Monthly Archives: October 2014

Day 267, The Smithsonian National Zoo and Jim & Gail’s!

Today was an unexpected treat in so many ways. Because we were camping so close to Gail, she had invited us over for dinner. And because Laurie asked if we were going to see the pandas, we were heading to the zoo. We’re not really zoo people anymore, but the chance to see the baby panda tickled Eliza’s fancy, so off we went.

The Smithsonian National Zoo, opened in 1889, is 163 acres built into a hill, and we were fortunate that we ended up parking at one of the top lots. The zoo itself is free, but the parking is $22. (No, there wasn’t any other parking close by, and the metro didn’t get close enough.  You can even buy your spot online before you go!  ) It was a pretty drive through the trees and the first time I’d ever visited by car. When I lived here before, we hiked to it!

We walked onto the grounds, and immediately asked where the pandas were. The employee pointed right, so we went right, and after walking for 10 minutes, asked another employee, who made us go back to where we had come from and go LEFT. Ah, really? We could have printed out a map before, or paid $12 for one there. Which do you think we did? If you guessed neither, you are right. You should know that about us by now.

We finally found the panda area, but the baby was nowhere to be seen.  Her parents, father Tian Tian and mother Mei Xiang, were both inside eating, but the cub was out of sight. We decided to go see the rest of the zoo and come back later.

The zoo itself is very well done. Huge exhibits with plenty of space for the animals, wide paved walking paths for the tourists, tons of information to learn, and lots of trees. They didn’t have the water misters on, luckily, because it was cold in the shade. The gift shop had tons of cute stuff, but we just couldn’t figure out where a stuffed panda would go. We went outside to walk more and stumbled on Kiko, an adult male oranganutan, as he was crossing on the O Line.  This is how the zoo describes it:

“The Orangutan Transport System, or O Line, consists of eight 50-foot-high towers connected by plastic-coated, steel cables. At the lowest point, the cables are about 40 feet off the ground. The entire distance of the O Line is about 490 feet. Tower 1 is in the outdoor orangutan yard at the Great Ape House. Tower 8 is in the outdoor orangutan yard at Think Tank. The towers in between are outside the confines of the animal yards, and the O Line crosses Olmsted Walk twice. Patterned paver sections on Olmsted Walk alert visitors to the orangutans crossing overhead. A third crossing is highlighted in front of Think Tank.”

It was so cool! He was swinging his way from one section that he hangs out in to where they spend most of their time. We followed him for the last 30 feet, along with about 100 other tourists. Everyone was jockeying for position for a photo, so I wasn’t able to get a good one. He climbed down the tower to the ground in about 5 seconds and the whole thing reminded me of watching my brother Jeff climb trees. And I’m sure he would have loved trying the O line.  A zoo employee says they never fall off of it.

IMG_0960The 4 pictures after this are hilarious, too.  My favorite animals at the zoo.

After seeing the other apes and elephants, watching the lion cubs play, and bypassing the butterflies who like to land on my head, Eliza and Nate and I walked back to see what the pandas were doing. We were so lucky! Mei Xiang and her cub Bao Bao were outside. Born August 23rd, Bao Bao was the only surviving twin, and she is adored by her little fans and studied continually by the scientists. “Bao Bao” means treasure in Chinese, and she certainly is one. She was hanging on a limb a little way above her mother, and while her mother was trying to eat, Bao Bao was pawing her and wouldn’t leave her alone. The mom next to me agreed when I said that that’s exactly what little kids do – never leave their mothers alone when they are eating – and it got a good chuckle from the crowd. Finally, Mei Xiang had had enough, and she whacked Bao Bao lightly, then pulled her down off the limb. There were at least 100 of us, packed in, watching with delight. I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one video-taping it, but it didn’t come out that well. We wanted to show Dan what he missed while he relaxed!

IMG_0972Doesn’t she look adorable?

We headed back home to swim, rest, and journal for a few hours, then drove to Jim and Gail’s home. Less than 2 miles away! A friend I adore is right around the corner! I was so excited. Jim opened the door, and time stood still. Really, he looks exactly the same as 29 years ago, and it was such a pleasure to introduce him to Dan, Eliza and Nate. Jim had also worked in Senator Hatfield’s office, and they had started dating when she left that office. The rest is history. They just celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary by visiting intriguing places around D.C. for 7 straight days. What a great idea! Why wasn’t I invited?

Anyway, in to their beautiful house we tromp and I never wanted to leave. Their 4 kids are basically moved out for college, so why can’t I move in? You think I’m kidding. Dinner was superb, and I think we ate all of their ice cream for dessert! Then Gail took the kids upstairs and let them play Guitar Hero, so the adults had time to talk. It was so fun to catch up on 29 years and so fun to see such good people together. God has truly blessed them in their lives. It took all my strength to walk out the door later. Truly an evening to remember.

IMG_1013Thanks for dinner, my dear friends!

Day 266, the U.S. Naval Academy and Baltimore Inner Harbor

We were up and out the door at 9 a.m. today, hoping that we missed the worst of the rush hour traffic. It was an easy 33 mile drive to Annapolis, but finding parking at the U.S. Naval Academy was a little tougher. The guards didn’t appreciate that we drove onto the base to ask where the parking lot was – we couldn’t find it! They didn’t tell us, just acted mad, took Dan’s driver’s license and one walked with us as we drove 50 feet around a little circle and back out again. So silly. It’s been open since 1845; you’d think they would have figured out how to treat lost visitors by now. Not a good start to our tour.

