US National Arboretum (April’s New Experience)

This past weekend, my friend Bonnie and I went to the National Arboretum for the first time. It was a glorious day and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out our nation’s living museum. It’s hard to imagine that within a big city like Washington, DC, there lies 446 acres of lush grounds dedicated to conserving and showcasing thousands of varieties of plants. The arboretum is “in bloom” all year long, so no matter what time of year you visit, there will be plenty for you to see. To find out which plants will be in bloom during your visit, see the arboretum’s bloom schedule.

We happened to go on a very busy weekend and it was difficult to find a place to park. We finally managed to find a spot alongside a field of lilac shrubs. As soon as we stepped out of the car we were overwhelmed by the smell of fresh lilac. (Side note: I had been thinking about planting a lilac shrub in our back yard and after seeing this magnificent field of lilacs I went out and bought one the very next day!)


What we stumbled upon next was like something out of Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece. It’s not every day that you see free-standing columns amidst a meadow in the United States!


But the columns are of course, not ancient. These Corinthian columns were originally on the East Portico of the US Capitol. But due to an oversight in design, the columns didn’t appear to adequately support the Capitol dome which was completed in 1864. The columns were removed and an addition was built on the east side of the Capitol in 1958. In the 1980s, the Capitol Columns found their new home at the National Arboretum. The columns overlook 20 acres known as the Ellipse Meadow. They are set on a foundation of stones that also used to be on the east side of the Capitol. And nothing is complete in DC without a reflecting pool!


The current showstoppers in bloom at the arboretum are the azaleas. The area known as Mount Hamilton is ablaze with color from the all of the azaleas that flood the hillside. There are literally thousands of azalea shrubs in every variety and color imaginable and visitors can walk along footpaths to get a good view of them all.



With over 9 miles of winding roads within the arboretum, we barely scratched the surface during our visit. We spent most of our time looking at the azaleas, but here are a few other plant varieties we enjoyed.



I especially loved this Lace Bark Pine whose trunks look like army camo!



We even got to see some wildlife. In addition to the frogs below, we also spotted a fox.



This is definitely one DC landmark that I intend to revisit!

Trust the Turtle

Since I recently bought a shiny new camera, I also had to buy a new camera bag to keep her cozy and warm. Luckily, this purchase didn’t require any research (very much unlike my camera purchase) because I knew immediately what brand I would buy! About a year ago I discovered Pacsafe products and they are now my go-to brand for all of my travel baggage needs. Pacsafe offers high-quality travel gear with a boat load of built-in anti-theft technology. Most of their products include features such as: slash-proof straps, RFID blocking pockets, locking zippers, & exomesh slash-guards.

photo from google images

Have you ever had your gear stolen? If it has never happened to you personally, I’m sure you have at least heard stories from friends or family about getting ripped off while traveling. Having your passport or credit cards stolen can really ruin your vacation. Becoming a victim of identity theft could cause you to freeze all of your accounts while still in a foreign country. And those amazing photographs you shot, well they could be gone forever because of someone with sticky fingers! I like to think that I am a savvy traveler and I try to always maintain my situational awareness. Hauling my gear in a Pacsafe bag does not mean that I get to completely let my guard down while traveling, but it does provide added peace of mind. I am by no means suggesting that Pacsafe products will guarantee the security of your belongings, but I will say they add a few more barriers between your precious cargo and those pesky thieves.

The newest addition to my Pacsafe arsenal is the Camsafe 100 Camera Shoulder Bag.

photo from

This bag has plenty of padding, as well as anti-theft features that will keep my camera well protected. This bag also has lots of separate gadget pockets that are perfect for battery chargers, spare batteries, memory cards, cell phones, even a water bottle. This bag has enough room to carry all of my essentials while day tripping, thereby eliminating the need to also carry a purse. Score!

photo from

I also own (and love!) the Pacsafe Slingsafe 300 Gii Backpack and Slingsafe 250 Gii Handbag.

Why the turtle? Pacsafe’s products were initially inspired by the independent global wanderings of the sea turtle. They now have their own turtle foundation to help the dwindling turtle population. And we all know how much I love to help the turtles! If you don’t know…click here and here.

Travel Junkie Scores Her Latest Fix (a.k.a. Camera Upgrade)

As mentioned in a previous post, I was jonesing for a camera upgrade, but choosing the right camera for me was no easy task. After diligently researching every last detail (along with helpful input from others), I finally selected the camera that will (I hope) exceed my expectations as I trot around the globe.

