Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas 2008

I may have had a very busy few weeks but nothing was going to stop me from putting up my Christmas decorations. I have always gone overboard with them and maybe this year, I haven't excelled in that department, but the place certainly looks festive.

After the hike I mentioned just previously, I had left the safe warm atmosphere of the restaurant to walk along some woodland pathways looking for fallen branches that I could decorate. I only grabbed a couple because it was so cold and windy and managed to force them into my small two door car without breaking off too much.

The tree takes pride of place by the back door and I have to confess I spent more than I should on baubles for it. I never suffer from guilt when it comes to buying Christmas decorations and have spent countless hours cooing and aahing over anything sparkly and glittery in the shops. I'm one of those people who starts stashing away bits and pieces for the tree in August as soon as the shops stock them.
And then of course, once the decs are up, it's time for the portraits.

This was Kota last year, obviously not too happy with his outfit.

This is Kota in this year's outfit, looking a lot more relaxed and taking it in his stride. I think he liked the hat of his Christmas Elf outfit. He was actually purring as he strolled around and didn't once try to knock the hat off. Below, he was happy to lay still and actually look as though he was pleased to be in the photo. Merry Christmas to you all!

Obama Inauguration

For those who have followed my blog, you would be aware that for the past few weeks, my posts were sadly lacking. This was due to a heavy workload. My boss came up with a brainwave that meant creating a website for inauguration products and we all acted on it promptly. Sales immediately started contacting their people, products were researched and a website had to be designed and artwork created for every product. The website is now up and running and can be seen at .

The site stocks everything from t-shirts to cuff links. Even cute woofer wearables like above!
So apologies to all, but now the mad panic is over and we only now need to fulfill the huge orders we're expecting. Please pass on the site address to anyone who you think might be interested and as from now, my blog shall return to normal. Watch this space!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Manassas Battlefields

Last Sunday was another freezing day with blustery winds, yet a large group of us decided to brave the elements and hike 6 miles around some of Manassas Battlefields. We were glad to spend most of the time in the wooded areas where we found shelter from the icy wind and the few times we were out in the open, conversation was dropped and heads kept down.

The scenery was beautiful as we had seen our first snow of this winter the previous day and the remaining flakes feathered the ice on the slow moving water and clung to the grass.

About halfway round our well prepared leader stopped us for a break and produced two containers filled with hot chocolate and warm cider. This gave us all a chance to warm hands and tummies and chat to new friends. We continued our hike with renewed energy and a brisk pace, knowing that the next time we stopped, it would be for lunch in a warm restaurant. Even though we'd covered a few miles and done so at a steady pace, it was still lovely to sit in a wind free restaurant with hot food and conversation which wasn't swept from your lips!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Deck the Malls with Pix of Daniel

After buying Christmas cards at the mall, I was walking back to my car in a mild state of shock after having parted with $10 for 1 card. I passed this window and immediately stopped dead in my tracks. My prior concerns evaporated as I was transported to LaLa land. I think if the person who tapped me to ask for directions hadn't done so, I'd still be standing there now fogging up the store window. Who needs Christmas tinsel and baubles to decorate a window when there's Daniel Craig?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Washington Redskins v New York Giants

On Sunday, I went to FedEx Field to see the Redskins and Giants game. My boss had given me 5 tickets, so with 4 friends I headed out to Maryland in the rain wrapped up in our football jerseys and waterproofs.

Before the game started, Sean Taylor was inducted into the Redskins Ring of Fame, a year after he was killed, and his jersey number, 21, was retired. His number was stamped onto the grass and his family are under the umbrellas above for the ceremony. Clinton Portis, ran onto the field holding a No. 21 flag.

The Redskins did not play well at all except in the 2nd quarter and the highlight of the game was their touchdown.

Their offense was poor and the sudden energy which was shown in the 2nd quarter never returned during the rest of the game.

But Debbie and I managed to keep smiling despite the rain and poor play!

The Redskins sloped off the field looking miserable with heads hung low, and the rain still pouring down. We sat in the parking lot for 40 minutes before we finally got moving and while we waited, a kind family shared their brownies with us as they sparked up their BBQ for a post game meal. How can a day end badly if there's chocolate at the end of it!

An English Cream Tea

On Saturday, I met with some of the Brit group at The British Pantry in Aldie for a chat and a cream tea. It was a miserable grey day and lovely to sit in a warm tea room with a pot of tea so large, you could barely lift it with one hand. The walls in the tea room are crammed with paintings of English countrysides and photos of the Queen. Shelves are jampacked with British souveniers and artifacts, most of which are for sale.

We sat and pored over the menu, finding it almost impossible to choose what could be eaten in one afternoon, and also what could be afforded, the prices were anything but cheap. I was having serious problems trying to decide between a bacon butty and a sausage sarnie before my scone with cream and jam. I finally settled on the bacon butty and very excitedly awaited its arrival. I was not disappointed and it took all my willpower to restrain my chomping instinct as I carefully pulled it apart to photograph it first. It had been a long time since I'd had proper back bacon with barely any fat to be seen. Although the cream tea was OK but nothing to blog about, the teapot was continuously topped up and we all had at least 4 cups.

Once our bellies were full, we waddled out to the shop and spent a while looking over familiar foods and reciting old recipes. I caught Rosie in mid grab at the sweet counter as she reached for some packets of polos. After our little break in the British world, we waved goodbye and headed back to our U.S. lifestyles.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holmes Run, Alexandria

On Saturday 22nd, I was awoken by a winter wind whistling around the building. All I wanted to do was snuggle further down under my warm comforter, but I had made plans to go on an eight mile hike, so I slowly slid from the bed and dressed warmly for the outdoors. Out of 32 that had signed up for the hike, only 5 of us turned up and not wanting to stand still in a freezing cold parking lot, we only waited 10 minutes for late arrivals before we set off.

