Historic Triangle, VA

As an American, it’s always very interesting to go and see where the country was founded, how life was like back in Revolutionary times, and where our freedom was fought for. All of those themes are covered in the Historic Triangle region of Virginia: Williamsburg, Jamestowne, and Yorktown. Jamestowne was where John Smith landed with his crew and built Jamestown fort (also where Pocahontas lived). Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg to be exact) is where there is an entire town preserved with how life was like during the American Revolution and houses the evolution of British rule to American. Yorktown is the site of the battlefield where the Americans conquered the British, thus separating ourselves from Britain. In all honesty, three days was not enough to see the sites in these three areas of the Historic Triangle, but we got the main themes!

First off, let me rave about the hotel that we stayed at: The Historic Powhatan. It was glorious. We got upgraded to a two bedroom, two bathroom condo from a one bedroom, which was a great way to start the trip. Additionally, this condo was grander than my apartment. Lets just say we could have stayed for weeks! There are pools, lakes, historic parts of the property, a coffee house, a few restaurants, and mini golf! So much to do, so many places to see. Just glorious, and highly recommended.

On to Colonial Williamsburg, a place I have been two twice now, is awesome each and every time. One expects it to be a bit corny like Disneyland for a major portion of it is driven to engage children to be interested in the time era. It’s very far from that. The entire premise consists of two main streets that are lined with a variety of era houses that have been restored, but are the real size and shape of their original establishments. They also house the specialist that originally owned them. For example, there’s an apothecary, milliner, printshop, silversmith, and carpenter to name a few. You can go into these houses and interact with the specialist themselves. The printer, for example, was a younger guy who was showing us how they made copies, from the type of ink and paper, to how they compiled all the letters into a line and set the type point and breaks and spaces. It was really fabulous! You’d think that every day to describe the same process to tourists you’d get many unhappy folks, but all of the individuals we came in contact with were rather jovial and interested in the work that they do (and spreading knowledge to others of their craft). Some areas of Colonial Williamsburg is not accessible unless you go on a tour. These tours are led by employees dressed in time period costumes (every employee of williamsburg is, honestly) and speak in the cadence of their time. We took a tour of the Governor’s Palace which was pretty fascinating (I already did it 5 years ago so it wasn’t nearly as fascinating as it was the first time). What I don’t remember is exiting into the Governor’s Gardens. Oddly enough, this had to be my favorite part of the experience, for it was so beautiful! I really can’t say any more than that.
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Right outside of Colonial Williamsburg is an area called Merchants Square which has dining and shopping. I could spend hours in this little area of the city for it has so much from different cafes, restaurants and shops. If you go, you must go to two places: Peanut Shop and The Christmas shop. These are my favorites and have so many things that you will be in awe. **There are samples at the peanut shop, but be warned, you can drop some serious cash**

Across from Merchants Square is the second oldest university in the US: William & Mary. Very cute university, much larger than St. John’s and quite frankly more picturesque. They were gearing up for commencement since we went the weekend of graduation. I wish that we went a bit earlier, because a school is not its usual self without student presents. A school comes to life with its pupils, and to see a school established in 1693 to be alive with academics and students would have really been great to see, but oh well. There’ll be a next time.

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On to Jamestowne. I will preface this with saying that I have been here before five years ago, yet surprisingly so much has changed! Many of the huge statues commemorating the first settlement, John Smith, and Pocahontas, have not changed. But the archaeology has! Since I was there, they have unearthed the exact spot of the church that was in the settlement, the same church the John Rolfe married Pocahontas! Additionally, archaeologists were hard at work excavating one other site outside of the boundaries of the settlement. This was really quite neat! The area does not have too much to offer, other than a few statues, excavation sites, and a small but great museum. Yet, its natural beauty is definitely worth the trip. You have to walk over this bridge of swamp in order to get to the site of the settlement. When you do this, you cannot help thinking of how it was for John Smith and his crew to land at an area so disgusting and hard to make a life. It really is very awe-inspiring.

