Spring has Sprung

Jefferson Memorial, cherry blossoms, tidal basin, spring, Washington, DC

Like much of the world, Old Jefferson is a bit under the weather at the moment, but still enjoying the beauty of spring around him. With luck and perseverance, we will all be back to our old selves soon, looking and feeling better than ever. Just back away from the Easter candy!

Stay safe! Stay sane!

Learning to Be RAW

So last weekend photographed Great Falls in the evening using the long exposure techniques shared by my fellow photographer Chrissy Donadi on The Visual Wilderness photography website. I used these same tips to capture the early morning shot of Blackwater Falls in Davis, West Virginia that I shared back in early July.

Now, both times I shot in both JPEG and RAW, but I didn’t use the RAW file to edit that Blackwater Falls photo. It turns out that I needed to make a series of updates to my Adobe Photoshop Elements software in order for it to let me access the RAW photos.

So with the necessary updates to allow me to open and edit RAW photos I decided to take the plunge and see what I could do with one of my earliest darker captures of Great Falls and this is what I came up with. I have other images I took later on that I think may be sharper, so once I choose which one to edit and accomplish that, I’ll share it. But I think for a first attempt at editing from RAW files, this isn’t so bad!

Now I just need to get Adobe Lightroom and make editing in RAW a consistent practice.

Great Falls in the Evening

Great Falls, VA


Falls on the Fourth

This year the idea of staying in DC for all of the Fourth of July craziness, the heat, and the crowds held little appeal to me and my husband. So my husband – the king of finding off the radar destinations that appeal to our simple and odd tastes – got online and found us an overnight getaway in Davis, West Virginia.


We have always like waterfalls, so the main focus of this outing was to travel to Davis to visit Blackwater Falls State Park. And as I am currently reading up and practicing long exposure landscape photography, this was a perfect destination for me to put my new knowledge and equipment to good use!



We arrived in Davis, shortly before noon. So we checked in to our B&B, had some lunch and then headed out on the first day’s mission – scouting out the falls to see what we were dealing with.



There were plenty of people at Blackwater Falls on the 4th, but it wasn’t overly crowded. Everyone was courteous and good at sharing the views. And the falls themselves were spectacular. After spending about an hour at the falls, we drove around, taking in the natural beauty of the state parks in the area and scoping out possible activities for the next visit to Davis.


We drove out to a smaller, more remote waterfall near Davis’ sister city of Thomas. It would be an understatement to say that the gravel road was in bad shape. But we made it out to the end of the road with the car intact and set out on foot in search of Douglas Falls. Douglas Falls is not as visitor friendly as Blackwater Falls – a knotted rope helps you not tumble down the steep path to the bottom (as compared with the well maintained wooden staircases and platforms of Blackwater) and the vantage points for those of us not terribly sure footed enough to travel a little downstream were rather limited. So after a few shots with the phone’s camera, we headed back to home base.

The real show for me was the next morning. After reading a couple of tutorials and buying a neutral density filter and a remote release trigger, I was ready to try my hand at long exposure photography. We left the B&B bright and early and headed back to Blackwater Falls. The storms from the previous afternoon had swollen the rivers and the amount of water flowing over the falls increased dramatically. Gone were the rocks jutting out of the falls that you could see the day before. And the spray kept us from going all the way down to the main viewing platform.

Blackwater After the Rain

Blackwater Falls after the previous day’s rain. Notice you can’t see any of the rocks visible in the first photos.


Instead we headed up to the other viewing site just off the road to the lodge and set up for the shot I was looking for there. I set up the tripod, put the neutral density filter on my lens, and attached the remote release trigger to the camera. Luckily we had the platform to ourselves and I had the freedom to play and experiment with the settings until I was relatively sure I got the shot I came for.

Blackwater Falls in the Morning

Blackwater Falls – shot using long exposure, a neutral density filter, and a remote trigger release.

Our little adventure was a perfect, short getaway for us. Davis and Thomas are both great little towns to stay in, giving you access to state parks, a national forest, a ski resort, bike trails, river activities, and even artistic ventures. Our bed and breakfast, the Brightmorning Inn, was SUPER dog friendly and the food was excellent (I didn’t expect the European quality pastries!). I can’t wait to go back to explore more of the towns, with their historical buildings, unique shops, art galleries, and delicious restaurants!


Davis, West Virginia








My family knows that when it comes to old ruins and abandoned places, I become a tiny bit unhinged. I love exploring old spaces and crumbling buildings, looking for signs of the original inhabitants and speculating on the cause of their absence. Sometimes the ruins are mind-bogglingly old, like Petra in Jordan, or the abbey outside of Villers-a-Ville near Brussels and you gape in awe that the structures are still standing in any state. Others are more recently abandoned spaces like Doel, Belgium, located not far from Antwerp and waiting until its current hold-out residents move out, leaving the town to its scheduled fate (check out Doel here!).