Setting of at a brisk pace, it didn't take long before we warmed up but it was still too cold and windy to remove gloves and scarves. We passed a swamp area where the ice had started accumulating on the still water.

It was nice to walk through this tunnel and get a break from the wind. Holmes run is a beautiful walk where the trails are nearly always alongside waterways. Some of the trail passes briefly through residential areas but it is mostly rural, a gem in busy Alexandria.

In the Spring, the water levels are higher, covering the sandbars and the bottom of the bridge above and the rocks in the photo below.

We finished the hike without the sun warming up the day and without the wind dropping, but with a great feeling that we'd had a successful morning's workout. Time to go home and cook up a potful of soup with sausage and vegetables.
I've been experimenting with HDR recently and the bottom image shows the HDR result of the one above it. Doubleclick on the image to see the result more clearly. There's software available for HDR imagery but this one was done in Photoshop. And once again, I'd left my memory card in my laptop so these photos were taken on my iPhone.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Urban Exploring in D.C.

On Sunday morning, I met with my fellow explorers to investigate an abandoned brick works in D.C.

The inside of the kilns had this beautiful brick flooring to allow heat from below to dry the bricks.

The bricks were transported to and from the kilns by these rail tracks.

After the brick works, we went on a scouting trip around D.C. to find other abandoned buildings, and came across this wonderful old firehouse built in 1894. It had new locks on the doors so we're hoping it will be restored.

The wall by the side of the firehouse was covered in intricate patterns of ivy leaves.

This is the Old Naval Hospital.

Even as night fell, we carried on searching and checked out the old Wonderbread factory which is going to be developed into offices, retail & parking space. We also found an old theater, a couple of schools and a church which we made notes of for future exploring.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Arlington National Cemetery

A group of us went to Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, the best known of more than a hundred national cemeteries in the U.S.

This is President John F. Kennedy's grave above. Note the constant flame at the center of the circle.

Above is the Memorial Amphitheater where memorials are held and wreaths are presented each Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We met a man here who had come to visit the Challenger Memorial to remember his uncle who had been commander of the crew.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24/7 regardless of inclement weather by sentinels who are on duty for 24 hrs, then 24hrs off for 5 days, then 4 days off. Less than 20% of all volunteers are accepted for training and of those only a fraction pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards. During the changing of the guard you can hear a pin drop, and to the right you can see veteran soldiers, some of whom were weeping. It was a very humbling and poignant moment.

Over 320,000 servicemen & their family members rest on these 624 acres and about 27 burials are conducted every weekday.

Arlington House, or the Robert E. Lee Memorial, overlooks the Potomac river. These beautiful columns look like marble but were in fact built by slaves from handmade brick, covered in cement and then painted to look like sandstone & marble.

This is the view looking across the river.

This shows Arlington Memorial Bridge leading to the Lincoln Memorial today and how it looked in 1865.
Once we reached the bottom of the hill, our group headed back to their cars, but Salim and I wanted to pay our respects to Section 60 where the fallen soldiers from the Iraq war were buried.

With our country still at war, and thousands of soldiers still deployed, we wanted to pay our respects to those that had fallen to maintain our freedom. We approached Section 60 with lumps in our throats and slowly walked the lines taking in every tombstone. Family members quietly chatted in groups while others sat in silent reflection. The sun beat down and I was acutely conscious of the sun's rays warming my back and profoundly grateful to those beneath my feet who had ensured that I could continue to do so.

Halloween 2008

With Halloween being on a Friday this year, I felt there was no excuse not to dress up. This is something I would never have done in England, but here in the U.S. I love the American attitude of just letting go and having a laugh regardless of age.
I proudly wore my witch costume to work and Squelchie, our I.T. guy had also dressed up as Wolverine. Those blades are real metal and he had to file them down quite drastically to avoid being given a wide berth all day.

I liked to think I was a good witch and so made sure everyones' fears were dissolved by handing out candy in my boot basket. We went out for lunch to get maximum exposure and then after work I headed to my very good friend Debbie's house where we were going to sit on the front porch and hand out candy while her husband Jim took the boys out trick or treating.

Here we are on the porch just before they set off. Debbie was going to be a witch with me but couldn't find her costume so she wore a very convincing pimp outfit instead.

This is little Maximus above in his first ever Halloween costume. He's only 2.5yrs old and excelled as Spiderman. His enthusiasm was contagious, that mask didn't come off once all evening.
Debbie & I sat out front with creepy music and sound effects in the background and dranks copious amounts of hot tea, also sampling the chocolate in the dish just to make sure it was OK to hand out. We saw some wonderful pirates, transformers, fairies, cheerleaders and ladybugs as well as plenty of gruesome ghouls. I overheard one mother referring to me as a witch and was beginning to get defensive when I realized, hold on, I am a witch. Had to reverse a spell or two there.

When Jim returned, we all piled into the car and headed over to Kim & Scott's house, which is always the most decorated house in the neighborhood. Deb struck a pose on the lawn above with a couple of ghosts while the Lukestar below checked out the inside of a pumpkin to make sure nothing was lurking inside.

Kim was inundated with kids and callers from the neighborhood, but when she got a free moment, we grabbed a kodak moment with our 2 little spidermen in her awesome archway which had flickering lights and ghostly sound effects.

What a lot of laughs I had that day!