We found a spot on the street, but it was only good for two hours, so we weren’t sure how that was going to work with the tour. We walked onto the base without incident and found the visitors center. The next tour started at 11 a.m., so we looked around the tiny museum, watched the orientation video, and waited outside in the sunshine for our guide. Who was 15 minutes late. She hadn’t been able to find a parking place. How funny is that?

The tour itself wasn’t anything special, and I was wishing we hadn’t spent the $36. They say the fee goes toward the midshipmen, so at least we were helping someone. Our tour guide was wearing a “2017” hat, so I asked if she had a child there and she said her daughter was a sophomore. They live in the town of Annapolis, so it’s quite rare that she would get to attend there also. Her mom volunteers as a guide and was quite proud of her daughter. I asked her how the harassment was, and she replied that it was tough, but that’s just what they have to go through. (Really? That makes them better naval officers?)

Our guide walked us through the workout building, which also houses the swimming pool. There was a class swimming laps, then they got out and walked over to the high dive platforms. They had to jump about 20 feet, and you could tell that many of them were scared. They were people of all sizes and colors and I was happy to see it was almost half females. (If we can get those females into positions of power in the military, perhaps they can keep us from entering all these meaningless wars the old caucasian men get us into. Or maybe that’s just my dream.) Our guide said that before graduation they have to swim a mile, fully clothed, in under 20 minutes. With or without shoes?

Our next stop was the crypt of John Paul Jones, under the cathedral. It was a beautiful room, and the black and white marble crypt was spectacular. He’s been a hero here at the Naval Academy since 1775 because he was instrumental in helping us win the Revolutionary War. His remains had been buried in France, then he was interred here and this area was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt.  There’s much more meaning to it than that; you can look it up online!

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Dan left to go move the car, but I don’t think he was sad to be leaving. (Once again, our expectations were too high!) Our tour group headed into the huge hall that serves as a an indoor gym, dance floor, and hang out area. I had been to a dance here 30+ years ago, and the kids were thrilled to hear about it. Back then, the midshipmen were in full dress uniforms, and they looked very nice. I had fun with Tom Bailey, an old friend from my neighborhood, and we laughed that our moms were making us do this. We danced until late, then we visiting dates were escorted back to our housing, ours provided by a local widow. We would have stayed out all night, but it wasn’t allowed.

We were walking outside, on our way somewhere else, when the guide noticed the midshipmen lining up in formation for lunch. Evidently this happens for every meal and is meant to instill discipline, foster camaraderie with their fellow cadets, and is an efficient way to get over 4,526 underclassmen to meals. It was fun to see, and the perfect opportunity for us to beg off the rest of the tour and go find Dan.  I’d have to tell the kids the naval history later.  Neither one was impressed with the idea of going to school here, anyway.

We were hoping to have a picnic, but after driving around Annapolis for 15 minutes and not finding one parking place near a park, we headed up the road to the Baltimore Inner Harbor. It was only 26 miles, and the traffic moved along steadily. There was a science museum I had read about right on the water, and I wanted the kids to see the Inner Harbor itself. We ate a quick sandwich, then headed into the museum. We started in the dinosaur area, which was a little weak after the D.C. Smithsonian, and Nate passed out of his dinosaur phase 10 years ago. We headed to the top floor and had more fun. There was a whole exhibit about electricity, solar energy, and a stress test. Nate and I didn’t do as well as Dan and Eliza at this test; I’m certain it was reading our energy levels wrong. We played all the games, took all the tests, and had the computer measure us. Which set off a whole round of “I’m taller than you, Eliza” from Nate. He’s so excited to be 1/8″ taller now! He’s grown almost 6 inches on this trip.

The next excellent exhibit was all about the Chesapeake Bay. Thanks to Dad’s suggestion, I am reading James Michener’s book of the same name, so the whole area was full of light bulb moments for me, which I annoyingly shared with my family. It was great to see a blue crab up close, but sad to read about all the pollution in the bay that threatens them. Over fishing also plays a role, and the states that border they bay are  trying to get a handle on both problems. I read that you could start blue crabs at home and then bring them to the scientists and they place them on the man made reefs, but everyone else vetoed the idea of doing so in the rig. It would have been so easy, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have smelled that bad.

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It was a sunny day, almost 80 degrees, and we’d had enough of being inside at this point, so we wandered out to the Inner Harbor area. It was a little crowded, but fun to see everyone out and about. There was plenty of shopping, but the kids and I limited ourselves to “It’s Sugar.” We had seen one earlier on the trip and hadn’t had time to stop, so this was our chance. To get sick on sugar. Oh, excuse me,  to buy treats. The most expensive treats ever. $17 for three little bags! We shared with Dan as we walked all the way around the harbor, then headed back to the car. It had been an interesting day, but we were ready to head back to the pool.

Day 265, Museum of Natural History, Lincoln and the National Archives

We were up and out the door early, wanting to get 3 huge visits in today.  Our first was to the Natural History Smithsonian on the mall.  It was perfect.  We could have spent our whole two weeks just there!  From one exhibit to the next, we just kept saying to each other, “look at this”, “read this” “take a pic of this”.

IMG_0761We were in the exhibit “Beyond Bollywood, Indian Americans shape the Nation” when we turned around and there was Mohini Bhardwaj Barry featured on the wall, Eliza’s former gymnastic coach from home!  She’s a silver medalist from the 1984 Olympics and she had mentioned that the Smithsonian had asked to borrow her medal, but we didn’t hold out much hope of ever finding it in the huge museum.  We found it!  So exciting to see her as part of such an excellent exhibit.