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The last place that we visited was Yorktown. This had even less than Jamestowne, but really if you are near by you have to go see it. There are two main areas that you have to go see: the battlefield that outlines where the British and Americans fought and won the War, as well as the huge obelisk structure that was placed at Yorktown commemorating the defeat of the British. As you walk from the battlefield to where the statue stands you walk on Main Street where there are still historic houses standing today. I guess they never taught me in AP US History that Yorktown was a small town where there were houses, families, and stores. Who would’ve known? We kept walking along Main Street, for we wanted to get down to the area that’s also called Yorktown, but the modern version. Along the way we saw many historic sites, and one in particular was an old church that had a graveyard. A nice usher welcomed us and said that one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was buried there, so we went and saw his grave. How many times does that happen in your lifetime?! We finally got down to the waterfront and this is a great little place where there are shops, families, and small eateries. We had a light, delicious lunch at a small cafe and then boarded the trolley to go back to our car. The last thing we did in Yorktown was see a live cannon demonstration. Boy was it loud!!! But, so cool!

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In the end, the trip was really worth the time, money, and sweat (yes, it was hot). I think children should definitely take the opportunity to go to the Historic Triangle area especially when they are concurrently learning about American History. I grew up in CA so none of what I learned really pertained to me or was tangible. “Oh yah, that battle.” But when you actually see the battlefield or where John Smith stepped off the ship onto soil, it puts things into perspective.

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Annapolis, MD

I have lived in the DC Metro area going on four years now, and while I have flown outside the region, driving to places that are “close” in proximity, yet far has somehow eluded me. Annapolis is one of those places at about 45 minutes outside of DC travelling east, it’s a quaint little town, the capital of Maryland. It’s also home to the Naval Academy, if you didn’t know.

We began our trip by having breakfast at this cute, little restaurant that served Illy coffee and a variety of breakfast plates (Cafe Normandie). The food was very good, the coffee strong, and the ambiance was great (I think I was the youngest one there, other than a toddler). After breakfast we walked down Main Street to the wharf area (mind you, Annapolis is right on the water front) and there were a lot of people soaking up the sun shine, most being locals (or at least it seemed as such).

From there we walked into the gates of the Naval Academy and gained access to the campus. It was HUGE! So many buildings, and so many gyms and athletic pavilions. We then headed for the main building on campus which is the largest dormitory in the US. It was beautiful, but so grand! All of the other buildings and architecture were the same, and we did pop our heads into a few of the interiors and I was none too impressed. Yet, when we came to Bancroft Hall it was surprising. All marble with a great many murals all along the inside. A grand staircase as you walk in greets you. For all its glory, the inside main hall has walls engraved with naval officers who have died (I think in the line of duty), which was very touching.

From Bancroft, we walked this beautiful garden area which seemed to be the central square of the university towards the chapel. On our way we saw a wedding party, then when we got to the chapel there was a current double wedding. Our goal was to wait for the wedding party to leave the chapel so we could go in. In the meantime we saw the married couple walk through the raised swords of current naval officers (a ceremony only for the navy, I think), which was pretty fantastic.

After touring the naval academy we progressed back into the town and went into a few shops, walked around the Governor’s house, and around the central Chapel of the city. We also got to go into the State house which is still active to this day, which is pretty cool. Lastly, we walked a bit outside of town to St. John’s College, the third oldest university in the United States. Very, very small, it was interesting to see the school which is so tiny in comparison to the naval academy. Many students were moving out, one Junior even offered us a beer. HA!

All in all, I enjoyed Annapolis (even though it was sweltering hot!), but not sure if I’d go back. If I lived closer, perhaps. But otherwise, it was just a cute little town that I can say I’ve been to. The Naval Academy was fairly impressive, but again, it probably won’t change in my lifetime. I would suggest to go to say you’ve seen it and walk around and enjoy the sights, but be forewarned, there’s not much to do/see.

Imperial Requiem By Steven Vovk

The reason that I haven’t posted a literary blog post in months is this novel. It was over 500 pages of non-fiction. Quite the undertaking, but oh was it rewarding! It is excessively true that I am obsessed with learning about famous, powerful women in history and this book provides a vivid glimpse into four women’s lives in the early 20th century. These four women were the last Empresses of their Empires: Augusta Victoria (Germany), Mary (United Kingdom), Zita (Austria-Hungary), and Alexandra (Russia). This biography of these four women and how their lives intermingled at the same time (even though some were older than others) was an impressive and powerful read. It was NOT a quick read, but nothing in history is ever quick, right?

Steven Vovk has done an excellent job in describing the young adulthood of each Empress and how they came to meet their spouses. He then details each wedding and subsequent marriage and children. Some married for love, Alexandra, and some for the empire, Mary; some came from nothing, Mary, and some came from previously established monarchies, Alexandra (grand-daughter of Queen Victoria). Yet, regardless of their marriages, heredity, or empire they ruled, they all fell as Empresses.

