Testing Out the Olympus PEN-F

Ben at the National Mall

My new camera is here! After much back and forth, I decided on the Olympus PEN-F because it had all of the features that I wanted and was the only camera that I was actually excited about.

Having never used an Olympus, taking pictures for the first time was a confusing experience. I didn’t know what anything on the menu meant; I wasn’t even sure how to find the shutter speed.

Dolley Madison’s Dress

I first tried out the camera at the Museum of American History, but things really started to click yesterday when I was practicing at home.

The Houdon bust of George Washington

So far, I’m impressed with the lens, and how much sharper it is than the kit lens that came with my Nikon. It’s a Panasonic Lumix 20mm – it’s a fixed lens, meaning that it doesn’t zoom. I was a little wary of not having a zoom, but in my two days of picture-taking, I haven’t minded. In fact, I feel more engaged if I have to get up-close to what I’m photographing.

Random Thoughts

  • I’ve registered for an online skirt drafting class that starts on July 9. It’s the first in a series of courses that teach you how to draft your own patterns. I’m really excited.
  • I won a sewing contest! (See the blog announcement here). I made a sweater from fabric purchased at Girl Charlee, and they asked if they could include me in their Knit Picks contest for June. Some friends and family were kind enough to vote for me and gave me a healthy lead over the competition (a baby in a romper).
  • Ben and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary in Georgetown. We had dinner at Sequoia, which is becoming one of our favorite restaurants, followed by cupcakes at Baked & Wired. We also bought a full-length mirror at CB2. Buying furniture may seem like a weird anniversary activity, but we really needed a mirror, and we like browsing at CB2. I also discovered that they have cheap (but pretty) candle holders.

Titanic: The Untold Story

The Titanic was discovered as part of a top-secret mission for the Navy.

I only learned the true story of the Titanic’s discovery this Saturday, when I  visited The National Geographic Museum’s Titanic exhibit.

In 1985, the Navy hired Robert Ballard to search for the wreckage of two submarines that sank in the 1960s (the Thresher sank in 1963 and the Scorpion in 1968). Their aim was to learn if the ships were leaking radiation, reclaim any nuclear weapons, and find out if the Soviets had destroyed the Scorpion in retaliation for spying (they hadn’t). If questioned, Ballard would claim that he was searching for the Titanic, and in fact, he was. The Navy allowed him to search for the ship’s wreckage with the time remaining after his mission was complete. That left him just 12 days.

Ballard’s success hinged on something that he’d learned during the undercover operation: light pieces of debris scatter in a trail up to a mile away from a wreckage. He decided to search for Titanic’s debris, believing that it would lead him to the ship. He found the Titanic in 9 days.

It wasn’t until the 2000s that Ballard’s secret mission was declassified.

Photos from the Exhibit

The Alvin was a human-operated vehicle that could carry three people to a depth of 13,000 feet. This is the Alvin’s pressure sphere that held Ballard and his crew when they discovered the Titanic. The Alvin is still in use, but every piece of it has been replaced.

One of three viewports that they could look out of:

In addition to the discovery of the Titanic, the exhibit discusses the lives of the people who were onboard and how the ship sank. Many of the artifacts are replicas from James Cameron’s movie, both to illustrate what the Titanic had looked like when new and because the wreckage of the Titanic cannot be disturbed.

Part of the debris trail from the Titanic, as recreated for the movie:

White Star Line china identical to that which would have been on the ship:

A miniature replica of the ship:

A reconstruction of a wall in the Turkish Bath, a spa exclusively for first class passengers:

This room features an actual deck chair from the Titanic. It’s one of only 7 deck chairs still in existence and was pulled from the water by body recovery ships.

The Grand Staircase’s clock is the only section that remains from the movie set. The rest was washed out during filming. The movie showed historians how the real staircase may have been destroyed, since it wasn’t found with the wreckage.

The set of the Marconi room, where telegrams were sent and received:

The set of Cal and Roses’s first class sitting room:

And the necklace that caused so much trouble:

Third-class accommodations and Jack’s boarding clothes:

Below is a deck chair from the Carpathia, the ship that rescued Titanic’s survivors. The deck chairs were called “widow’s seats,” because the women sitting on them had just become widows.

I’ve always been interested in the Titanic and thought that the exhibit was fascinating, especially given how the wreckage was discovered. If you’re in town, I highly recommend that you see it. It’s on view through January 6, 2019.

Gettysburg Battlefield

Ben and I visited Gettysburg in late April. Since we’re a 90-minute drive from Gettysburg, it was an easy day trip.

We started our visit by watching the introductory video for some background on the battlefield. We also saw the cyclorama, which is a painting that wraps around a circular room and lights up during the narration. To be honest, I was underwhelmed by it (I thought it would be digital and more immersive).

We left the visitors center to walk to the battlefield and were surprised at how big it is; it isn’t a distinct piece of land that’s set apart from the town, like at Manassas. There’s very little separation between the battlefield and modern day. We saw a McDonalds as we walked to the cemetery where Lincoln spoke his Gettysburg address.

I didn’t take many pictures of the battlefield, since without a guide or a guidebook, it was difficult to know what I was looking at. I could have downloaded the Gettysburg app, which includes an audio tour, but I’m always hesitant to download apps on my old and storage-challenged phone.