After an expensive, lackluster lunch in the museum, we headed to the Ford Theatre nearby.  President Lincoln was shot here, and the new museum underground tells the story of what he did that day, as well as the whole day of John Wilkes Booth, his assassin.  Then you walk across the street to the Petersen house where Lincoln was carried and then died.  It’s a little uncomfortable to be looking at the actual spot where he died, I’m not sure why I thought the kids should see it.  How does that help them understand our history?  The house itself has been turned into a museum and gift shop, with the best part for me being the 2 story stack of books. These are all the books that have been written about Lincoln and the sign at the foot of it says that people are still writing about him and they will continue to add books.  Dan started to reach for a book, and I was afraid the whole thing would fall.  
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Our last major stop was the National Archives – to see the Declaration of Independence, the actual signed one, the Bill of Rights and other historical documents.  We bought tickets online so we could get right in, but we had to wait in line with everyone else and go through security.  You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside and all the lighting is dim anyway.  For years they had the Declaration at the Library of Congress in the sun, so it is very damaged. Then they tried to  make a copy of it by somehow making an imprint, and it pulled more of the original ink off of it.  Now they have it in a huge glass case, with temperature and light control.  I think what it says is more important than the old document, but it was still fun to see.  The movie about it wasn’t working, and the museum underground was boring, so we headed to the metro.

Another GREAT day in D.C.!

Day 264, the National Cathedral and Georgetown Cupcakes!

IMG_0700Side view of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  We went for the Sunday morning church service and I was surprised by how few people were there.  Do all the regulars come at 11 a.m., or have they lost the locals and just tourists come?  It’s a beautiful building, and while hit hard by the earthquake, they have the funds to continue fixing it up and keeping the doors open.  The service was nice, but nothing quotable.

IMG_0704This stop was more exciting!  Eliza found this store online and we have shipped cupcakes for friends, but we’ve never tried one ourselves.  There was a long line in the little shop, but we decided to wait.  The lady in front of us said that she had come to D.C. for a conference years ago, and the bus was going to stop, but the line had been out the door. She said this time she wasn’t leaving without a Georgetown Cupcake.  She bought 2 dozen, we only bought 6.  We walked over to the park across the street and nibbled a little.  We were a little disappointed and think that the cupcakes Amanda brought to the RV for dinner that night were much better.  We’re glad we went, but we won’t be shipping them as gifts anymore!

Day 263, Gail, the Air & Space Museum, and the Native American Museum in the rain

Up early to go meet my friend Gail at the corner Starbuck’s – she lives less than 2 miles from where we are camped now!  I knew there was a reason that we needed to move the RV to a new campground – Gail!  It’s almost beyond my ability to write about how wonderful it was to spend time with her. She was a huge part of my life when I lived in D.C., and while we’ve kept in touch, hugging her in person made my world just right.

Gail worked in Senator Hatfield’s office when I was an intern.  We were good friends and she took me to breakfast one morning and I re-dedicated my life to Christ.  She’s been in my prayers ever since.  I am so humbled by her love and support.  Today it was like we had never been apart, and once again, I was wishing everyone I love lived in my neighborhood!  I want to see her everyday.  As it was, our hours passed quickly and I headed back to get everyone around to go to D.C. for more sightseeing.

We rode the metro in and it was a much shorter commute.  Of course, we paid for it with the expensive RV park, but that’s how it goes, we pay for it one way or the other!  Time and money, time or money.

We headed to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum first.  I was hoping it wouldn’t be too crowded, because I wanted the kids to be able to enjoy all the cool exhibits.  We weren’t disappointed in any of it – it’s just a great museum.  We learned more about the Apollo missions, tried to figure out the science of the planets, and read the whole exhibit on the Wright Brothers and the other on Amelia Earhart.  I wasn’t feeling well, so I sat and relaxed while Dan and the kids wandered around more.   I love people watching, so it wasn’t all bad.

IMG_0671It’s a two story building, with a balcony that runs along the second floor so they can hang all types of air vehicles.  I saw 3 little boys try to climb over the railing and was glad Nate was too old for that now.  They just “wanted to touch it, Dad”!

After a gross lunch in the attached McDonald’s, we walked through the rain to the Native American Museum.  The building itself is beautiful from the outside, all curves and water features and art, so I knew the inside would be good.  We went to the top floor and worked our way down.  The exhibits were amazing, but because we live in Oregon, we weren’t surprised that the handmade art was exquisite, and we definitely weren’t surprised by the history depicted.  Our favorite exhibit was in a round theatre room and the “movie” was played on the walls, the middle canvas, and the art in the glass cases along the walls.  It was really well done and if we’d had more time, I would have watched it twice because I’m sure I missed some of it. It was notable that all the employees working there are Native Americans.  The most interesting thing about the museum was that their gift shop wasn’t just in one spot like other Smithsonians – there was art and pottery and jewelry for sale on all the levels.  I guess they have to keep the doors open somehow.

By this late in the afternoon, I was really feeling sick, so we decided to head home.  We walked to the metro station, and when the train came, I gratefully sank into the cold, plastic chair for the ride home.

IMG_0678Art in the museum.

Day 262, to Cherry Hill RV Park

I woke at 5 a.m., excited to be moving to our new RV park in Maryland, a closer commute to D.C.  It will be nice to do 20 minutes instead of an hour.  Our campsite below was beautiful, though, and had few mosquitos!

