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08 Oct 2016 

Historical Places to Visit in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria is a wonderful suburb of Washington D.C. located across the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, conveniently located in close vicinity to I-95. It is a city with a rich and deep connections with Colonial American history. I love its unique charm.

Between the picturesque views, historical structures and prominent history scattered throughout the city, Alexandria truly has a lot to offer to both visitors and residents alike. There are always plenty of activities and events going on, and every day crowds are drawn to Old Town to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere, including good restaurants and trendy shops.

There are also many terrific historical attractions to see in Alexandria, here are a few of my top picks which are located in the Old Town section of Alexandria:

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary

The tour of this museum is a favorite of mine in Old Town Alexandria. The Apothecary was founded in 1792 by Edward Stabler and was an operational business by one family for an amazing have your property manage 141 years. The store closed up shop during the Great Depression Era; basically the family just locked the doors and walked away.

Astonishingly, everything has remained intact over the many years. Today visitors to the museum can see the business pretty much how it existed for well over a century. Visitors can learn about the apothecary business and see close-up how this family business operated for so many years. Many of the items remain intact as the family used them, and even some of the drawers contain actual ingredients left behind. Truly remarkable. When you go upstairs to the "work" area, usually a couple of drawers are open so visitors can peer inside.  There are even requests for orders from Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee on display.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary

Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Shop counter in Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary as it looked "then and now".

Tours of the apothecary are offered in 30 minute slots and reservations are not necessary --  walk-in visitors are welcomed; there is a small admission fee. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary museum is located on 105 S Fairfax St. in Old Town Alexandria, about a block away from the Alexandria Visitors' Center.

Torpedo Factory Art Center

Opened around the end of World War I, this factory was pivotal in the manufacture of torpedoes for World War II. After the factory closed, for a long time the building had served as a storage facility for the government. The building was purchased by the City of Alexandria in 1969 and renovations began in 1974.

It has since been revamped and today the building is a large tourist attraction and hub of business activity in the artist community. With more than 80 art galleries, an art school, and an archeological museum, this is a treat for both the art enthusiast and history buff. Located right on the Potomac riverfront, there is a lot to see and do in this former real torpedo factory -- including seeing actual torpedoes.

Admission to the building is free. The Torpedo Factory Art Center is located at 105 North Union St. in Old Town, just walk straight down King Street and you can't miss it.

Gadsby's Tavern Museum

This is a great spot for the history buff. This tavern was the center of much activity during colonial times. At the time the building was used to host meals, overnight stays, organized meetings and large parties. Two grand birthday parties were thrown for George Washington in the spacious and elegant ballroom. There was also a hotel which a few of the rooms are open for visitors to see. The building has been restored to look much like it would have in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. The building is open to the public and visitors can take a 30-minute tour to learn and see Gadsby's rich history. There is an inexpensive admissions fee (and no reservations required).

Gadsby's Tavern

Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Gadsby's Tavern stands as a testament to the late 18th Century. Many famous faces have come through its doors.

Christ Church

Christ Church has a strong historical and spiritual connection with Old Town Alexandria. The parish is still an active one and visitors are welcomed to attend services, or tour the Church during non-worship hours. Construction of the church began back in 1767 and was completed in 1773.

Over the centuries many historical figures, including most presidents, have attended services at least once during their administration. Christ Church has been completely restored to maintain its original look; even George Washington's family pew remains intact and is commemorated with a small plaque; Robert E. Lee's pew is also marked with a plaque.

The interior of the church is beautiful and visitors are invited to pray, reflect or simply tour the church. Located at 118 North Washington St. in Old Town, Christ Church just a few short blocks from Gadsby's Tavern. There is also a cemetery on the grounds which is interesting to walk through.

Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia

Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

An active parish, Christ Church itself has been restored to a former time.

Carlyle House

This grand home, built in 1753, has quite an interesting history. Designed and built by John Carlyle, a Scottish merchant, this Georgian Palladian style home was once the center of much social and political activity. It was truly innovative for its time, having been built entirely of stone. Despite its rich connection to colonial history, Carlyle House spent a good amount of its lifetime in seclusion and in disarray. For many years, the front yard even housed a hotel which blocked the once grand home's visibility. Today the home has been beautifully restored and serves as a museum. Located at 121 N. Fairfax St., in Old Town, visitors are welcomed, no reservations are necessary. There is a nominal admission fee.

Carlyle House, located in Alexandria, Virginia

Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Carlyle House as it stands today. Beautifully restored, this historical home was saved after decades  (or more!) of neglect.