Others suffer irreparable or costly damage from natural and man-made disasters, making rebuilding impossible. St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is one such ruin. Located on along the northern bank of the Patapsco River in the Patapsco State Park in Maryland, the church was struck by lightning in the early 1900’s and left to decay ever since.

After discovering this little gem on Facebook, we loaded up the dog, noted the coordinates of the ruins, and hopped in the car, hoping to combine two of our favorite activities – nature walks and exploring/photographing ruins.

We just about didn’t find the old church. It was located just off the main trail and up a hill. The vegetation is rather dense and, ahem, creepy, so it was easy to miss the old, vine-covered masonry. Once there, the dog was not pleased that we wanted to actually go into the ruins. He was equally unhappy with our decision to explore the overgrown cemetery adjacent to the crumbing building. Are the old residents still hanging about? I dunno, but I bet this place makes a great Halloween haunt for teens in the area!

Adding to the atmosphere of the ruins are the many old cars located there. Crashed? Abandoned? Stolen? Washed in by the many floods? No one may ever know why these cars in various states of decay were left behind.

St. Stanislaus was once part of a small town that shared the same bank of the nearby river. But as the jobs dried up when the main factory shut down many of the residents left for more profitable living conditions. The remaining residents endured several catastrophic floods and eventually the town was abandoned once and for all. There are stone foundations and a couple of other buildings that give evidence that this place was once inhabited. But exploration of those would have to wait until another day.

Hanging Out in Harpers Ferry

     After breakfast at Lynette & Jerri’s itty bitty diner the next morning, we left Winchester, Virginia (check out Wandering in Winchester if you haven’t yet!) and headed for Harpers Ferry. Located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, you can imagine the importance of Harpers Ferry, even if you can’t quite remember from your high school history class why that place sounds familiar.

     I won’t bore you with a history lesson (though you really should read up on the town, it has quite a past!). I will say come to town and be prepared to learn a little. Most of Harpers Ferry is a National Park and there are plenty of museums, exhibits and historical sights. You might even see someone in historical dress giving a talk or a demonstration on some long forgotten tradition.

     There are several B&Bs, cute little restaurants and adorable boutique shops. I had the best cinnamon roll I’ve eaten in years at one coffee shop and I’m actually quite glad I don’t live nearer, or I’d be eating them all the time. Definitely be sure to visit the old timey candy shop too! No wonder I don’t lose weight…

     Aside from the gorgeous little town, Harpers Ferry is also a perfect place for outdoor recreation, from strolls along the river and canals, to hikes across the old railroad bridge to Maryland Heights and the cliffs overlooking the town from that side of the river. The Appalachian Trail goes right through town and while it’s not exactly the midpoint on that journey, many see it as such. Biking, fishing, rafting, and other outdoor sports are popular activities in the area as well. And you can already see that it’s a great place for history nerds with a photography problem!

     Even though it was the first day that the weather REALLY decided to think about changing to its winter act (I was not prepared, lol), I had a great time and can’t wait to go back. I’d love to brave that climb on the other side and get a bird’s eye view of Harpers Ferry from up there. The town is so tiny, but reminds me a little of my adopted home town of Eureka Springs, AR. Lots of history, but also lots of heart and pride from the residents who choose to call Harpers Ferry home. Fingers crossed next time I will get to stay at a B&B in town!

PS: The 48th Annual Harpers Ferry Olde Tyme Christmas and Winterfest gets going on November 30th and continues on into December. Check out the details at Historic Harpers Ferry’s website!


Wandering in Winchester

     Back in October, just before the leaves made their grand change ( literally – like 3 days before), my dear husband whisked me out of town for a spontaneous weekend away from the DC metro area. Note to self: spontaneous weekends to the Shenandoah in the fall are nigh impossible to book last minute without large sums of cash and at least 2 nights/3 days to work with. But with some readjusting of our expectations we secured a hotel room in Winchester, VA and planned to spend the next day in Harpers Ferry, WV.

     I became a little fascinated with Winchester back in September. I was on my way to my first training center to learn the ins and outs of preschool photography and while driving through the gorgeous, historic downtown area, had to fight down the urge to ditch the preschool portraiture for a photography stroll through Winchester’s quaint streets.

     The first structure that really caught my eye was the ornately domed, Beaux-Arts style  Handley Library. It was a building worthy of any old world European city and I had to check it out. The library was funded by Judge John Handley from Scranton Pennsylvania, who, in his will,  left the city of Winchester $250,000 to build it. It was built to resemble and open book, with the dome representing its spine, and two wings stretching out to either side resembling the pages.

     The view of the dome from inside was equally impressive and I was not the only visitor that gasped a little at the unexpected view. Tours are given regularly, but if you happen to miss it, the librarians are friendly and welcoming and will invite you to wander the halls to admire the prized building.

     Our next stop was Winchester’s historic downtown. A three block section of Loudoun Street is now closed to vehicle traffic and makes up Winchester’s pedestrian mall, lined with restaurants, historical sites, and lots of interesting little shops selling various things. If you like to buy from small, local businesses, this is a great place to go.