IMG_0647The side view.

We got there about 11:30 a.m., and as I was checking us in, the

woman said her daughter was from Bend, too, and as I asked where she worked, I got goose bumps on my arms… her daughter Stacy is the librarian at my kids’ middle school and we were in a fantastic bible study together for 2 years.  It’s a small, wonderful, world!

Day 261, The Monuments, Memorials & Lisa

Today is 9/11 and we aren’t quite sure what to expect in D.C. Will the security be even more restrictive? Will there be more patrols on foot, horse or bike? Will the terrorists hit our beloved country again?

We rode the metro in uneventfully, and made it to the Washington Monument in time for our 10 a.m. tour. The tickets are free to go up, but if you buy them online beforehand, you have to pay a $1.50/ticket fee. Even though we are after Labor Day, we are finding things busier than we thought it would be. We were glad we had bought them because there was a huge school group there with us.   The flags surrounding the monument were all flying at half-staff, but everything else looked the same.

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We went up the elevator, and jockeyed around the school kids for a view out of each one of the windows. The picture below is my favorite view – facing the Lincoln Monument way at the far end, with the Reflecting Pool and the World War II monument closer to us. It’s a beautiful view on any day, but especially when it’s hot, humid and sunny.

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We walked down to the WWII Memorial next, and I was surprised to see that there was really no explanation of it.  Each state is represented by a pillar and a wreath, made of granite from the mountains in New Hampshire that we hiked. There are 4,000 stars in one area that represent the 400,000 Americans who died, and are a tribute to the gold star that was the symbol of family sacrifice at the time. The Rainbow Pool and fountains were pretty and enhance the peaceful setting.

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It was a perfect day for walking to all these outdoor monuments and we enjoyed the stroll in between them, too. We got to the Vietnam Vets Memorial, and I stood in awe to take it in. It’s so well designed, with the 58,236 names on the black marble wall etched in order of when they died. Tourists were looking up vets in the “name books” in another area, then they could go to the wall and see the name. Dan looked up some men from his hometown, and I looked up Lauderdales,  and unfortunately, many were listed.   There were a few items left in front of names – hearts, ribbons, and flowers – and the mood was very somber.

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We walked to the Lincoln Memorial next, and as a perfect replica of a Greek temple, it’s still one of my favorites. The huge Colorado marble steps are a fun place to take pictures, and then turn around and face the Washington Monument and The U.S. Capitol and take more! The quotes on the inside walls are inspirational, with both his famous Second Inaugural Address speech and the Gettysburg Address inscribed on the walls inside. It was great to see the light bulb go on for the kids – we’d recently been to Gettysburg and stood where he gave the speech.

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We went outside and around the back so I could show them where you used to be able to view JFK’s flame, across the bridge over in Arlington National Cemetery. I made the mistake of looking up and seeing the dirt and spider webs and birds’ nests – I don’t remember the monument being in this condition years ago. We went back inside to take more pictures with his seated statue made of Georgia marble.   We were joking about how we were waiting for him to talk like he did in the 2006 Ben Stiller movie, “Night at the Museum”! The area was packed and it was very special to see that people from all over the world liked the monument as much as I do.

We hiked to the Korean War Memorial next, and again, we were in awe over how well it is constructed. It shows 19 soldiers in combat gear struggling through grass and juniper bushes, to depict a squad on patrol. There is also a long black granite wall, with images sandblasted onto it. It’s in the form of a triangle, then it intersects a circle, which is The Pool of Remembrance. Every little detail of the memorial depicts something about the war, and I could understand why there would have been conflict over the building of the memorial – it’s very symbolic. I haven’t seen as many images of it as other memorials, and I know I’m not describing it as well as I could, so please look it up online!

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Our next stop was a 20 minute walk away, across the parkway and along the tidal basin – the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It is such a cool memorial! It’s a huge slab of white granite and when you approach it from the back, it looks like it’s not finished. But on the tidal basin side is a 30’ tall statue of him carved onto the front, with one leg not completely carved.   He’s standing with his arms crossed and a serious expression on his face. It was dedicated in 2011, and he is the first African-American with a memorial near the National Mall. There were a few tourists around taking pictures, but I think people miss it because you have to walk so far to it. That’s unfortunate, because it’s worth the walk.

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We continued around the tidal basin then, slogging through the dirty water that went over the sides, and trying our best to find higher ground without trampling on bushes. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s memorial was next, and it was as different as it could be from MLK’s. It’s spread over 7.5 acres, and it’s a series of 4 outdoor rooms, meant to depict his 12 years of office. The water features weren’t working, so we didn’t get to see that effect. I found out later that Senator Hatfield had input into the memorial. My favorite area was the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt in front of a United Nations emblem, to honor her work in that regard. The quote is fantastic and inspired me for the rest of the day.

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As we hiked to the next spot, Thomas Jefferson’s Memorial, I was taking pictures and lagging behind the other three. It was so hot. I was so hungry. Then I saw that I had a voice mail message and I was laughing so hard… the phone may be able to take pictures and be a phone at the same time, but the operator of the phone has to know how to use it first! I called my little sister back, and as I sat on the steps of the Memorial, I heard that she’d gotten a new job. SO EXCITING. I kept moving so people wouldn’t overhear me, and was crying I was so happy for her. They are lucky to have her working for them!

