Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.

I once heard a story about a preacher who was invited to attend a men’s breakfast at a small Southern church in farm country.  As they all set down, the visiting preacher asked one of the older farmers in attendance if he would say grace before they ate.

The old farmer stood, and as everyone bowed their heads, he began by saying, “Lord, I hate buttermilk.” The preacher opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was going. Then the farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard!” Now the preacher was overly worried.

However without missing a beat, the farmer prayed on, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour either.”  Then, just as the preacher was about to stand and stop everything, the farmer continued, “But Lord, when you mix ‘em all together and bake ‘em up, I do love fresh biscuits.”

The old farmer concluded by saying, “So Lord, when things come up we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what You are sayin’ to us, we just need to relax and wait till You are done mixin’, and probably it will be something even better than biscuits.”  And they all said, “Amen.”

It’s the kind of made-from-scratch, fresh-baked biscuits I imagine being served at that small southern church that I enjoyed for breakfast this morning.  Instead of what is usually a lunchtime bike ride, today I went for a ride at the beginning of my workday so that I could have breakfast at the Mason Dixie Biscuit Co., located at 1819 7th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga founded Mason Dixie Biscuits in the summer of 2014.  But what started then as neighborhood pop-ups quickly became a small but permanent stall at D.C.’s Union Market.  Then, when loyal customers got tired of her small stall selling out of fresh biscuits by noon every day, she was inspired to expand and start selling frozen biscuits as well.  It was at about this time that a marketing executive from Whole Foods Market bought some of her frozen biscuits at the stall at Union Market.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Ayeshah’s frozen biscuits gained nationwide fame when Mason Dixie Biscuits were launched at Whole Foods and other retailers regionally, and then across the country.  The brand has since climbed the rankings to being one of the top frozen biscuit brands in the country.  And their biscuits are now available in buttermilk, cheddar, sweet potato, and sweet corn.   And there is a test kitchen in their restaurant for experimental biscuit flavors, so there my be more delicious flavors in the future.

Mason Dixie Biscuits also opened its first of what hopefully will eventually be many restaurants, which is where I ate this morning.  The restaurant serves up hearty biscuit sandwiches, juicy fried chicken, delectable Southern sides, and creamy frozen hand-spun milkshakes.  And all of their offerings are made-to-order, using fresh, preservative-free, hormone-free, and high quality local ingredients.  Their breakfast sandwiches and platters are available all day, everyday.  They similarly serve lunch items like chicken sandwiches and fried chicken platters, vegetarian sandwiches, and a variety of traditional sides.  They also serve extras that include “sweet-tooth” sandwiches and “handspun” milkshakes.

This morning I had a hard time deciding on what to order.  I took a look at some of the orders other customers were having in an attempt to decide.  But it was still difficult to choose between the different breakfast sandwiches and the available platters.  I eventually opted for the xxxxx.  But the only way I was able to convince myself to make a decision was to resolve myself then and there to go back again soon and try some of their other breakfast offerings.

I also envision myself going back again and having lunch there too.  Or to put it more accurately, going back multiple times to try different lunch menu items.  On some afternoon once the weather gets warm, and can also imagine myself finding my way there to have a mid-afternoon snack of a chocolate-hazelnut-banana biscuit sandwich and a chocolate swirl milkshake.  Or maybe a strawberry shortcake biscuit sandwich and a vanilla shake.  The cherry and cookies and cream milkshakes look awfully good as well.

I guess I’ll just have to keep going back over and over again.  In the meantime, I think I’ll stop at a grocery store and stock up on their frozen biscuits to have at home.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

UPDATE:  After thinking about them all day, I decided to get some biscuits at a local supermarket.  So I checked using the company’s web site to see what store closest to me carries them.  And since my daughter was going out anyway, I asked her to stop at that store and pick some up.  But when she asked, the manager of the store said that they didn’t carry them.  After she went out to her car to leave she remembered while she was still in the parking lot that she had forgotten something else.  So she went back into the store.  And when the manager saw her return he went up to her and apologized.  He said they do carry Mason Dixie biscuits after all, but he didn’t realize his mistake until after she left.  So to apologize to her, he gave her two packages of biscuits for free.  So now I have both Mason Dixie buttermilk and cheddar biscuits in my freezer, and I can have them anytime.

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During this bike ride I encountered an interesting sculpture I had never seen before.  The large stainless steel artwork is located on New Jersey Avenue near H Street (MAP) and just four blocks from the Nationals Park in southeast D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood, and it is entitled Shindahiku (Fern Pull).

