Inspired by Life

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Lincoln Memorial

Last summer, we had the chance to visit DC before we moved here in the fall. We filled our stay with sightseeing, sweltering heat and sandwiches, to name a few things. It was a wonderful trip and I got to do several things that had been on my to-do-before-i-die or in short, my bucket list. (Please excuse the formatting. When pasting from Wikipedia, it assumed its own formatting and I could not remove it.)

I have long been fascinated with all things Abraham Lincoln, and of course a trip to DC could not be complete without a visit to the Lincoln Memorial. Another dream come true for me as I climbed the stairs to the massive columns of the memorial. It was truly mesmerizing in its stature and its austere marble walls and floors lent it an hallowed feel. An impressive statue of Lincoln, seated on high, looking straight ahead at the nation that he fought to preserve.

This memorial was built to honor Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. It is located on the west end of the National Mall. It was designed after ancient Greek temples, hence the massive columns and marble stonework. Lincoln was a symbol of honesty, integrity and humanity for the American people.

In Lincoln's direct line of sight stands the Washington Monument across the Reflecting Pool. Also an impressive monument in its own right.


The Lincoln Memorial served as a site for many famous speeches, one of which was the famous 'I Have a Dream' speech by Martin Luther King delivered on August 28th, 1963.

The exterior of the Memorial echoes a classic Greek temple and features Yule marble. The structure measures 189.7 by 118.5 feet (57.8 by 36.1 m) and is 99 feet (30 m) tall. It is surrounded by a peristyle of 36 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death, and two columns in-antis at the entrance behind the colonnade. The columns stand 44 feet (13 m) tall with a base diameter of 7.5 feet (2.3 m). Each column is built from 12 drums including the capital. The columns, like the exterior walls and fa├žades, are inclined slightly toward the building's interior. This is to compensate for perspective distortions which would otherwise make the Memorial appear asymmetrical. (Taken from Wikipedia)

  Another view of the Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Beautiful, isn't it??

Lying between the north and south chambers is the central hall containing the solitary figure of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers under the supervision of the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, and took four years to complete. The statue, originally intended to be only 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, was, on further consideration, enlarged so that it finally stood 19 feet (5.8 m) tall from head to foot, the scale being such that if Lincoln were standing, he would be 28 feet (8.5 m) tall. The extreme width of the statue is the same as its height. The Georgia white marble sculpture weighs 175 short tons (159 t) and had to be shipped in 28 separate pieces.

The statue rests upon an oblong pedestal of Tennessee marble 10 feet (3.0 m) high, 16 feet (4.9 m) wide, and 17 feet (5.2 m) deep. Directly beneath this lies a platform of Tennessee marble about 34.5 feet (10.5 m) long, 28 feet (8.5 m) wide, and 6.5 inches (0.17 m) high. The statue is subtly bordered by two pilasters, one on each side. Between these pilasters and above Lincoln's head stands the engraved epitaph, composed by Royal Cortissoz. (Taken from Wikipedia - where the descriptions are written better that I could have attempted to write for this blog entry.)

 Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address engraved on the walls.

The interior of the Memorial is divided into three chambers by two rows of Ionic columns. These columns, four in each row, are 50 feet (15 m) tall and 5.5 feet (1.7 m) in diameter at their base. The north and south side chambers contain carved inscriptions of Lincoln's second inaugural address and his Gettysburg Address. There was an error in the engraving of the second inaugural address. In the line, "With high hope for the future," the "F" of the word future was originally carved as an "E". To cover the mistake, the bottom line of the E is not painted in. Bordering these inscriptions are pilasters ornamented with fasces, eagles, and wreaths. The inscriptions and adjoining ornamentation were done by Evelyn Beatrice Longman.

Above each of the inscriptions is a 60-by-12-foot (18 by 3.7 m) mural painted by Jules Guerin graphically portraying governing principles evident in Lincoln's life. On the south wall mural, Freedom, Liberty, Immortality, Justice, and the Law are pictured, while the north wall portrays Unity, Fraternity, and Charity. Both scenes contain a background of cypress trees, the emblem of Eternity. The murals were crafted with a special mixture of paint which included elements of kerosene and wax to protect the exposed artwork from fluctuations in temperature and moisture conditions.