The Canon PowerShot SX40 and the Nikon CoolPix P510 were among my top 4 finalists, but in the end, they didn’t make the cut. Canon and Nikon are both well respected brands in the photography community, but the reviews I read led me to believe I would have been disappointed with these cameras based on shutter speed, battery life, and possibly even image quality. Both of these cameras had amazing optical zoom capabilities, but I was looking for more than just a good zoom. I was in search of a well-rounded camera that would suit all of my needs, not just a one-trick pony.

I then went back and forth (for days!) between the Sony CyberShot HX200V and the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. They each had certain specifications that outdid the other, making it difficult to pick a clear winner. For example, the Sony had more megapixels, but the Lumix was slightly faster. The Sony had a GPS function, while the Lumix had a longer battery life. The Sony had a longer zoom, but the Lumix had better image quality. The Sony was cheaper and more within my price range, but the Lumix had a sharper lens. I agonized over these details trying to figure out which specifications were most important for my travel needs.

And the winner is………………

The Panasonic Lumix FZ200

Photo from
Photo from

The Lumix was more expensive, but in the long run, I think I’m sure it is the better camera. The deciding factor was the Lumix’s amazing zoom lens that has a constant f2.8 aperture through its entire zoom range! This is an amazing feature and it is the first camera in its class that has been able to accomplish this. What does all of that even mean, you ask?  It means this camera is pretty stinkin’ awesome!  In order to keep the size and the cost of a camera down, most super zoom lenses must decrease the aperture size as the lens zooms in.  This lets in less light, which in turn can affect image quality.  But not the Lumix FZ200.  This super zoom lens lets in the same amount of light even when the lens is fully extended!

Photo from
Photo from

I originally ordered this camera through an online website that I had never heard of before because it was listed $75 cheaper than on  Ten days later and my camera had not even been shipped yet.  I called the shady website (with an even shadier Customer Service Rep) and learned that my camera wouldn’t arrive for another week!  I decided the $75 savings wasn’t worth it, so I cancelled my order.  Amazon shipped the camera immediately and it arrived two days later.  Lesson learned….I heart Amazon!

Because of my little ordering snafu, I have only had the chance to use the camera once.  I used the camera on our recent trip to Norfolk and you can see those pictures here.  So far I am extremely happy with my choice and I can’t wait to play with it more.

Do you know a lot about cameras?  Do you think I made the right choice?

USS Arlington LPD 24

This past weekend, Rob and I took a day trip to Norfolk, VA for a very special military ceremony. The US Navy commissioned the USS Arlington on Saturday, April 6th. The USS Arlington is one of three namesake ships to commemorate the victims and heroes of 9/11. The USS New York was commissioned in 2009 and the USS Somerset is scheduled to be commissioned next year. The USS Arlington LPD 24 (landing platform/dock) will transport troops into war zones around the world and will be a constant reminder that the American spirit cannot be broken.


The ship’s name plate was made out of steel recovered from the Pentagon after the attack (top left picture below).


Members of the Arlington County Fire Department, Arlington County Police Department, and families of the victims that died at the Pentagon were invited to attend the ceremony. Rob was a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11, so it was very special for us to attend such a meaningful ceremony honoring all of the heroes and victims. Members of the ACFD attended the event looking sharp!


The Commissioning Ceremony

The commissioning of a naval ship is a time honored tradition hundreds of years old. The ceremony marks the transition of the ship into active duty. The national anthem was played and then a representative read the commissioning directive. The American flag and commissioning pennant were then raised and the ship officially became a member of our naval fleet. The commissioning pennant is the very thin one at the top (center) of the picture below.


And seen again in the bottom right of the picture below (look closely, it’s as thin as the ropes that raise it!).


The prospective commanding officer read his orders, officially assumed command, and set the first watch. Then the ship’s sponsor (Joyce Rumsfeld) gave the first order: “Man our ship and bring her to life!”

At that point the crew rushed on board the ship and lined up along the railings.



The ship’s engines were turned on and they sounded the mighty horn!


Then the crew saluted as the colors were retired.



The Tour

After the ceremony concluded, we were allowed to tour certain parts of the ship.


Rob in control of the bridge.


Four types of aircraft on the deck.


Although we didn’t get to see it, the ship has a “tribute room” to honor the 184 people killed at the Pentagon as well as the emergency personnel that responded to the attack.

I’m sure many of you are wondering if they smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship. No, wrong ceremony. But that did in fact happen at a different ceremony! The christening took place in March of 2011 and Joyce Rumsfeld had the honor of smashing the champagne bottle.