Shindahiku commands attention.  And at 22 feet high by 10 feet 6 inches wide by 6 feet 9 inches deep, and weighing 1,400 pounds, the towering sculpture is hard to miss.  But it is much more likely to catch the attention of passersby like me on a windy day, when the piece seems to come alive.  That’s because it is a kinetic wind sculpture.  It consists of 18 balanced wings that use wind power to rotate around a circular axle, silently swallowing and reopening its stainless-steel “fern fronds.”  The effect is a dynamic pattern of movement that can best be described as mesmerizing.

The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District and developer W.C. Smith purchased Shindahiku early last year, and it was installed just four blocks from Nationals Park on July 12th, 2018, just in time for that year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Shindahiku was created by the prolific American artist Anthony Howe, a resident of Orcas Island, Washington.  Howe has been working on projects like this for more than two decades, including Di-Octo, Shindahiku’s sister sculpture located on Concordia University’s Sir George Williams Campus in Montreal, Canada.  These sculptures are said to be inspired by his former part-time occupation of building steel shelves for office storage.  Howe’s other works have appeared all over the world, including at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, and behind a performance of “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana during the 2017 Oscars, as well as in hundreds of private collections from California to Dubai.

       

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The White House – South Portico

I have taken lunchtime bike rides to, and subsequently written in this blog about, a number of things that are either part of or in some way connected to the White House.  I’ve written about Blair House, the White House’s guest house.  I’ve written about the White House’s annual gingerbread exhibit.  I’ve written about the White House Peace Vigil in Lafayette Square Park adjacent to the White House.  I’ve written about the post-presidential residences of former presidents Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama.  I’ve also written about a secret entrance to the White House.  I even have a page about presidents and other politicians riding bikes.  But despite having been there countless times, I have never written about the actual White House itself. 

So during today’s lunchtime bike ride I rode by the building (MAP), which at various times in history has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.”  It wasn’t until 1901 that President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave it its current name.  And then after I got back I learned more about what is now known as the White House.

President George Washington chose the site for the White House in 1791. The cornerstone was laid in 1792 and construction began soon after.  Irish-born architect James Hoban, who won the right to design it by winning a competition in 1792, designed the neoclassical architectural-style building.  He modelled his design on Leinster House in Ireland, which today houses the Irish legislature.  It took eight years to construct the building, with completion occurring in 1800.  However, President Washington died in 1799, meaning he never set even set foot in the completed building.  Its first residents were President John Adams and his wife Abigail, and they moved in before the house was actually finished. His term in office was almost over by the time they moved in, and only six rooms had been finished.

The White House has changed significantly over the years.  When President Thomas Jefferson moved into it in 1801, he had the building expanded outward, creating the two colonnades that were meant to conceal stables and storage.  Then in 1814 (during the War of 1812) the interior was destroyed and much of the exterior was charred by the British Army, necessitating that it be rebuilt.  In 1817, during President James Monroe’s administration, the south and north porticos were added.  The West Wing was added in 1901 during President William McKinley’s presidency, and during President William Howard Taft’s administration, the Oval Office was first constructed in 1909.  Other expansions, additions and remodeling projects took place under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft.  And during the administration of President Harry S. Truman, it underwent a complete renovation, at which time all of the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame was constructed inside the walls before the interior rooms were rebuilt.

Although the original White House was completed in 1800, it wasn’t until 1833 that President Andrew Jackson had indoor plumbing installed. And it took another 20 years, until 1853 during President Franklin Pierce’s administration, that all of its bathrooms had hot and cold water running to them. And the White House didn’t have electricity until 1891, nearly a century after it was first built.  Electric lighting was still a fairly new concept when President Benjamin Harrison had it installed.  And because he was worried he would be shocked if he touched a light switch, he never once personally turned a light on or off himself.  In fact, he and his family were so scared of touching the switches that they would leave the lights on all night.

Today the White House measures 168 feet long and 85 1/2 feet wide without porticoes, or 152 feet wide with porticoes.  The overall height of the White is 70 feet on the south and 60 feet 4 inches on the north.  The building totals 55,000 square feet of floor space on six levels, two basements, two public floors, and two floors for the First Family.  This makes President Donald Trump’s current primary residence more than five times the size of his 10,996 square-foot penthouse that occupies sections of floors 66 through 68 of the Trump Tower skyscraper on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but smaller than his 62,500-square-foot mansion named Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. 