The ceiling of the Memorial, 60 feet (18 m) above the floor, is composed of bronze girders, ornamented with laurel and oak leaves. Between the girders are panels of Alabama marble, saturated with paraffin to increase their translucency. Despite the increased light from this device, Bacon and French felt the statue required even more light. They decided upon an artificial lighting system in which a louvered lighting panel would be set in the ceiling with metal slats to conceal the great floodlights. Custodians could adjust the lights from a control room varying them according to the outside light. Funds for this expensive system were appropriated by Congress in 1926, and in 1929, seven years after the dedication, the statue was properly lighted. Since that time, only one major alteration has taken place in the Memorial's design. This was the addition of an elevator within the structure to aid handicapped visitors, which was installed in the mid-1970s. (Taken from Wikipedia).

The Gettysburg Address on the wall.

At the lower level of the Memorial is a museum dedicated to Lincoln's life and his words. 

Although much of the description in this post was borrowed from Wikipedia, in my own words, I truly enjoyed the experience of visiting this historical monument dedicated to a historic figure whose influence in this country will continue to be felt for many generations to come. A truly phenomenal man with an equally phenomenal vision and a love for his nation. I was humbled.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine - Manhattan, New York

One of my dreams had been to visit New York before I die. Last July, I had the chance to do that and I jumped at it. My dear friends whom I had known for about 12 years had moved to New York and were living in Manhattan. I didn't care that I had only 2 days to spend in New York, I was still going to make the trip. It was great to see my friends and their kids, who had grown up so much. We then decided to take a stroll through the neighborhood. We passed a few interesting spots and turned around a corner and I was speechless! At the end of the street was one of the many cathedrals/churches that dotted New York.

This one was the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine - originally built to rival St. Patrick's.

This cathedral is located in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood. The inside covers 121,000 sq ft, with a length of 601 ft, and a height of  232 ft. The nave inside the cathedral measures124 ft in height.

 The cathedral was designed in 1888 and started construction in 1892. In its history, it has undergone some radical changes to its style, and the interruption of two World Wars. It was originally designed as a Byzantine-Romanesque cathedral that later, in 1909, changed to a Gothic design.

 In its history, it has had several bishops, who have each had their now notions of what design the cathedral should assume. As a result of this, the Cathedral reflects a myriad of styles - a hodgepodge of sorts - a Gothic nave, a Romanesque crossing under the dome; chapels in French, English and Spanish Gothic styles, as well as Norman and Byzantine; Gothic choir stalls, and Roman arches and columns separating the high altar and ambulatory.

On the morning of December 18, 2001, a fire swept through the unfinished part of the cathedral, damaging valuable tapestries and nearly engulfing the cathedral itself. The organ was not harmed but had to be dismantled and cleaned thoroughly.

In January 2005, the restoration was started and completed in 2008. Look at the carvings on these  original doors!!

One of the many angels protruding from this cathedral.

At the entrance of the West Side of the cathedral.

Do you see the twin towers carved into one of these pillars? Amazing!

I <3 NYC.

Starting an Herb Garden

Garden, might be too ambitious a word. Growing herbs in a pot would be more appropriate. Either way, for quite some time now, I have had some strong impressions to lead a simple life and be as self-sufficient as I can be. Part of this self-sustaining impression was to find ways to cut down on spending, live well below our means, be diligent about food storage, and grow some basic herbs and vegetables, so that I could reduce the amount I spend at the grocery store.

I have not attempted to grow anything in the last 15 years. In fact, the last time I did grow anything, I was still in elementary school and my family had a big yard. My father would give both my sister and I a small piece of the yard in which to grow our flowers, etc. My dad is a green thumb and I was a lazy bum. My sister was much more diligent about her plot than I was, but I did manage to grow some things, and 'borrow' the rest from my sister :)

A week ago, I did a lot of research and made a trip to Home Depot. At first, I was excited to see all the various seed packets and started picking up every single one that I could think of growing. I ended up with about 24 packets of seeds. Realizing that this could be a herculean task and unsure of my green thumb abilities, I decided to just get a few herbs instead.  I went home excited and equipped with potting soil, a couple of pots and a handful of seeds.  After considering the germination time for each of the packets, I chose the one with the least time possible, so I could see faster results :D Cilantro won the pick. So I planted the seeds, watered it, made sure it got enough sunlight and waited.

For a whole week, nothing. Then one day, little tiny green shoots came poking up through the ground, bearing only two leaves. I was so thrilled to see something grow - something that I had invested time and energy and patiently waited for. 