I will be very honest and say that I knew a lot about Alexandra, so much of Vovk’s sections on her and her family I didn’t read as thoroughly as the others. What I did read thoroughly, however, was what happened to each Empress after the fall of her Empire. That was exceptionally interesting to me. Obviously, we all know Alexandra was murdered along with her five children and husband. Zita was cast out of Hungary and was not allowed to be a resident of any European country for years. She even went to the US until she was 80+ years old when she was able to return to Hungary and be buried with her family members. Augusta Victoria, the eldest of the women of the book, died as Empress and a broken heart, I think. Mary, was the only one who made it through the loss of her Empire and stayed Queen of the UK. She was loved by the people until her death.

The amount of turmoil, heartache, and setbacks of these four women astounds me as I reflect back on their lives and this novel. If I were to face a quarter of what they have faced (losing children, being cast out of their countries, taken prisoner just to name a few) I would crawl into a ball and cry for the rest of my days. Somehow they stayed strong and persevered even in the face of danger to themselves and their families.  Knowing this is powerful, and is a testament to being grateful for everything that we have in this life and country (which is an appropriate theme for Memorial Day Weekend 2015).

I would hands down recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It is tedious at times, especially some of the letters that characters or family members write to one another. Vovk really uses sources like no other (50 pages of the end of the book are citations). But, obviously, you either have to be interested in the material or writing a paper on one or all the women to delve into it. If you are intrigued about learning more about these women, the last of their kind if you will, I would suggest picking it up. Be careful though, it will definitely take you some serious time as well as emotional investment.

Xena: Warrior Princess

Every Saturday night as children, my brother and I couldn’t wait until the TV was on and we could watch our favorite shows: Hercules and Xena. Those were the days! Needless to say, when I saw on Netflix that they have all the seasons of Xena and Hercules I was ecstatic (literally, screamed for joy). They were immediately added to my queue and I delved right into my favorite, Xena.

How to even begin to describe six seasons of the Warrior Princess? In short, the tale is of a female warrior, Xena, and her travels across the globe. Xena has had an interesting background, and it takes six full seasons to get almost the whole story. She has led a life of war, crime, and evil, only to turn the tides and fight for good. In the first episode of the series, were are introduced not only to Xena, but also her future sidekick Gabrielle. Gabrielle comes from a small village in Greece and wants Xena to teach her all she knows about fighting and defending innocent people. Xena is apprehensive but allows Gabrielle to tag along. And thus begins a great and powerful friendship.

I really wanted to re-watch all of the episodes from Xena mainly to relive my childhood and remember what “good” television was. How I was so blind to all of the sexual innuendos that were embedded in some of the episodes, or the constant question of how Xena and Gabrielle were lesbian lovers. I was 12, how was I supposed to know? Taken at face value though, the show had some substantial themes for kids, the main one being: good always conquers over evil.

Obviously, Lucy Lawless was a perfect actress for Xena and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle was great too. However, it was the auxiliary cast that made the show what it was: Ares, Aphrodite, Joxer, Callisto, Caesar, Autolycus, Borias, and Ephiny to name a few. By far my two favorites had to be Ares (Kevin Smith, RIP) and Joxer (Ted Raimi). Polar opposites, Ares was the God of War, and Joxer was a nimrod, these two characters added substance to the show and really made it more than just following two women fighting evil throughout the world.

There were some aspects that I was not a big fan of. Like when Xena went to a Mid-East region to fight with the Amazons and had to sacrifice horses and dress in skins and wear horns. Nope, wasn’t my cup of tea. Or some of the weird, modernist re-tellings of Xena in modern times reborn in some characters. I knew the writers were trying to spread their wings and do some things a bit differently, but they should have stuck with the traditional plot.

In the end, re-watching all of the episodes, while it took me a few months, really was exciting and made me fall back in love with the show. I guess though many of the stunts and special effects are outdated, so if you didn’t grow up with watching Xena you probably won’t have an appreciation for many of the episodes, which is a travesty. If you DID grow up watching them however, get binge watching. It’s a great show, great cast, and great message. Xena, you will forever kick butt. Ayyayaaaaaayayayayaya (Xena War Cry!)