The White House is comprised of 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, and contains 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three elevators.  It has two dining rooms, the larger of which can comfortably seat 140 people.  And its other amenities include a movie theater (officially called the White House Family Theater), a billiard room, a music room, a jogging track, a tennis court, and a putting green, as well as a bowling alley, a flower shop, a chocolate shop, a carpenter’s shop, and a dentist’s office in the basements.  It also has indoor and outdoor swimming pools.  But only the outdoor pool is currently in use.  The indoor pool, which opened in 1933 for use by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was filled in by President Richard Nixon and is underneath the floor of what is currently the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

Other interesting facts about the White House:

  • The White House was accredited as a museum in 1988.
  • The grounds of the modern-day White House complex, which includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which houses offices for the President’s staff and the Vice President), and Blair House, a guest house, and The President’s Park and The Ellipse, covers just over 18 acres.
  • The White House was the biggest house in the United States until the Civil War.  It is currently tied with two other homes for the 34th place. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is now the largest house in the country.  And at 175,856 square feet, The Biltmore is well over three times the size of the White House.
  • The initial construction of the White House is reported to have cost of $232,371.83, which would be equal to $3,279,177 today.  A recent appraisal valued the White House building and its property at just under $400 million.
  • The White House is ranked second, coming in behind the Empire State Building, on the American Institute of Architects list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.”
  • The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface and keep it white.
  • Each week the White House receives up to 30,000 visitors and 65,000 letters, plus nearly 3,500 phone calls, 100,000 emails, and 1,000 faxes.  It receives up to 30,000 visitors each week.
  • The White House never advertises staff positions.  All employees of the White House are found via word-of-mouth or recommendations. As a result, many employees belong to families that have been working in the White House for generations.
  • In addition to numerous dogs and cats, the White House has been home to a number of unusual pets of presidents and their families. Some of the more unusual animals include: two opossums named Mr. Protection and Mr. Reciprocity, kept by President William Henry Harrison; a pair of tiger cubs that were gifted to President Martin Van Buren; President Zachary Taylor’s horse, named Old Whitey; a mockingbird named Dick, which President Thomas Jefferson’s allowed to fly freely around the house; a snake named Emily Spinach that belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter; President John Quincy Adams’ alligator that lived in one of the bathrooms, and; two other alligators that belonged to President Herbert Hoover’s sons and sometimes roamed free within the residence.  In addition to the above, a raccoon was sent to President Calvin Coolidge to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner, but he instead named it Rebecca and kept it as a pet.  The raccoon was in addition to President Coolidge’s other pets, that included a bear cub, two lion cubs, a bobcat, a wallaby, and a pygmy hippopotamus.
  • Because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed below the waist due to polio, he added elevators and ramps in 1933, making the White House one of the first wheelchair accessible government buildings in D.C., a full 57 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated it.
  • President Lyndon Johnson drove White House plumbing foreman Reds Arrington to the point of being hospitalized with a nervous breakdown over his constant demands for more water pressure in his unusual White House shower.  Mr. Arrington spent five years working on getting the White House shower up to the president’s standards, adding nozzles, upping water pressure and making the water piping hot.  The next president, Richard Nixon, took one look at the shower and said, “Get rid of this stuff.”
  • George Washington is the only president to never have lived in the White House, but his wife, Martha Washington, grew up and lived at an estate named White House Plantation.
  • Room is free for residents of the White House, but board is not.  At the end of each month, the president receives a bill for his and his family’s personal food and incidental expenses, such as dry cleaning, toothpaste, and toiletries, etc., which is then deducted from his $400,000 annual salary.
  • Eighteen couples have gotten married at the White House, the most recent of whom tied the knot in 2013, when White House photographer Pete Souza was married to Patti Lease in the Rose Garden.
  • To date, a total of 10 people have died within the White House walls.  Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor both died in the White House. Three First Ladies, Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Wilson, passed away there, too.  Willie Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Dent, First Lady Julia Grant’s father, Elisha Hunt Allen, Minister of the Kingdom of Hawaii to the United States, and Margaret Wallace, First Lady Bess Truman’s mother all died there.  And one employee. Charles G. Ross, White House Press Secretary to President Truman, died there as well.
  • Like many other buildings and places in D.C., The White House is reported to be haunted.  Many stories persist.  But of all the haunted White House anecdotes out there, the one that really sticks involves Sir Winston Churchill.  He refused to ever again stay in the Lincoln Bedroom after President Lincoln’s ghost appeared to him beside the fireplace as he was emerging from a bath, fully nude.

