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I've been trying to find a way to ease my way back in after such a long absence. Hopefully, this will add to the creative juices.
I felt the same way as you about Washington until the right opportunity came up. Not only would you like it for the views alone, there are a million museums. Whenever you do go, you really do need at least a week there. Air and space and the natural history museums are a must.
#8 and #11 are money!
Up in your area, I would love to take the trail to see this http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/knapps-castle-hik...
You are lucky that you have many people to gift your pots to. I've only given one framed and matted photo to somebody, but I think most people I hang out with wouldn't want a picture as a gift. Kinda lame, right?
Also, with the backdrop, You might want to pick up a white sheet as well. If you are getting shadows you can use a flashlight in your opposite hand to fill in the shadows. If the flashlight causes some harsh reflections on your piece, then you should cover the light with a tissue or a napkin to diffuse it. Good luck and great work!
I've found that I can't look at some of my old work from my first photography class, and even more so with photos from when i started using my first dslr. I'm kinda luck out when I take pictures because I don't seem to regress from the amount of time between taking pictures but I surely haven't gotten any better. I get lucky most of the time.