These are some of my favorite spots to hit when visiting Old Town, but there are many other places, such as the Alexandria National Cemetery, Alexandria Black History Museum, Friendship Firehouse Museum, Old-Presbyterian Meeting House, The Lyceum, Lee-Fendall House and the George Washington Masonic Memorial, to name a few.

I recommend starting your visit at the Alexandria Visitor's Center, it is located in the Ramsey House, which is historic in itself (circa 1724 and real estate calculators once owned by William Ramsay, a Scottish merchant, who helped found the city and later became its first postmaster. The folks there are helpful and you can obtain a lot of information of what to see and do. Also, this is seasonal, but if available, take a ghost tour. The guides tell some neat stories associated with Old Town's history and its early occupants.  I've taken a number of these tours and always learn something new.

Additionally, if you want to get off the beaten path and see what's in the other areas of Alexandria outside of Old Town, try visiting Fort Ward, Mount Vernon, Woodlawn Plantation (great example of Federal Style architecture)  and the Pope-Leighey House. 

Why visit Old Town Alexandria? There are tons of reasons to visit this part of Virginia, these are only a few.

[ Related Reading: Taking a Step Back in Time at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello ]

Location of Alexandria's Visitor Center at Ramsey House
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08 Oct 2016 

The three biggest mistakes in Do It Yourself plumbing

Fitting a kitchen sink, fixing a leaking sink and how not to use silicone mastic

This list of DIY plumbing mistakes is not compiled with any degree of expert knowledge, quite the reverse if anything. They say you learn from your mistakes and there is no harder school than do-it -yourself plumbing. The following constitutes my own personal plumbing comedy of errors.

Potential problems fitting a kitchen sink unit

This is a story from the Laurel and Hardy academy of slap stick plumbing excellence. When I was still living at home with the folks I decided to fit a new kitchen sink unit as a gesture of usefulness and in lieu of making a proper fiscal contribution to the household. My friend Laurie kindly offered to help me and as I was in Plumbing 101 and he was a veteran of several tap md dumpsters washer changes.

Everything was going well, mains water switched off, the old sink unit disconnected, new pipework installed. We used plastic push fit piping as the man in the hardware shop convinced us that even an idiot could plumb with it. What comes below idiot I'm not sure, but when I turned the water back on I quickly realised that I hadn't so much as installed a new kitchen sink as replica Trevi fountain. I emergency plumbing services shoved a bucket under the leak which filled as fast as the Titanic. Quick thinking Laurie turned the mains off sharpish. "Well done mate", I said from my prone position under the new sink, "I'd be in big trouble if the old lady came back to a flood. Can you empty this bucket for me?" I handed the full bucket up to him which he promptly emptied into the old disconnected sink unit, which poured out onto the floor and all over me... another fine mess!

Sealing sink drainers or plug holes with silicon mastic.

Continuing on the kitchen sink thread. I recently fitted a new kitchen for my partner Andrea. I hadn't told her the above story beforehand. I thought that with thirty years on from the last kitchen debacle I would have learnt my lesson. And so it seemed. We laid a new laminate floor over the old tiles, put the new units in, connected everything up, everything was perfect.

One year on there is a bit of a drip in the cupboard under the sink. I gave all the joints in the waste trap a tighten and checked the tap seatings: all okay. Still a drip, so I fill the sink up to the overflow and lo and behold the drip appears. I think I've got it now and tighten the overflow and feel the joint for wetness - all dry.

Two weeks later I'm up at 4:30am on a Sunday morning to go to a car boot sale. I go in the basement to get my stuff and water is dripping through the ceiling from the kitchen above! So it's out with the trusty bucket under the sink which is gushing water when I run the tap into the bowl. Close inspection shows the water is now coming from the plug hole itself. The tightening screw in the plug hole fitting is loose and water is running under the sealing flange like Niagra. It was the one thing I hadn't tightened up!

Two lessons here. After a period of expansion and contraction from exposure to hot and cold, screw fittings you thought were secure can gradually loosen up. The other is don't rely on the expert plumbers thin washer that comes with the sink drain hole fitting. Use kitchen and bathroom silicone mastic as a belt and braces. Which leads me to...