This blog post contains just a small fraction of the vast amount of information and copious number of stories about the White House and its occupants.  Entire books, many of them, have been written about the famous and historic residence.  But I hope you found the information in this post interesting, and maybe learned some things you didn’t know before about the house located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The White House – North Portico

The Paul Robeson Mural

As I was riding along the U Street corridor during this bike ride, I looked down an alley next to the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute, located at 1351 U Street (MAP), and caught a glimpse of a mural that necessitated turning around and going back to get a closer look.  The mural is entitled “Living Time Line: Paul Robeson,” and is the work of lead muralists Cory L. Stowers and Andrew Katz, their artist conclave known as ART BLOC (comprised of Eric B. Ricks, Maria Miller, Serena Z, Ernesto Zelaya, Jaa), and made possible with the permission of the building owner, and funding from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

The mural depicts the life of Paul Robeson, who became famous as an American bass baritone concert artist and a stage and film actor known for productions like “The Emperor Jones” and “Othello.”  But in addition to his cultural accomplishments, he was also equally famous for his political activism.  An example of a 20th-century Renaissance man, his talents made him revered during his time, but his radical political beliefs and activism all but erased him from popular history.

Paul Leroy Robeson was born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, the youngest of five children born to Maria Louisa Bustill, who came from an abolitionist Quaker family, and William Drew Robeson, an escaped slave who became a Presbyterian minister.  After his mother, who was nearly blind, died in a fire when he was only six years old, his father moved the family, eventually landing in Somerville, New Jersey, where he grew up.  After high school, Robeson won a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers University, where he won 15 varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track, before graduating as the valedictorian of the class of 1919.  He then went on to from Columbia University School of Law.  While attending law school he sang and acted in off-campus productions, and also played football for the National Football League.  It was also while at Columbia Law School that he met and married his wife, Eslanda Cordoza Goode.  He graduated from Columbia with an LL.B. in 1923.

After completing his education Robeson took a job with a law firm.  But he resigned when a white secretary refused to take dictation from him.  It was at this pivotal time that he left the practice of law, and decided to use his artistic talents in theater and music to promote African and African-American history and culture.  This decision would define the rest of his life.

After leaving the practice of law, Robeson began his career as an actor and a singer.  It was a career that would take him around the world during the 1930’s.  In London, he earned international acclaim for his lead acting role in “Othello,” for which he won the Donaldson Award for Best Acting Performance, and performed in Eugene O’Neill’s plays, “Emperor Jones” and “All God’s Chillun Got Wings.”  And he used his deep baritone voice to sing black spirituals, to share the cultures of other countries, and to benefit the labor and social movements of his time.  He sang for peace and justice in 25 languages throughout the United States, Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa, and became known as a citizen of the world, equally comfortable with the people of Moscow, Nairobi, Helsinki and Harlem.

But it was during these travels that he learned racism was not as virulent in Europe as it was back in the United States.  Back at home, it was difficult to find restaurants that would serve him, theaters in New York would only seat blacks in the upper balconies, and his performances were often surrounded with threats or outright harassment.  It was a lesson that profoundly affected him and never left him.

During the 1940’s, Robeson continued to perform and to speak out against racism.  He was a champion of working people and organized labor. He spoke and performed at strikes and rallies, conferences, and labor festivals worldwide.  And as a passionate believer in international cooperation, Robeson protested the growing Cold War and worked tirelessly for friendship and respect between the United States and the Soviet Union.  It was during this time, when dissent was scarcely tolerated in the U.S., that Robeson openly questioned why African Americans should fight in the army of a government that tolerated racism.  Because of his outspokenness in supporting civil rights causes and pro-Soviet policies, he was investigated by the FBI, and later accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee of being a communist.  The accusation caused his income to plummet and nearly ended his career.  The attempt to silence him, however, did not succeed.

In 1950, the U.S. revoked Robeson’s passport when he would not recant his public activism and advocacy, leading to an eight-year battle to have it reinstated so he could travel again.  His passport was eventually restored as a result of the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles.  During those intervening years, Robeson moved to Harlem and published a periodical entitled “Freedom,” which was critical of United States policies.  He also studied Chinese, met with Albert Einstein to discuss the prospects for world peace, published his autobiography entitled “Here I Stand,” and sang at Carnegie Hall.  Robeson made his last concert tour to New Zealand and Australia in 1960.  In ill health, he retired from public life in 1963.  Robeson died on January 23, 1976, at age 77, in Philadelphia.