Here is a before and after picture of the beginning of my herb garden efforts. Note the leaves in the big picture are already starting to look like cilantro leaves. 

I planted some rosemary seeds yesterday. Apparently, rosemary is a really fussy herb to grow from seed, so let's see what happens. 
Have any of you had an herb garden before? Any tips you would like to share with me? 

Birthday Bash

Last weekend, I celebrated my birthday. It is not often that I actually 'celebrate' it. I merely acknowledge it as the passing of another year and I look forward to speaking with my family in India. This has really been the highlight of my birthdays here in the US.  With every passing year, the candles seem to increase in number while the cake seems to decrease in size. Who needs such a visual reminder of one's diminishing eyesight, receding hairline, gray hair and drastically decreased metabolism? Not that I am experiencing any of these things right now, but someday I will, and then, I will wish I had not 'celebrated' my birthday. For now, party hard!

A potluck dinner seemed like a good idea, so I invited a few friends, knowing that some of them may not be able to make it. I was very surprised when we had about 30 people, including kids that showed up to help me celebrate the day. (well, it was actually on March 11th, but we had the party on the 12th.) These wonderful people came laden with goodies that were so delectable; children who were so entertaining and their cheerful and bright spirits.

I was humbled by the outpouring of love and friendship that was shared with me so freely. I had devised a Birthday Bingo game, that had tidbits about everybody, well, almost everybody, who came to the party. The idea was that in order to fill out the boxes and yell Bingo!, you had to go around the room and talk to people and have them sign your box. This was a wonderful game and people really got to know each other.

We had quite a group of friends, lots of food, lots of conversation and loads of fun! Aaron got me a lovely cake, which only had an imaginary candle, so as to leave the guests guessing my age (haha). The party went on till about 10:30pm and each one looked like they had a really good time :) I am so thankful for the friends I have for they are like my family here. I am blessed to get to know all these people in such a short time and to spend time with them. It was a memorable birthday and I loved every minute of it!

Clean your fridge in 25 minutes.

It has been a while since I have blogged (shame on me). The reason for this has been a massive task list and projects like this: 3 Areas in 1 Day. Crazy, right? It is relatively easy to rearrange an already simplified space, but it is a whole other story when you are trying to declutter and then simplify the space.

Last weekend, we celebrated my birthday. I know, I have still not blogged or put up any pictures of that event. After vacillating between having a quiet evening or inviting some friends, I chose the latter. 'Some friends' turned out to be about 30 people and of course, clean up is a must after any party. As I was cleaning my kitchen, I realized that it had been a while since our fridge had a major deep cleaning.  Now this required a bit of planning: I knew that I had no idea what lived in the back of my fridge. I could see all the items in the front but wouldn't dare see what existed in the back of the shelves.

So I decided to go about it this way:

1.  Take out everything, I mean, everything, in your fridge first. They say that you should unplug the fridge but I couldn't reach the plug as it is in the back of the fridge, so I didn't do that. But I did empty the fridge of all its contents. 3 minutes total. (You can get your little kiddos to help too - it will keep them occupied and you can easily keep an eye on them.)

2. Take out the shelves carefully and set them down in a safe place, where the kids or the dog cannot accidentally knock them over (if they are glass shelves). 1 minute total.

3. Using mild soap and water and a dishtowel, wipe down the whole fridge and the door(s). I used a bit of glass cleaner just to get a stubborn ice cream stain. Once the insides are clean, shut the door and get to work on the outside and the shelves. 3-4 minutes total.

4. I took each shelf, sprayed with some glass cleaner and wiped it down thoroughly till the sparkled - 1 minute per shelf.

5. Put the shelves back in and adjust them to the height that is most convenient for you. 2 minutes total.

6. This took me about 4 minutes to do but it was an essential part of my process. I took a notepad and wrote down every item I had in the fridge - every single item, except the stuff I was going to toss. This way I knew the things that I could work with for the next week or so, and could replace something if I run out. This list can be a master list and instead of recreating a list every time you clean, you can just keep updating this list. At some point, you will want to transfer it to a word document, so you can print out a clean copy each time you clean. 4 minutes total.

7. I tossed out some veggies that had seen better days, an empty soy sauce bottle, and some other stuff that occupied precious fridge space. 3 minutes.