     We did not by any means exhaust all the interesting and beautiful sites of Winchester, Virginia. More things are calling out to me to explore further, but they will have to wait for another weekend adventure – preferably during their annual Apple Blossom Festival in the Spring!

     The next morning, after having breakfast at what could possibly be the tiniest, popular diner in Winchester, we hit the road and headed for Harpers Ferry. More on that next!

Harpers Ferry

Midday in the Garden of Good and Evil


The motto for my life this year.

The best outings are those I don’t plan to do. Usually they are cooked up by my amazing husband who often knows what I will love long before I’ve even paid any attention to where we are going (Grand Place in Brussels, the city of Ghent, the ruins of Villers Abbey, Boulogne-Sur-Mer; the list just goes on). July was the mother of all unplanned activities.

In the span of mere weeks we found out we were leaving Nassau and rushed to do all the things I would normally have six months to a year to accomplish. Add to that the uncertainty of going to a US posting where there is no housing assignment, no welcome kit, no car, and every little piece of information I usually cling to, to get me through the limbo phase of moving, was absent. Because we couldn’t fly the dog with the bigger airlines in the middle of summer, we opted to take a charter flight into Ft. Lauderdale and rent a car for the long drive up to DC. My only goal was to get to our final destination as quickly, safely, and inexpensively as possible.


Our first night on the road was spent in a dodgy little Motel 6 off of I-95 in Savannah (we were splurging the next night for better digs in Myrtle Beach so I didn’t feel too bad about the decision). I expected us to hit the road early for our next stop, but my husband had done his homework. He suggested we go into Savannah to check out Bonaventure Cemetery with it’s Spanish moss-filled trees and famous old headstones. Wait, what? You had me at old cemetery, and clinched it with Spanish moss. He gets me. He really gets me…


Bonaventure began as Bonaventure Plantation in the mid 1700’s, eventually housing the family burial plot, which still exists on the property today. In 1846 the plantation was sold and the northeastern portion, which included the site of the original plantation houses (long since destroyed by fire) was turned into a public burial ground.

The economic success of the Savannah’s elite would see the cemetery transformed in the tradition of England’s garden cemeteries, with an infusion of lavish gravesites, artistic memorials and sculptures, and park-like landscaping. The cemetery was sold to the city of Savannah and the name was officially changed to Bonaventure Cemetery in the early 1900’s.

Most of us became familiar with the cemetery through movies in the 1980’s (you know the one in particular!) and associate it with a sense of magic, voodoo, and an eeriness that plays on the imagination.

Angel, or...?

Even at noon on a sunny, hot, and humid day the cemetery is both beautiful and haunting. You could easily envision questionable things happening within it’s walls after dark, whether manmade or paranormal.

On this trip we barely scratched the surface of this massive cemetery. We tried our best to visit most of the highlights, but there is so much more to explore (as well as the rest of the city!) on our next trip to Savannah.






New Finds with Old Friends

During this crazy summer of transition I was treated to a outing with friends that mirrored some of our experiences in Brussels together. Sherry, now retired and living in DC, and Sarah, visiting from her home base in New York, invited me to explore the museum and gardens of Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown.

Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

This early 20th century estate houses the art collections and libraries of Robert and Mildred Bliss. The house and its treasures now belong to Harvard University, providing a place for scholarship to those whose interests lie in Byzantine and Pre-Columbian Art, as well as garden design and landscape architecture.

The Music Room

The Music Room

In 1944, the Music Room was the site of talks that laid the groundwork for the creation of the United Nations, producing the United Nations Charter that would be adopted by the member countries in San Francisco the following year. (The above pictures do the room no justice! I was harried by a tour of 9 year old scholars!)

For me the highlight of the day were the gardens. While the house was gifted to Harvard, the grounds and carefully crafted Italian gardens were gifted to the National Park Service. Entrance to the park is from a completely different location than the house and a nominal $10 entrance fee is charged to those wanting to wander the grounds (entry into the museum’s galleries is free).


Mildred Bliss worked closely with Beatrix Ferrand to create the gardens and the result is a wondrous place to both appreciate the artistry of the garden’s designs and to take in the beauty of nature all around you. I highly recommend a trip to Dumbarton Oaks to anyone living in, or visiting, D.C. You can find more information on their website here.

There was so much more to see, but with the forecast calling for storms within the hour, our time was cut short. In fact, we only made it as far as the guard’s canopy before the skies opened up. After a brief wait we continued on our way to M street and the nearest Irish Pub for a beer.

I am grateful for friends who also enjoy exploring the cities around us and digging up the gems that so often go unnoticed during our time in the area. Our day evoked, for me, memories of exploring ancient chateaus, 12th century monastery ruins, quaint shops, and the natural wonders around Belgium. I may not have access to those sites anymore, but I still have access to good friends who share my curiosity and love of adventure. I now have a job that will take up a good portion of my time, but I do hope to see a lot more of this in the coming months of our D.C. tour.

A Familiar Sight

My patient friends. They know I’ll be along shortly – after I’ve taken the shot!