The Robeson mural concept stems from the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute’s efforts to introduce Paul Robeson to the current generation and re-introduce him to previous generations through the Paul Robeson “Here I Stand” Award galas at the nearby Lincoln Theatre.  The two-story mural features two large portraits of Robeson at opposite ends of the building’s dark grey wall, which bookend smaller depictions of him at different stages of his life.  One of many quotes attributed to Robeson, “I make no distinction between my work as an artist and my life as a human being,” is also prominently featured in the mural.

Much like the mural, this blog post is just a short introduction to the fascinating career, activism and life of Paul Robeson.  I suggest you go down and see the mural it for yourself, if you haven’t already.  And then for a more thorough understanding of the vastness of his thoughts and experiences, read Robeson’s autobiography, entitled “Here I Stand.”

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Other Paul Robeson quotes:

  • “We must join with the tens of millions all over the world who see in peace our most sacred responsibility.”
  • “As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this.”
  • “I do not hesitate one second to state clearly and unmistakably: I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.”
  • “Yes, peace can and must be won, to save the world from the terrible destruction of World War III.”
  • “Four hundred million in India, and millions everywhere, have told you, precisely, that the colored people are not going to die for anybody: they are going to die for their independence.”
  • “In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being. No color prejudice like in Mississippi, no color prejudice like in Washington. It was the first time I felt like a human being.”

 

A Mobile Art Museum

As I was riding my bike this afternoon though Downtown D.C., I found myself in an area named City Center (MAP), which is a unique, pedestrian-friendly, 10-acre mixed-use project developed by Hines and Qatari Diar.  The City Center project is home to more than 191,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants, 520,000 square feet of office space, 458 rental apartment units and 216 condominium units, a 1,550 space parking garage, a public park, a central plaza and pedestrian-oriented streets and alleyways.  Additionally, construction of a 370-room luxury hotel, The Conrad, with 30,000 square feet of additional retail space, is almost complete and expected to open later this year.

But I had been to City Center before, and it was none of these things that captured my attention.  What interested me most during today’s ride was a blue, industrial-looking cargo container set up in the park area of the development.  It was open on one end, and people were going in and out of it.  So naturally I was curious and had to find out what it was and what was going on.  So upon closer inspection I was able to find out that it was a mobile art museum sponsored by CulturalDC, an organization that provides a wide range of programs and services that support artists’ ability to live and work in the city.

The mobile art museum’s sole exhibit is by an artist named Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and is entitled “Stay Fly.”  Richmond-Edwards graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Art degree from Jackson State University in 2004 where she studied painting and drawing. She went on to earn a MFA from Howard University in 2012.  In addition to being an artist, she is also currently an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in the Art Department of American University here in D.C.

“Stay Fly” is an immersive exhibit that explores black Americana, haute couture and fashion, and status symbols.  Comprised of the some of the artist’s colorful, textured paintings, as well as large and small-scale collages, and some of the artist’s personal designer clothes and items that reflect the personal styles which surrounded the artist as a young woman growing up in Detroit in the 1990’s.  The totality of the exhibit is intended to draw attention to the historical and often complex relationship between Black consumers, capitalism, fashion, luxury goods and personal creativity.

Instead of happening upon it by accident like I did, I recommend you make plans to go experience “Stay Fly.”  The exhibit is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 11:00am until 7:00pm, and will be in City Center through April 13th, and admission is free.  And while you’re there, make a day of it and enjoy the rest of City Center’s stores, restaurants, and the uniqueness of the project’s park and open spaces.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

City Center’s Japanese Lanterns are an Homage to the Cherry Blossoms

The Annual Smithsonian and Botanical Gardens Orchid Exhibit

On today’s lunchtime bike ride, I stayed with this past week’s “floral theme” (magnolias and cherry blossoms) and went to an exhibit of another kind of blooms.  Entitled “Orchids: Amazing Adaptations,” the temporary exhibit is the 24th annual orchid display, which is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Gardens and the United States Botanic Garden, and was hosted this year by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery (SAAM/NPG).  The orchids are on display in the glass-ceilinged Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard of the SAAM/NPG, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.

To best appreciate Orchids: Amazing Adaptations, it is helpful to first know what makes an orchid an orchid.  Although they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, they all share three basic features:  the number of petals; a distinctive middle petal, and; a column.  Orchids have three outer petals, known as sepals, and three inner petals. The sepals help protect the inner petals, which are often highly elaborate.  An orchid’s distinctive middle petal, known as its lip or labellum, is often large and complex. It is designed to attract pollinators and may look like a pouch or an insect.  And in most orchids, the male parts (stamens) and the female parts (style and stigma) are joined together in a single organ, known as a column. Located opposite the lip, this is where pollinators pick up and deposit pollen.