8. I put everything back in the fridge and each shelf and corner had something assigned to that space. This way, it would be easier to find things in the fridge. Now we all know that this cannot be maintained perfectly and it is quite okay if you put things where you have room. The idea is to give you a clean slate to work with and you can adjust as you see fit. 5 minutes total.

In under 30 minutes, I ended up with a sparkling fridge that I was really proud of. The other projects included the linen closet and the office reading area. This just needed some sprucing and rearranging but they turned out well and I was glad that I took the time to declutter.

Simplifying a space really changes the spirit and energy of a home. I am striving for a clutter-free, cozy, comfy, clean home where people feel right at home when they come in and we can relax in our environment. More projects to attack. I will keep you posted.

What are your projects for this weekend or the coming week?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Mormon Choir of DC & The Alfred Street Baptist Choir with Alex Boye

This was a night where the voices of the two choirs melted as one and the angels could be heard in the rafters...the beauty of their voices just lifted one's soul to heaven. In honor of Black History Month, the Mormon Choir of DC invited the Alfred Street Baptist Choir to participate in a weekend of song and music to celebrate their heritage and offer the community a way to come together and celebrate together. What a wonderful idea that turned out to be! The theater was packed, and the night begins with the strong, glorious voices of the Alfred Street Baptist Choir, followed by the beautiful, melodic voices of the Mormon Choir of DC.

From the very first song, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, whispering to my husband that I wanted to clap to the rhythm, wondering why no one else was feeling the same. After the choirs performed, and Alex took the floor, he livened up the crowd, sharing his story and humor, and started to sing. He encouraged everyone to clap and the crowd let loose. People were thoroughly enjoying themselves, the Alfred Street choir rocked to the crowd, while the Mormon Choir was a bit reserved, but later joined in as well.

The event was held at the Visitors Center of the LDS Washington Temple - a beautiful, glowing structure, illuminated by the lights and a vision of white.

The Mormon Choir: 

Founded in 1980, the choir is composed of singers and musicians selected by audition with a current membership of 80 from approximately 50 congregations in the Maryland and Virginia regions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The Alfred Street Baptist Choir: 

Baptists in Alexandria, Virginia separated from the Backlick Baptist Church on Little River Turnpike, to form the Alexandria Baptist Society. Susan Black, a Negro slave was baptized as its first Colored member in May 1803. During this time Coloreds were invited to join this organizing group. In 1806, the Colored members formally established the Colored Baptist Society of Alexandria as a ‘conjoined’ church with the Alexandria Baptist Society. This created the first black Baptist church north of Richmond, Virginia. In 1815, its numbers grew when slaves from Mount Vernon Plantation join the Colored Baptist Society.

To learn more, go here:

These two choirs are phenomenal in their own right and this was the first time they came together to perform and what a night it was! The appearance of LDS entertainer, Alex Boye, was an added treat! His incredible talent and energy kept everyone tapping their toes, clapping their hands and out of their seats. With these two amazing choirs as backdrops, and his powerful voice, praising God in spirituals, that night was an audio extraordinaire.

Alex Boye:

Alex Boye' was born and raised in London, England. He joined the church at the age of 16. He later served an LDS Mission to England Bristol. Alex sang regularly on his mission, and from the encouragement of his Mission President, pursued a career in music when he got home. Alex became the lead singer in the European Boy band "Awesome", and signed a recording contract with Universal Records in 1996. The band had hits in over 15 countries, selling over half a million Cd's and performed alongside such groups as N'SYNC, The Backstreet Boys, Missy Elliott, Bryan Adams, Mary. J.Blige, The smashing Pumpkins, and George Michael to name a few. Despite the fame, glory and fortune, Alex felt emptiness in his life that none of these worldly accolades could sufficiently fill. He explains, "I was climbing the ladder of success but when i got to the top, I found myself leaning on the wrong side of the wall". in 2000', Alex felt compelled to move to Utah, to pursue a career in gospel music, and is signed to Deseret Books' Shadow Mountain Label.

 It was electrifying, fun and filled with a sweet spirit that touched the hearts of all present. Definitely a night to remember!