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The memorial itself is beautiful in the round, but again, because of its remote location, it’s not visited as often as the others on the mall. The architect made a nod to the Roman Pantheon, Jefferson’s design at the University of Virginia and his own home. It’s all marble, of course, with a huge bronze statue of Jefferson in the middle. He’s never been one of my favorite men in history, so I was happy to keep moving.  I think the size of the memorial matches the size of his ego!

We kept going around the tidal basin, and walked up to the entrance to the U.S. Holcaust Memorial Museum, just to see if we could go in without tickets.  Normally you have to line up before 10 a.m., and they distribute the (free) timed tickets for the day.  We had planned on seeing it another day, but because we were right there, I thought we should take a chance.  We were able to go in immediately, which was good because it would save us returning, but bad because I hadn’t mentally prepared for it.  Dan and I had been to the museum years ago, and I still remember many of the rooms and exhibits.  To say it has haunted me wouldn’t be an exaggeration.  I do not care for war in any form and the treatment of these human beings was so beyond evil, it still makes me sick.

The museum itself is really well done.  You take a card that describes a person, and carry it with you to see how their story happened throughout the timeline, 1933 to 1945.  There are video’s, artifacts and tons of written information to digest as you walk through.  One area had pictures of a whole town of people that were killed – mostly artists.  The whole town was wiped out by the Germans.  After that, I took a little break in the ladies room and was still crying when another lady walked in.  She went to hug me and said she felt the same way.  Then she said that she thought I had a pretty emotional day on my hands, and that “Shelby was going to be just fine in her new job.”  What?!  Turns out she was sitting close to me at the Jefferson Memorial and overheard my conversation on the phone.  Nice to have the care and concern, but also a little creepy.

We only spent a couple hours in the museum, and that was enough for all of us.  That there were 42,500 ghettos and concentration camps erected by the Nazis is horrific.  That over 30,000,000 people have visited the museum since it opened is wonderful – hopefully that education will preclude another holocaust.  The quote below is the last one you read as you exit the main area.

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We walked out into the bright sunlight and bought a huge pretzel and bananas to eat on our way to the metro.  The ride was easy, and we got off at our Vienna station and headed to the car.  We raced Dan by taking the elevator while he took the stairs, and barely beat him to the 4th floor.  Nice to have the laughter after the previous hours.

Now to the really exciting part of the day.  We met my “old” friend Lisa Smith and her very kind husband, Eric, at a local Mexican restaurant for dinner.  Both of them work nearby, so it was convenient for all of  us.  I was beyond excited to see her and asked her to please warn Eric how loud I might be, and she said she already had.  Plus, he’s married to Lisa, so how would my energy level be a surprise?!

It was lovely to see her again. She had been out to Bend in 1987, and we’d kept in touch, but seeing her in person was just heaven.  She was the intern coordinator (plus other hats) for Senator Hatfield, and she had her hands full keeping us all in line.  She did her job well, and also took us orphans under her wing to her grandparent’s house and other fun day trips.  She’s a true Southern Belle from Georgia, and Eric is lucky to be married to her.  They make a great couple and his sense of humor is a riot, so he can match her.  We laughed and ate and reminisced and I didn’t want to leave.  Some women just come into my heart and make such a joyous sound, and Lisa will always be one of them.  Thanks for dinner, you two!

IMG_0644The perfect ending to another perfect day.

Day 259, The Bureau of Engraving, The Castle, the Hirshhorn & The U.S. Capitol

Up early again, 5:45 a.m., and off to the metro we went at 6:15 a.m. Ouch! We had 8:30 a.m. tour tickets for the Bureau of Engraving, and I didn’t want to miss it. We got off on a stop near the Washington Monument, took a left on 14th, and there it was – just where I remembered it! Now it has a strange entrance. It had security, of course, scanners and “stare-ers” as I call them, but it was as if they had built a glass box onto a beautiful old building. They obviously needed more room for the visitors entrance, but it was ugly!

We watched the video presentation and learned how money is produced. The bills are made here, the coins elsewhere. We knew it cost more than $1 to create a $1 bill, but we didn’t know there were 13 unions in place to ensure that they still get made. We also didn’t know that they are made of 75% cotton and 25% linen. Fraud requires that the production be one step ahead of the counterfeiters, so they make changes to the bills frequently. There are 7.2 billion notes printed each year, and 95% of them are to replace old ones that come out of circulation. Only 5% is actually new money. We had no idea.

The walking tour itself is tightly timed, so questions weren’t encouraged. We walked above one production line that exists for visitors to see, while the other 10 lines are hidden away in the buildings nearby. We all agreed that it would be a boring job, doing the same thing repeatedly, and yet the bills have to be perfect, so you’d have to stay alert. The part of the tour that I really wanted the kids to see was no longer there:  it used to be that someone would stand over the bills as they roll by on huge sheets and if they saw an error, they would just pull the whole huge sheet off and drop it on the floor. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe it! Throwing money on the floor? For a starving intern, that was amazing to see. I had told the kids about it and I really wanted Nate to see it – to know that money is just paper. From this grand old age, my perspective has changed so much. It’s just paper.  Paper.  Paper to which we attach a value.  I used to value it too highly, until I figured out that time is more precious than money. But, blah, blah,  back to the tour. They’ve replaced the “eyeball” check with a computer, of course, and seeing the bills printed wasn’t impressive to the kids – as they keep saying on this trip – they could “Google it”! Argh!