Orchids are masters at evolving to survive, and their ability to adapt to different habitats not only make these plants amazing, but has resulted in them being one of the most widespread and diverse plant families on earth.  There are more than 28,000 species of orchids and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.  And this year’s Smithsonian orchid exhibit focuses on and explores how they have adapted to a myriad of different habitats, climate conditions, and other living organisms.

An orchid’s leaves, roots, and flowers provide clues about the habitat in which it lives and what pollinates it.  Orchids with thick, fleshy leaves tend to grow on other plants or rocks, and use their leaves to store food and water during dry times, while orchids with thin leaves tend to grow on the ground, where moisture is more plentiful.  Orchids with roots covered in a white coating tend to grow on other plants.  This coating, called velamen, acts like a sponge, helping soak up and store water and nutrients.  Orchids with long, thick, fleshy roots tend to live on the ground. They use their roots to store food in environments where the climate changes seasonally.  And finally, orchid flowers have adapted their shapes, smells, and colors to attract pollinators. Their symmetrical shape helps them attract specific pollinators and transfer pollen effectively.

These differences in their leaves, roots and flowers have enabled orchids to not only survive, but to thrive.  And the vast differences in appearance and aroma that have developed among different orchids in the process of adapting make them infinitely interesting.  Sadly, not all 28,000 species of orchids are included in the exhibit.  But the exhibit does have a stunning variety of hundreds of diverse orchids on display.  And with the magnolias gone, and the cherry blossoms past their peak, the orchid display makes for a picture-perfect completion of the past week’s “floral trifecta.”     

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

NOTE:
The Smithsonian Garden and U.S. Botanic Garden’s 24th annual orchid exhibit runs through April 28, 2019, is open daily from 11:30am until 7:00pm, and is free to the public.

About Smithsonian Gardens:
Smithsonian Gardens has designed and managed the Smithsonian’s grounds and interior plant displays in D.C. since 1972.  Smithsonian Gardens enriches the Smithsonian experience through permanent garden displays, horticultural exhibits, collections and education.  The Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection, which was started in 1974, contains more than 8,000 hybrids and species.  And through the North American Orchid Conservation Center, based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, Smithsonian Gardens is dedicated to conserving America’s diverse orchid heritage.

About the U.S Botanic Garden:
The United States Botanic Garden is oldest botanic garden in North America. The Botanic Garden informs visitors about the importance and fundamental value and diversity of plants, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological significance. With over a million visitors annually, the Botanic Garden strives to demonstrate and promote sustainable practices. The U.S. Botanic Garden is actually a museum, a living plant museum, and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Types of Cherry Blossom People

While I was spending time at the Tidal Basin again this afternoon I couldn’t help but notice there were almost as many people there today as cherry blossoms. And while some people were there to truly appreciate the beauty of the annual diva-ish spectacle, others in the crowd seemed to be there for other reasons. Some of these people probably saw it as the “in” thing to do, and they didn’t want to feel left out. Some were students on school field trips, and were simply glad to be outside of the confines of their classrooms. Some were members of out-of-town tour groups who seemed to be there so they could check it off their bucket lists.  And many seemed to be there just for a quick photo-op, so that they could then post a photo of the blossoms or, better yet, themselves with the blossoms, on social media.  They seemed like they were in such a hurry.  And instead of being present in the moment, these people mostly looked at the blossoms through camera lenses and cell phone screens, like they probably do with most events in theirs and their children’s lives.

But as I said, some people who were there seemed to truly appreciate the beauty. There were artists with their easels set up just off the beaten path, using paint and their imaginations to put their interpretations on canvasses. There were writers and poets lazily jotting down their impressions in leather-bound journals. There were musicians performing for others, or for just themselves, enjoying the setting in which they performed. There were also older couples on benches holding hands, and younger couples on the grass under the trees, sitting quietly with each other and simply gazing at the blossoms. Still others were leisurely strolling around and taking in the beauty that surrounded them before slowly moving on to take in even more. These are the kind of people who I saw there previously, witnessing the future promise of the emerging green buds, or the gnarly beauty of the trunks of the aged trees before they got all dressed up in their white and pink early-spring attire. They are the people who also enjoy the lesser-known but equally beautiful local sites like the colorful azaleas at the U.S. National Arboretum, the bright tulips near the Netherlands Carillon, the seasonal offerings available at The National Park Service’s Floral Library, and the flowering dogwood trees on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building. These people added to the atmosphere rather than just adding to the crowd. They were there to contemplate and be captivated by the beauty, and not just there to attend an event.