Inspiration Incarnate


A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I went out for dinner and a movie. I didn’t know much about the movie we were about to see. I only knew that it was a documentary and that it involved veterans. I walked into the theater blind, not knowing what to expect. But I left knowing exactly what I needed to do! It was absolutely the most amazing feeling to watch this movie and feel truly inspired. I have felt inspiration before, but not quite like this. It was the kind of feeling that became more than a feeling, because it demanded action. I left the movie theater knowing that I needed to get involved with this project immediately!

(BTW – Our local movie theater has these sweet, plush recliners!)

The movie is called Honor Flight and it documents a non-profit organization that flies WWII veterans to Washington, DC so they can visit their memorials. Of the 16 million WWII veterans, only about 2 million are still alive. But, almost 900 of them die every single day! And most of them have never been to Washington, DC to see the memorials erected in their honor. The Honor Flight Network has made it their mission to fly as many of the surviving veterans as they possibly can to Washington, DC so they can visit and reflect at their memorials before it is too late.

As a veteran myself, I have the utmost respect for ALL of our nation’s veterans. But, I am ashamed to admit that I had never really given much thought about our WWII veterans. Why is that? Maybe it is because that generation never talked about their experiences during the war. They came home, put their duffle bags in the basement, and acted as if they had never been gone to begin with. Both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans. I was very young when one of them died, but I was always close with my paternal grandfather. I knew he was a veteran and I knew he was a recipient of the Purple Heart. But other than that, I knew nothing of his experiences. I recently asked my dad if my grandfather ever spoke of the war to him. No, he hadn’t. His memories remained locked up in those duffle bags that were banished to the basement.

I am an Iraqi War veteran and watching this movie made me realize that my grandfather and I might have been able to bond with each other telling our war stories. He might have been willing to unlock those duffle bags and open up to me about his experiences if I was willing to share my stories with him as well. Sadly, we never got the chance. My grandfather passed away while I was still deployed to Iraq. His stories will remain untold.

While the opportunity has passed for me to learn about my grandfather’s experiences, I still have the chance to make a difference in the lives of other WWII veterans. The Honor Flight Network covers all of the expenses to fly veterans to Washington, DC, as well as arrange their meals and transportation around the city. But, they still need volunteers to help the veterans get around. Given their age, most of them are either in wheelchairs or need assistance walking. That is where I come in. I have volunteered to become a guardian for upcoming Honor Flight missions. Each veteran gets assigned to their own guardian that will remain with them throughout the day. It is the guardian’s responsibility to help the veteran get around, take care of his general well-being, and basically treat him like a VIP for the day. Living so close to Washington, DC, getting involved with this program was a no-brainer for me. I am currently signed up for my first guardian-ship on Saturday, May 4th and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all. Please stay tuned. But in the meantime, please watch the Honor Flight movie trailers below and help spread the word about this worthy program. If you would like to volunteer to be a guardian (all-day commitment) or an airport greeter (not an all-day commitment), please email To view the schedules for needed volunteers, please visit If you would like to donate money rather than your time, please visit the Honor Flight Network.

What inspires you? Has the feeling of inspiration ever taken such a hold on you that it turned into more than a feeling? What inspires you to actually step up and get involved or to try to make a difference?

Of all the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation – and as a culturally diverse, free society.” ~ Honor Flight Network

10 Things I Learned at the NY International Car Show


This past weekend, I visited my family in New Jersey during Zombie Jesus Weekend. (That’s what you might call Easter.) While there, I went to the International Car Show at the Javits Center in New York City with my Dad and my sister, Amanda. Here is what I learned:

1. I don’t handle crowds well (ok, maybe I already knew this)

2. I really don’t like children (ok, I definitely already knew that)

3. Some people are way too fertile (please see item# 2)

4. Apparently consumers like comic book themed Kias.



5. Apparently my Dad gets very excited about Corvettes hanging on the wall! (Sorry Dad. I couldn’t resist)


6. The all new Mazdas might be something like the Starship Enterprise? Regardless, my dad was very bummed that they wouldn’t let him sit in the chair and say something like, “Take us to warp speed!”


7. A ticket to the Mercedes-Benz VIP Lounge scores you a cup of soda and a miniature bag of M&M’s.


8. There is a new trend to paint cars in a matte finish…and I like it!


9. Buying any one of these cars would mean I would never ever be able to travel again. $$$ Hence, why I will never buy any one of these cars.


10. And most important…it was a really fun way to spend the day with my Dad and Amanda!