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Luckily we did find something impressive in the gift shop.  An employee with Raymond embroidered on his denim work shirt was standing near an old counter, in front of a Spider Press, the original press that made our first bills. (They call them notes.  Not bills or money.)  He showed us how they made them and told us that each operator was expected to make their quota of 120 notes each day. And they HAD to be perfect, or they wouldn’t get paid for them. Raymond took the time to really talk to Nate and show him how it was done. It’s art. Pure and simple. The man who carved the actual stamp/image worked for over a year to get it right and it’s a beautiful scene. Nate’s eyes could see the detail in it, but Raymond consoled me by mentioning that most adults can’t see all the detail. We were able to buy the one Raymond made for Nate and he’s going to frame it when we get home. Once again, what I thought would be interesting wasn’t, but we found something better!

IMG_0280To us, she’s priceless!

The next stop was the Old Smithsonian building,The Castle, but it has been turned into a visitor’s center, so we were in and out quickly.  As we left, we stopped in a little room and paid our respects to the man who started all the Smithsonians – British Scientist James Smithson. When he died in 1829, he left his wealth to a nephew, who in turn left it to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” Congress accepted the legacy, and for 8 years they fought about how to put it into action. (Only 8 years? That’s fast for Congress!) John Quincy Adams had a hand in saving it after the funds were invested and lost in Arkansas bonds,  and President James Polk signed the legislation in 1846 creating the Smithsonian.  The rest is history that thousands of school children and tourists like us visit each year. Thank you, Mr. Smithson.

As we walked down the mall, I told the kids about the interesting people I met here, numerous fascinating stories of living here, how incredible it was to learn first hand how our government works, (and doesn’t work), and how much fun it was to play softball on the mall. There were enthralled, I’m sure, but were grateful that the Hirshhorn Museum was close and our next stop.   First we had to walk all the way around it to find the entrance.  There were statues outside that I really wanted to stand beside and mock for a picture, but there weren’t any other tourists around, so I could see all the guards inside watching us. Darn.

We entered to find everyone watching us, and as we went up the escalators to the top floor, I heard one grumbling that “kids are supposed to be in school by now.”  Really?  I think they are in school now!  They are learning more on this trip than they would at home!

One of the current exhibits was called “Speculative Forms” and we tried to hide our giggles and comments from the ever present guards.  We just kept saying, “This is art?”  “Someone paid money for this?”  And Dan’s famous, “What a waste of good real estate.”  We have been telling Nate and Eliza for years that art is subjective and to enjoy it in various forms, but this was hysterical.

IMG_0303We actually liked this one – best of the whole exhibit.  Others included were a long slab of cement, a block of wood, a stand, and various empty vessels.  When we went to the basement to see another exhibit, I was yelled at by a guard for trying to take a picture of a race car that a guy had painted; it wasn’t owned by the museum,and the owner didn’t want other people having pictures of it.  Really?!

By this time we were hungry, so we headed to my old cafeteria in the Longworth House Office Building.  We went in through the Rayburn HOB and security, and I was able to find my way underground again.  Not bad for 29 years later!  They have just finished a remodel of the cafeteria, so it was nice.  I remember that it was always crowded, smelled funny, and was cheap.  We all picked out lunch and headed over to a table to eat.  I listened to the people at the other end of the table discuss who was going to call on which congressman and at what time and memories flooded my mind of similar people coming into Congressman Denny Smith’s office each day.  I’d had a blast working in his office, with some of the nicest people, and couldn’t wait to show it to the kids.

So after lunch we went upstairs to 1213 Longworth – Denny’s old office.  It is currently the office for Puerto Rico, but much to the kids’ chagrin, I opened the door, asked if I could show my family where I worked, and in we went.  They were very nice about letting us see it, and I couldn’t believe how small it was.  We fit so many people in there!  I told the kids how much fun it was to work there, how cool it was to help so many people from Oregon, and how very early one morning before work Donna and I had taken Dean’s desk, ALL OF IT, and set it up in the hallway.  When he arrived, we could tell he was about to explode, so we barricaded ourselves in Denny’s office.  Then we helped move it all back in…that was a fun day.

We had a 1:15 tour of the Capitol scheduled with Lizzie, so we hustled over to Congressman Greg Walden’s office, 2182 Rayburn.  Nice corner office, and much bigger than Denny’s digs!  D.C. is all about seniority. Greg’s been in office since 1999, and is doing an incredible job for Oregon.  He’s also been honored with national party positions, and he deserves accolades for his hard work .  For those who scream “term limits”, let me explain that when people stay in Washington for longer than 2 years, they understand how it works and they are actually able to DO GOOD for others.  If you have people rotating in and out of office, they don’t know what they are doing! It takes awhile just to figure out the system.

We went into Greg’s office, met Lizzie, and waited for the others who would be touring the Capitol with us.  It turned out that the House had just adjourned, so we went outside the Capitol and waited to say hello to Greg.  I was happy to see him, but a little sad, too.  Yes, it had been 29 years, and yes, he had a cold, but to see the toll that public service takes on a person was very hard for me.  He works so hard for others, and is doing it so well. Truly a good guy.

IMG_0339On the Capitol steps with Congressman Greg Walden,  on the House side, of course.  The scaffolding behind us is to fix the dome after the earthquake years ago.  So kind of him to take the time to see us, and so fun to see an old friend.  Plus, it is one gorgeous old building!

Lizzie took us on a tour of the Capitol, and I was delighted to see that she did the EXACT same tour that I would give Oregonians when I had her job.  So funny!  I could have given it word for word!  With all the extra security now, I wouldn’t have been able to take us where we went, however, so we were grateful for the short tour.