While every person had their own story and reason for being there, the people seemed to fall into two general categories. And these two types of people usually go through their entire lives in the same way they spent their time today at The Tidal Basin. One type will have temporary memories that fade into obscurity as quickly as the cherry blossoms and crowds disappear. At best they will end up with just photographs that capture the opportunity they missed to actually experience in real time the true beauty that was right in front of them.  The other type of person takes with them the memories of the moments they spent today, moments that they experienced rather than moments they chased. And it is these moments that added together make for a beautiful and appreciated life well lived.  What type of person are you?  And is it the type you want to be?

Tips for Taking Photos of D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

There are lots of tips and tricks out there for taking great photographs of the cherry blossoms here in D.C.  Some say the lighting is the most important element, and that nothing can replace being there during the times of day when the light is best – sunrise and sunset.  Photographers have a name for this kind of light – the golden hour.  Other photographers insist that the composition of the photo is most important.  They say that it’s necessary to envision the shot in advance so that you can line things up and get the shot that you want “in camera.”  Still other photographers will advise you to switch it up.  Take some photos in more traditional ways, and then break the rules and do the opposite.  An example of this would be to use front lighting to illuminate the main subject of the photograph, and then also use backlighting with the sun in front of you so that the light streams through the pedals of the flowers.

These and other bits of advice can be helpful.  So don’t ignore them.  But my personal advice is, “don’t overthink things.”  Be mindful of what is around you, and then take photos of what interests you most.  Try to simply capture what you see if you think it’s interesting or worthwhile enough for you to want others to see it.  Unless you’re a professional photographer trying to complete an assignment for National Geographic, just show up and enjoy yourself.  And take lots of photos.  If you do this, your enjoyment will show in your photos, and others will enjoy them too.

The photos in this post were ones I took during the past week.  Some are better than others.  The worst ones you won’t see because I deleted them.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  I know I enjoyed taking them.  But even the best photos can’t capture the actual cherry blossom experience.  So more than enjoying the photos, I hope they inspire you to want to come to D.C. next spring and see the cherry blossoms in person.  That’s the only way to truly experience and appreciate just how incredibly beautiful they are.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Cherry Blossom Buds (2019)
•  Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms (2018)
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

The Magnolias at the Enid A. Haupt Garden

Today the cherry blossoms here in D.C. begin their “peak bloom.”  Peak bloom is defined by the National Park Service as the day when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin are open.  But the best time to see the cherry blossoms, depending on the weather, is four to seven days after peak bloom.  So I will be posting some photos of this year’s cherry blossoms later in the week.

During this lunchtime bike ride, I went out to see one of the cherry blossoms’ seasonal precursors, magnolia blossoms.  There are many places throughout D.C. where there is an abundance of magnolia trees, such as the U.S. National Arboretum, Rawlins Park, and Lafayette Square Park, to name just a few.  But on this bike ride I stopped by the Enid A. Haupt Garden, located at 1050 Independence Avenue (MAP) in the Southwest portion of D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

The garden is named after Enid Annenberg Haupt, an American publisher and philanthropist who, as an heiress to a family fortune, was able to make significant contributions to her personal causes and interests, including the arts, architectural and historic preservation, and cancer research.  But foremost among her interests and philanthropic endeavors was horticulture.  Her devotion to restoring and maintaining gardens around the country and the world earned Haupt a reputation as “the greatest patron American horticulture has ever known.”

The garden opened on May 21, 1987 as part of the redesigned Smithsonian Castle quadrangle, which was financed by a three-million dollar endowment Haupt provided for its construction and maintenance.  Initially approached with a request that she finance a small Zen garden within the quadrangle, after a review of the plans Haupt said that she was “not interested in putting money into a Zen garden … I’m only interested in financing the whole thing.”

The Haupt Garden is a public garden in the Smithsonian complex.  It is situated on just over four acres between the back of the Castle and Independence Avenue, and features an embroidered parterre in a geometric design of plants and flowers rotated seasonally, an Asian-influenced garden adjacent to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and a Moorish-influenced garden adjacent to the National Museum of African Art, and wide brick walks, and 19th-century cast-iron garden furnishings from the Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furniture Collection line the perimeter.