The National Cathedral

A few weeks ago, in the throes of sickness, I had a dear friend visit. Hoping to not be the ultimate bore, I decided to visit the National Cathedral. I had wanted to visit for a long time and had just not gotten around to it. So, on one of the most windiest days in the city, we went to the cathedral. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

A few facts about the cathedral: 

  • The Space Window on the south aisle of the Cathedral contains a piece of lunar rock.
  • There is a sculpture of Darth Vader in the Cathedral.
  • The Cathedral’s central tower is the only place in North America to house both peal and carillon bells.
  • The Cathedral labyrinth is a medieval design based on the one in the floor of the nave at Chartres Cathedral in France.
  • The Great Organ was expanded multiple times during construction to serve the growing Cathedral.
  • The Cathedral is home to one of the few old growth forests still standing in the nation’s capital, Olmsted Woods, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.
  • The main exhibition case of the Rare Book Library occasionally displays the Cathedral’s first edition of the King James Bible, printed in London in 1611. This Bible belonged to Henry, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King James.
  • The official name of Washington National Cathedral is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

The Cathedral by the Numbers:

  • The Cathedral was completed 83 years to the day after it was begun (September 29, 1907–September 29, 1990).
  • Washington National Cathedral is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the United States. (The largest Church in the world is St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. The largest cathedral in the United States is Saint John’s, New York City.)
  • The total cost of building the Cathedral was $65 million, all of which was raised through private donations.
  • The Cathedral weighs 150,000 tons.
  • The average piece of stone weighs 300 pounds.
  • The heaviest stone in the Cathedral is the 5.5-ton boss over the west balcony.
  • There are 762 boss stones in the Cathedral, 640 located on the nave level.
  • 288 angels adorn the two west towers.
  • The north rose window is the Cathedral’s largest stained glass window at 26 feet in diameter.
  • The central tower is 676 feet above sea level, making its top the highest point in the District of Columbia.
  • The largest of the 53 bells of the carillon weighs 24,000 pounds and measures eight feet, eight inches in diameter.
  • There are 110 gargoyles on the Cathedral.
  • There are 215 stained glass windows in the Cathedral.
  • More than 10,500 pieces of stained glass make up the west rose window.
  • There are more than 1,500 separate pieces of needlepoint in the Cathedral.
  • There are 10,650 pipes in the Great Organ.
  • The exterior of the Cathedral is almost the length of two football fields.
  • More than 220 people are interred in the Cathedral, including Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.
  • The Cathedral has a staff of about 75, as well as more than 1,100 volunteers.
  • The Cathedral welcomes nearly 700,000 visitors and worshipers annually.

This is the Darth Vader gargoyle at the cathedral. 
We spent all afternoon at the cathedral and took a short tour. The grandeur and the scale of this cathedral are so hard to describe and a must-see place.  Being a bit under the weather, I could not see all of the cathedral and plan on going back to finish my picture taking excursion :) If you are ever in the neighborhood, don't miss the chance to go and visit this amazing structure!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Homemade Easy Bread

I only started baking a year ago, and I have enjoyed it immensely. But I have never been brave enough to tackle making bread from scratch! A friend of mine, Amy, baked some amazing bread when I was over at her house, that I practically begged her to teach me. Thinking this would be a long process, I was prepared to spend a lot of time at her house, only to find out that all it took was 4 ingredients! Yeah, that's right, FOUR!


3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup of warm water


1. Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix it all up with a wooden spoon. (I told you it was easy!).
2. Cover it with plastic wrap and set aside for 8-12 hours. (I did this overnight and you can actually let it rise for up to 20 hours if you need to).
3. Once the time has passed, get a plate and sprinkle some flour on it and put the dough that has sat overnight, onto the plate.
4. Punch down the dough lightly about 4-5 times and cover lightly with plastic wrap and let it sit for 2-6 hours. (I have only done it for 2 hours).
5. Preheat your oven at 425 degrees,  and heat up a covered ovenware dish for about 15 mins in the oven.  At the end of the 15 mins, take out the heated dish using gloves, and sprinkle some cornmeal in the bottom of the dish to prevent the dough from sticking and to slide it right out when it is done.
6. Put the dough into the hot dish. The dough will be twice the size it was when you first set it aside, and a bit sticky and stringy. Place the lid on the dish and put back into the oven for 30 mins.
7. At 30 mins, remove the lid and continue to cook till the crust is the desired brown that you would like.
8. Let it cool for about 5 mins, cut and serve with butter.

I learned this recipe on Wednesday on this week, and I have made it 3 times already!! My husband, I think, secretly, loves me more ;)