Problems with Silicone Mastic Kitchen and Bathroom Sealer

There is a little known law of physics which states that silicone mastic is the stickiest substance in the universe and can be transferred to every object within reach at the speed of light. I'm sure there is a maths formula in there somewhere. Silicone mastic is also as unpredictable as a pre-menstrual woman and twice as difficult to get off your hands. Always approach a tube of mastic as if it is an unexploded grenade. Don rubber/latex gloves, safety goggles, old clothes and have to-hand a full roll of paper kitchen towel, several old rags and a large bottle of White Spirit or Turpentine. If it is a new tube of mastic be prepared for it to explode from the nozzle as soon as you cut the end off. If it is the sly cunning type of mastic it will slowly but steadily ooze from the newly opened nozzle like lava from an active volcano. Equally unstoppable and devastating.

By now the mastic will be on the blade of the craft knife you cut the end of the nozzle with. While you wipe the blade with handy kitchen roll the mastic has continued to ooze and is building it's own Mr Whippy ice cream cone of white stickiness on the kitchen worktop. As you turn to wipe the cone of shame, you knock the piece of towel you used to clean the blade on to the floor and in your panic to get the mastic off the work top before your partner sees it, or worse, a teenager video's it on their phone and uploads it to Facebook before you can say mastic madness. Distracted on all fronts, you step on the paper towel which not only sticks it to you trainers forever, but leaves a small dob of mastic everywhere you walk on the newly laid flooring.

If you are reusing an old tube of mastic and are stubbornly refusing to be beaten by an inert, uncaring white substance, a different problem confronts the wary workman. You gingerly prize the stuck-on top off the tube with a pair of pliers, tissue in hand, like a bomb disposal expert... and nothing happens. You look down the end of the nozzle like it's a loaded 12 gauge and see a hard white bullet of solidified mastic. All is not lost. An old nail or screw shoved into the end and wiggled enthusiastically like a student nurse catheterising an elderly patient will free the blockage. This is when the problems start - see previous paragraph.

Having got eventually to the point where the mastic can be applied to the plug hole joint, beware not to let your enthusiasm get the better of you. As you may have gathered a little mastic goes a long way! You want a bead big enough to seal the joint but not so big that it oozes from the joint like a ruptured cream cake when you tighten the fixing screw. Which you will then have to wipe with the paper towel, which you will then leave in handy reach for the dog to pinch and take around the rest of the house, ripping it into sticky snowflakes which will adhere determinedly to every item of value in the household and leave the dog with a white beard of mastic tissue forevermore.
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08 Oct 2016 

Caught Shoplifting: A Lawyer's Guide

Help! I was Arrested for Shoplifting in New York!

In New York and many other states, the word 'larceny' is synonymous with Theft or Stealing. Therefore, if you have received a New York Petit Larceny summons (in New York under CPL 155.25) or New York Criminal Possession of Stolen Property ticket (CPL 165.40), it means that the state or jurisdiction you live in is alleging that you have stolen something. A shoplifting offense is charged as a larceny crime. In most states, the degree with which you are charged depends on an estimate of the value of the property you are alleged to have stolen.

If you made a mistake, don't be too hard on yourself. A competent criminal lawyer can assault and battery try to fix the problem so that you wind up with the minimum penalty possible. Everyone makes mistakes, does things they regret, and our court system in the United States is set up to ensure that most people get a second chance.

And of course, if you aren't guilty, then it is important for the courts to hear your side of the story and make sure they are getting their facts straight. It can be extremely frustrating to be accused of something you didn't do, but the New York criminal justice system and those of other states can often make you feel like you've been sucked into a black hole. Sometimes you have to fight just to defend yourself against bogus charges.

The worst thing you can do is compound patent lawyer the problem by trying to go it alone. Chances are, that you've already confessed to the crime and have signed a statement to that effect AND a letter of restitution agreeing to pay the store far in excess the value of the item you may have shoplifted. That means you've already made several mistakes that have cost you a substantial amount of money. Don't make another one by trying to save a few dollars. Shoplifting is a serious crime -- one that can prevent you from obtaining future employment and going to college.

Whatever happened, you deserve fair treatment by the courts. Hiring a good criminal attorney will ensure that you receive a fair hearing, and an opportunity to resolve the charges as quickly as possible.

About the Author

Criminal Defense Lawyer Jason Stern has been practicing criminal law in New York for more than 15 years. He has appeared on Good Morning America, Fox News, CNN, Headline News, ABC, and been featured or quoted in the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Bottom Line Magazine, Men's Vogue, and countless other publications.

If you have been arrested for a shoplifting charge (petit larceny) in New York, you should visit his criminal defense website Petit Larceny Defense.

And yes, he will be happy to provide a FREE consultation and fee quote for your New York shoplifting case.
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