Random Thoughts

  • I’m on the hunt for a new, smaller camera. I rarely have my DSLR with me, because it’s big and heavy. I considered a compact, which have a lot more features now, including manual controls and the ability to shoot in raw. But when I held them at the store, they felt like toys (maybe I’d just need to get used to it). I’m also considering a small mirrorless camera, like the Sony a6000. I could upgrade my phone, but cameras have more manual controls and a better battery life.
  • Ben and I are going to Charleston in July, and I’m really looking forward it! This will be a departure from most of our vacations, as we’re planning to relax instead of going sightseeing. My vacations are usually a sprint from one site to the next, which is fun but exhausting. I’m planning to stock up on books on my kindle and sit on the porch of our Air BnB. And take pictures with my new camera, whatever that happens to be.
  • I finally finished reading Longbourn, a version of Pride and Prejudice told through the eyes of the servants downstairs. I’d tried to read it several times, but the beginning was slow, and I’d put it down before I could get past the boring parts. In the end, it was a unique and interesting read that shows just how much the Bennets relied on their servants. It paints the family in a not-always-so-favorable light, with even Elizabeth coming off as a bit thoughtless at times. It goes well with another book that I’ve been reading, Jane Austen’s England. This non-fiction book covers what everyday life was like for the working classes in Jane Austen’s day.

The Surratt House & Tavern

I’ve finally crossed the Surratt House off my bucket list. I’ve wanted to see it ever since I learned of Mary Surratt from the movie The Conspirator in 2011.

Mary Surratt was a confederate and an accomplice of Booth’s in the plot to kill Lincoln. In addition to her Maryland tavern (above), she owned a boarding house in DC, where John Wilkes Booth was a frequent visitor. On the day that he was to assassinate Lincoln, Mary traveled to her tavern and instructed her tenant John Lloyd to stash Booth’s pistols. He would come for them that night, after he made his escape from Ford’s Theatre into the Maryland countryside.

The movie leaves it up to the viewer if Surratt knew of the assassination and knowingly committed treason. However, the author of The Assassin’s Accomplice argues that Mary Surratt, who was eventually hung with the Booth’s other conspirators, was a willing participant.

I have to admit that the tour wasn’t what I was expecting. It was more politically charged than I cared for, with the tour guide arguing that Booth was a better man than commonly thought and that Lincoln was no martyr who liked to tell N-word jokes (except he actually said it, which was appalling and uncomfortable).

In his determination to clear Booth’s name (and the Surratts’), the guide left out key details…like where Booth’s gun had been stashed! I realized the omission only after we left.

I can’t tell you whose bedroom this is, because we were given little detail about the house. But, I did manage to find a sewing room:

Random Thoughts

  • While we were at the Surratt House, we bought a map of John Wilkes Booth’s escape route. I’d just read Manhunt: the 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer and wanted to see the route in person. Unfortunately, we’d forgotten about Maryland traffic. It was so bad that we only made it to Chic-fil-A (obviously not a stop on the route, but I was starving).
  • Ben and I moved into a new apartment last Saturday. We’re not completely settled in yet, but the new place has some definite benefits: lots of sunlight, an in-unit washer and dryer (I’m still getting used to being able to do laundry whenever I want), and a bathroom counter (it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is). The cats took to it immediately. Instead of cowering inside cabinets, they laid down in front of the balcony, which has been their favorite spot ever since.
  • I went to Baked & Wired this week, which is commonly cited as having  the best cupcakes in the DC area. It lived up to its reputation. It has a ton of flavors to choose from and the cupcakes are dense, so they’re really filling (I could only eat one, though I had plans for several).
  • Georgetown has an Amazon bookstore! It opened in March but I only found out about it this week. It doesn’t have as many books as Barnes & Noble, but it has the bestsellers. Amazon Prime members pay Amazon.com prices, so the book that I bought about Wallis Simpson was $17 instead of the $28 list price. All books are shown with their Amazon review rating (I’ve heard that the store only carries books with a rating of  at least 4 stars). Amazon prices aren’t listed, but there are scanners throughout the store, or you can scan the barcode with the Amazon app and it will take you to the book’s Amazon page. It was a fun experience, and I can’t wait to go back after I’ve gone through my current stack of books.

A Birthday Celebration

Ben and I celebrated my 35th birthday on Sunday by spending the day in Richmond. Traffic was light, so we arrived an hour ahead of schedule. We walked around the shopping district of Carytown, and I grabbed a hot chocolate at Sugar & Twine (I don’t usually let myself drink hot chocolate, but anything goes on birthday weekend).

Ben had made a noon reservation for afternoon tea at the Jefferson Hotel; he likes afternoon tea as much as I do, ever since we went to England.

Tea is held in the lobby of the hotel, which is beautiful, but the setting was a bit awkward, since we were on display for people who were checking in or just hanging out in the lobby.

We were served Virginia ham sandwiches and a few different wraps (hummus for me). The tiered tray also included chocolate chip scones, spinach scones, pound cake (vanilla and chocolate), macaroons and chocolate covered strawberries.

We finished the tier (the waiter was impressed and said most people don’t), then we were given a piece of cake for my birthday. I was thrilled that it had cream cheese frosting; everything is better with cream cheese, and cake is already pretty good.

After tea, we decided to visit Agecroft Hall, a Tudor mansion that was brought to Virginia in the early 1900s from Manchester, England. Richmond was having a “time travelers” weekend, where historic sites throughout the city offered free admission and abbreviated tours. Agecroft Hall was one of the participating sites.

Our visit started with a ten-minute video about the history of the house. It had fallen into disrepair in England and was at risk of demolition when a wealthy entrepreneur purchased it. The house was taken apart, crated and shipped across the Atlantic. The mansion that was built in Richmond is inspired by the home that stood in England but isn’t a reconstruction, so that more modern conveniences could be included.

As we were waiting for our tour, I practiced taking Ben’s picture in front of the mansion. You can tell from the progression of these photos when his patience wore out (understandably so; these aren’t even half of what I took).

I asked Ben not to give me gifts for my birthday, but he surprised me with a book that I’d been wanting from Paper Source, a book that I’d looked at months ago. It was very thoughtful.