It was almost 4 p.m., and we were exhausted , so we walked past Senator Hatfield’s old office in the Hart Office Building, did a quick swing through a renovation-in-progress Union Station, and caught the metro home.  Another perfect day!

Day 258, Mt. Vernon and Arlington National Cemetery

We were out the door at 8:15 a.m., after a 20 minute math session for both kids. I have read so much in the last few years about how kids learn, and how they learn math in particular. I found a workbook for math that just gets their brains going each day and it’s been awesome. (Or so I think!) It’s the basics, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to start with, even though they are more advanced than that. It’s amazing how our brains are able to let go of the basics and everything I’ve read says we need them each day. So, we are practicing. Eliza goes for speed and accuracy and keeps track of her time, averaging about 5 minutes a page, instead of 20.  Nate started off really slow like I knew he would because we hadn’t done math since mid-May when they finished school. He’s gotten much quicker, but he is still deliberate about it. I challenge everyone to try this each day – it’s harder than it sounds!

We hopped in the car for the short drive to Mt. Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington. The grounds are beautiful as you drive in, and they have built a HUGE new visitor center, with the name Ford on it. The introductory  movie at the visitor center wasn’t working, so we walked around the grounds before our 10:20 a.m. tour of the actual house. The grounds were much smaller than Dan and I remembered from our trip here in 1987, and the house has been painted a light brown, which was quite a shock.  It’s not the white from previous years and what you see in every picture. One of the guides said that they recently discovered the house was really this color back when George lived here. They paint it, and then literally throw light brown sand on it, so it has a rough texture. It was a little strange to see the house and all the outbuildings painted this color, but they were all in excellent condition. The grounds and house have been well cared for by the Mt. Vernon women’s group that started the restoration, the numerous volunteers, and the tourists who pay $25/each to enter.

The house tour itself was interesting, with the guides telling us a little bit about how they actually lived in the rooms. George really cared about impressing people, so he had the finest furnishings and real art and china. Martha managed the household from their beautiful all white bedroom on the second floor. They didn’t live in the house full-time because George was often away for various reasons: the French-American War, the Revolutionary War, the founding of our country and the Presidency. Martha would often join him. Later he was able to spend more time at home because their dock was an easy commute from many locations. One funny fact was that the year after he was President, they had over 600 guests. People would just be travelling by and would stop in to meet him. They were allowed to stay for as long as they wished. George put in his diary that he sometimes he wished he didn’t live somewhere so convenient, he just wanted to enjoy his home, gardens and the farm.

They didn’t have any biological children, but Martha had 2 survive from a previous marriage, and they raised them at Mt. Vernon. Then they raised their son’s two children. When they died, George emancipated all his slaves, and his heirs couldn’t keep up the huge plantation. It had been neglected for years when a group of local women got together and decided to save it as the historical treasure it has become. The women had to get permission from the “town fathers” to purchase the property because women didn’t own property then. Grr, that’s so silly. And well done Mt. Vernon women!

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The best part of the whole tour is the front porch. There are chairs and rockers lining it, it faces the Potomac River, and it’s breathtaking. With the trees and the river flowing by it was very peaceful. We sat for awhile and enjoyed it, and then we headed to the rest of the museum. Similar to other places we’ve been, they wanted to leave the land intact, so this museum is partially underground. It told the story of George’s life in an interesting, interactive manner and we were glad we had taken the time to go through it. Then it was back to the car for a quick sandwich and off to the next historical spot.

The drive from Mt. Vernon to Arlington National Cemetery is an easy one up the George Washington Parkway. It was an overcast, grey day, but there were still people out running and biking on the path along the river. We easily found a parking spot, and walked into the visitor center. It was completely new, and had more information than we could process. We grabbed a map and headed for the most famous grave – JFK.

The eternal flame was burning, and the view of Washington D.C. across the river was spectacular. Trees had grown up in the area, however, and I saw why we wouldn’t be able to see the eternal flame from the back of the Lincoln Monument anymore, darn. It’s quite the sight at night. People were respectful as they viewed the graves of the Kennedy family, and I was surprised to see Teddy’s grave, there, too. I had met him just once in 1984, and he was so cordial and kind, behaving as though he were interested in meeting another one of Senator Hatfield’s interns.

We walked down the “streets”, past thousands of white crosses, talking about who gets to be buried here, and what they sacrificed for the USA. I was limping because I’d re-injured my foot again, but everyone else quickly climbed the stairs so we could watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It gave me chills. The men guarding the tomb do so 24 hours a day and they consider it a privilege. They stood as the hurricane hit D.C., they stood as 9/11 was occurring, and they stood today in the drizzle. Very humbling to watch. Yet again, so proud to be an American.

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We walked through more of the cemetery and headed over to Robert E. Lee’s old house on a whim.  It was the best part of the day. I have never been able to figure out how his marriage connected him to George Washington, but the park ranger had a huge org chart with pictures of the families– Lee married Washington’s grandson’s daughter. Got it?!

Robert E. Lee had been a firm friend of Washington and many of the Union officers, so when he resigned from the Continental Army and defected to the south, many of them were angry with him. They took over his house for a Union headquarters and a hospital. One of his old friends authorized the burying of several of the dead in Lee’s rose garden, so that Lee would never come back there to live. Really, it sounded like the Union stole the property from him and in later years his heirs brought a lawsuit against the government and won a small monetary compensation. Lee never lived there again, and the whole hill turned into our National Cemetery. Well worth a visit and a good end to a perfect day.

Day 257, Washington, D.C.