Rossini’s Cinderella (Opera) at the Kennedy Center

Let me begin this blog with how much I love the Kennedy Center. Washington, DC has a vast amount of fabulous sites and one of my top 3 must be the Kennedy Center in Foggy Bottom. I have taken two tours of the venue and have seen countless shows in its halls, and every time is so enjoyable. If you visit the nation’s capital, one of your must-sees has to be the Kennedy Center, especially if you can watch a show (but the tours are just good enough).

Now, on to the actual premise of this blog: my first opera. I will start off with being honest and say that I’ve never seen a live opera prior to this one. A few times I have caught bits and snippets of operas playing on PBS from the Met, but nothing with live singing. It’s not to say, I’ve never seen a musical, but an opera is WAY different. A family member was in town and she had been to the Kennedy Center but never to a show. So when I saw that there would be an appropriate, classic show at the venue, I thought “why not?” We got stellar tickets, Orchestra level P (I didn’t need my binoculars!) and sat amongst a crowd of individuals who clearly frequent the Kennedy Center often.

Rossini’s “Cinderella” is a classic opera sung in Italian in its entirety. I feel like such a novice in saying this, but they had translation subtitles projected at the top of the stage so the audience knew what the singers were saying. The storyline was not like the current rendition of Disney’s “Cinderella.” There are two wicked stepsisters, but a stepfather (and one never really knows what happens to Cinderella’s parents). There’s a prince, but there’s also no fairy Godmother, but a tutor of the Prince. Obviously, the storyline deviates from the modern telling of Cinderella, yet it didn’t detract from the opera at all; in fact, I think it made me focus on it more because I wasn’t too sure what would happen next.

Seeing how this was my first opera, I cannot attest to the caliber of singers, whether they hit their notes, or just did a decent job. I can say that even back in the day that Rossini had a sense of humor and the stepfather, Don Magnifico, was hillarious and the Prince’s valet, Dandino, was awesome. In my very humble opinion, one of the best voices though in the cast was Alidoro, the Prince’s tutor who played Cinderella’s pseudo-Godfather-like character. Probably my most favorite aspect of the singing was the chorus. I know that’s really not very original, but whenever the all-male choir was on stage, their harmony and the ability to hear all sections of the chorus (tenor, baritone, bass) was terrific. They really nailed each and every piece that they contributed to, and even drowned out the main characters in some aspects.

For how much I liked the above characters and singing, there were aspects that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Unfortunately, the most annoying and in my opinion, worst singer had to be Cinderella herself. I HATE to say this, but the singer who portrayed her was just mediocre, in voice, gestures, and generally. I felt like sometimes she was unsure of the next step or where her placement was on stage. Moreover, she was the signature character, her presence should have overcome all other characters, yet she was drowned out by all others by their presence. Additionally, I will have to say that the costumes were sub-par. The headpieces on the actors were great and colorful. But, the costumes looked like they were cut out from a circus tent (stepsisters) and sewed that very night. Cinderella’s ball gown was a good six inches too short and it was white, but that’s it. You expect her to the bell of the ball with glitter and sequins shining brightly. Nope, not the case. This was a huge disappointment.

I guess, all in all, I had a mediocre experience at the opera and was glad we didn’t pay full price for our tickets. Would I go back? Only to see a classical Opera with well-trained singers. Otherwise, I probably will stick with ballets at the Kennedy Center.

Spiked Nails

Some of the most simple nail designs are often times the best. This design in particular was a great hit, took a bit of time, but stayed for quite a few days without chipping. I was trying to juxtapose innocent pink with a bit of edge by incorporating the spiky black rhinestones. Again, very simple, however a lot of care must be taken on making the rhinestones appear in a line and at a similar angle to each other on the nail.

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I first painted my nail a pale pink in two fairly thick, opaque coats. I poured my rhinestones into a small, wide open serving dish so that I could easily get access to them. I took a clear top coat and thickly put a layer of top coat in a line where I wanted to place the rhinestones. Then I quickly added each rhinestone and pressed it into the nail lacquer layers.

The most crucial step, other than getting all of the rhinestones in a line, was applying top coat. I put a layer of top coat around each rhinestone and over the pink of each nail. This really helped in keeping the rhinestones adhered to the nail for longer.

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To remove these, I took out frustration on just chipping each rhinestone off. It was easy, and a bit of an anger outlet. Hope you enjoy!