But it was the saucer and tulip magnolias that I went to the park to enjoy today.  The magnificent trees do not have the same history and fame as do the cherry trees that line the nearby Tidal Basin, but these magnolias are equal in beauty with their more famous counterparts.  And the aroma of the magnolia blossoms filled the air.  It was a great way to spend the first day of the cherry blossoms’ peak bloom.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Update (4/4/2019):  What a difference a few days make.  The photo (below) is of the same magnolia trees three days after the first photo (above).  So if you’re going to come see them next year, make sure your timing is right.  The brevity of the magnolia blossoms is similar to that of the cherry blossoms.

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Mural

Mamie Johnson got her nickname from a trash-talking third baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs named Hank Bayliss.  Although that was not his intention.  Standing at the plate opposite the 5-foot-3, 115-pound right-handed pitcher, Bayliss took a hard strike, after which he stepped out of the batter’s box and said, “Why, that little girl’s no bigger than a peanut. I ain’t afraid of her.”  But it would take more than trash talking when facing off against her.  She proceeded to strike him out.  After that, Johnson decided to turn the jab into her nickname.  And from then on the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues was affectionately known as “Peanut.”

Peanut was born Mamie Lee Belton in Ridgeway, South Carolina on September 27, 1935, to Della Belton Havelow and Gentry Harrison.  In 1944 her family moved, eventually settling down here in D.C.  In 1952, when she was still just 17 years old, she and another young woman went to a tryout in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  This was the same league portrayed in the film “A League of Their Own.”  But despite Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB) five years earlier, the women’s league remained segregated, and she was turned away.  Years later she was quoted as saying, “They looked at us like we were crazy.  They wouldn’t even let us try out, and that’s the same discrimination that some of the other black ballplayers had before Mr. Robinson broke the barrier. I never really knew what prejudice was until then.”

She would later recall her rejection by the women’s league, however, was a blessing in disguise.  Because the later that year a scout saw Johnson dominate a lineup of men while playing for a team sponsored by St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church in D.C.  The scout invited her to try out for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, the same team that launched the career of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.  She would go on to play three seasons with the Clowns, from 1953 through 1955.

At the plate the right-handed batter had a respectable batting average in the range of .262 to .284.  But with a career 33–8 win-loss record, she was not as good a batter as she was a pitcher.  A right-handed pitcher with a deceptively hard fastball, Peanut also threw a slider, circle changeup, screwball, knuckleball, and curveball, a pitch she received pointers on from Satchel Paige.  Of Paige, she said, “Tell you the truth, I didn’t know of his greatness that much. He was just another ballplayer to me at that particular time.  Later on, I found out exactly who he was.”

Peanut’s brief professional baseball career ended before her 20th birthday, but in that time she amassed a lifetime of interesting stories about a bygone era of playing baseball in a league born of segregation.  After retiring, she earned a nursing degree from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and established a 30-year career in the field, working at Sibley Memorial Hospital back here in D.C.  She later operated a Negro Leagues memorabilia shop in nearby Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Peanut eventually received recognition for her career in the Negro Leagues.  In 1999, she was a guest of The White House.  And in 2008, Peanut and other living players from the Negro Leagues ere were drafted by major league franchises prior to the 2008 MLB First year Draft.  Peanut was selected by the Washington Nationals.  Peanut also spoke at an event entitled Baseball Americana 2009, which was organized by The Library of Congress.  And in 2015, a Little League named for her was formed in D.C.

Among these and many other accolades is a mural featuring Peanut, along with Josh Gibson, another prominent Negro League player from D.C. who was also known as the “black Babe Ruth”, and played for the Homestead Grays, who played home games at D.C.’s Griffith Stadium.  The mural was created last year here in D.C.  It is located in the alley off of U Street (MAP) between Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Lincoln Theater in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, and was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.  Today is opening day for MLB and the Washington Nationals.  And normally I would ride by Nationals Park on Opening Day.  But since I couldn’t go to the game this afternoon, I decided to go see this baseball-themed mural during today’s lunchtime bike ride.

The colorful mural was painted by D.C. artist Aniekan Udofia, and is directly across the alley from his mural featuring the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, Prince and Muhammad Ali on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.  The mural was conceived and orchestrated by MLB to kick off the weeklong festivities leading up to last fall’s MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park.  At the unveiling ceremony, a speaker stated that one of the goals of the mural was to “inspire others to learn about Johnson, Gibson and the Negro Leagues.”  And today I did just that.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]