Up at 5:15 a.m. and that feels way too early. A little warm outside already. We left the rig at 6:15 and headed to the Vienna Metro Station, along with thousands of other commuters. We are only 30 miles outside D.C., but it takes 30 minutes in traffic to drive to the metro, then another 29 minutes of a metro ride to D.C. We were kicking ourselves when we saw that traffic wasn’t that bad going into town, but once again, we didn’t want to hassle with parking the car. On the metro ride back out we were congratulating ourselves on NOT driving – the highway was a parking lot for miles.

Dan downloaded a metro map to his phone, so he knew exactly where we to get off. I was using the map from the D.C. book that Cindy Kresse gave us after she and Megan were done with it. Both had the smallest print ever!

My expectations for this two week part of our trip were immense. I was excited for the kids to see D.C. because I had lived here in 1984 and 1985. I had fond memories of visiting all the historical monuments, and I wanted them to really get USA history into their brains while they were here. I also wanted them to see how clean and huge the metro is compared to NYC. I wanted them to be as awestruck and impressed as I was when I first arrived in 1984. Silly me…

I had contacted Congressman Greg Walden’s office months before to arrange for tour tickets to all the tourist spots. Greg and I had worked together in Congressman Denny Smith’s office in 1985, and since then he has gone on to have an exemplary career representing Oregon. He really is one of the “good guys” and works so hard for Oregon every day. Lizzie, from his office, had gotten us tickets for the White House, Bureau of Engraving, and Library of Congress. I was so excited.  He’s running for re-election this year; please vote for Greg.

We parked at the metro station, and walked in to buy our passes. We knew what we wanted, but used the wrong machine, so ended up paying $1 more/per ride until we used those non-transferrable passes up. Grr. There were “attendants” there to help, but they were even confused.

Finally boarded the train and the differences from NYC and here were readily apparent to the kids. In NYC, it was loud every ride. Here, it was people commuting in complete silence. Every person had earbuds in and a few were reading. There was no food or drink allowed, compared to the great smells of the NYC subway trains. We were going in and out of tunnels, so it was bright compared to NYC. These trains looked newer, and there was a huge construction project in progress on another set of  rails, but the NYC trains had an excellent map of where you were and what station was coming up. The DC trains had old advertisements, and nothing that told where you were. Also missing were the panhandlers. Yes, the kids liked the NYC trains better!

We got off and walked over to the Ellipse in front of the White House. The area wasn’t open to car traffic as it had been when I lived here, but you could still walk in front, carefully watched by about a dozen police officers. We stood and took pictures and it just didn’t feel real. I had been waiting for so long to show the kids just this spot. We made it! We get to show them the nation’s capitol! I was so happy.

IMG_0061 We had time, so we walked to the other side of the White House, too.

Our tour was for 9 a.m., and we knew we had to be in line by 8:30a.m. The other stipulation was that we have no purse, backpack, water or food. I thought that was kind of crazy, to expect that of tourists, and I thought it every time we went in to a federal building with intense security and guards all over. NYC was already hit hard, and they don’t have near the level of security. Anyway, I took my small purse, and the ranger told me to take the strap off and carry it under my arm, or it would be considered a purse and would be taken away. I looked at other people in line, and everyone’s pockets were bulging. So it’s okay in a pocket, but not in a tiny purse? Seems a little hypocritical to me. Then I laughed. Oh, I’m in D.C. again – the normal rules of common sense don’t apply here!

We went through 3 sets of security to get into the White House. Our name was a on a list, they checked our ID, we walked through a scanner, and we were eye-balled by numerous men. One of the guards made flippant comments when I asked him about his hometown of Miami, and I realized I was old. I couldn’t believe that anyone associated with the White House would be so crass. Oops, it’s 2014, not 1984.

The tour itself was disappointing, too. The kids weren’t impressed, and that made me sad. Due to budget cuts, it’s a self-guided tour, administered by the National Park Service. We were given a map and were told that there were professionals in each room that we could ask questions of, but there were tons of tourists, and just a few of them. I was able to ask one question the whole tour. Maybe someday the kids will appreciate that they were there.

We headed to one of my favorite spots next, the Old Post Office building just down the street from the White House. Unfortunately, Trump is remodeling it, so it was closed. I hadn’t googled it, because it was still on tourist websites. We turned around and walked back to the Ronald Reagan Building, and found the food court in the basement. It’s a beautiful building with tons of space designed for meetings and entertainment. Lunch was okay, but again, the kids were comparing it to the deli in NYC. No good comparison possible!

We headed to our first Smithsonian next, and I had high hopes for it to impress the kids. The National Museum of American History has been completely redone since I lived here, and I was so glad. Before it was rows and rows of glass cases with cards in front giving details about whatever item you could see. Boring. Now it’s interactive, with different levels even inside one exhibit. We started at the top and enjoyed watching Eliza try to be “Rosie the Riveter” for real. The men and women who fought our wars overseas were heroes, but the women who took over the factory jobs at home earned my high regard, too. And people gave them a hard time for “working outside the home”!

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By 3:30 p.m., we were exhausted, so we headed to the metro. We passed a mini-McDonald’s truck outside another Smithsonian and couldn’t believe our eyes. We’ve seen McDonalds stores everywhere we’ve travelled, but this was the most unusual. On the national mall?! I guess they do own the country!

We arrived back at the rig after an uneventful metro ride. The traffic was really bad, so we were happy that we hadn’t driven in. The dogs were so excited to see us and we spent the rest of the evening trying to recover and get ready for the next day.