beneath one of those atrocities brought new terror to death.”

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Wordless Wednesday: Things are looking up for me

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Veterans Affairs chief rests in Arlington National Cemetery

MansfieldComing around the corner from Joe Kennedy’s memorial marker when heading to Lee’s mansion or the Crook’s Stairs, there’s a shiny black marble marker that catches your eye.

Gordan Hall Mansfield, a wounded Vietnam veteran who later served as Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, now rests next to Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War.

Mansfield served as Veteran Affairs chief from 2004-08 after nominated by President George W. Bush. Earlier, Mansfield was executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America for 11 years after eight years with the organization.

Mansfield served two tours in Vietnam. He was wounded during the 1968 Tet Offensive while serving as company commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Mansfield suffered a spinal injury, but refused to be evacuated until his unit’s injured men were first moved that earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Bronze Star.

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Look up at National Archives pediment

archives pedimentI’m a big advocate of looking up when walking around major buildings. It’s amazing what you’re missing at street level.

The Recorder of the Archives hangs above Pennsylvania Ave. Author James Goode called it “the finest sculptured pediment in Washington” in his “Washington Sculpture” book that is the definitive work on the city’s outdoor works.

The central figure is an elderly man who receives documents (hence the Recorder) while sitting on rams that symbolize parchment. On both sides of the Recorder are Attendants who are fronted by the winged-horse Pegasus, which symbolizes aspiration. The Attendants present documents like the Declaration of Independence. The remainder of people are those acquiring documents while the dogs are guardians.

The 104-foot pediment is limestone and carved by James Earl Fraser.

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Wordless Wednesday: Lincoln Memorial

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