Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Washington D.C. Part Three: Did I Die and Go to Heaven?

Hannah wasn't able to get work off for any of the week days I was visiting.  While it would have been fun to enjoy the sites of the city in the company of another historically-minded person, I also found the experience of wandering around the nation's capital on my own quite liberating.  I could do everything at my own pace and on my own time.

So Hannah and I got off at the Metro station near her work.  She directed me as to how to get to the National Mall where all the Smithsonian museums are and then headed into her office building.  I continued down the street a little ways to visit the first museum on my "to do" list: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Me and a koala bear, haha
I enjoyed meandering through the mammal, sea, and dinosaur exhibits.  All were extremely interesting and informative.  However, I found that the most visually stimulating section was just around the corner in a section I didn't think I would enjoy very much at all.  Having always prided myself on being a low-maintenance kind of girl, I found myself humbled while walking through the Gems and Minerals section of the museum.  Apparently I love expensive gems and jewels as much as the next girl.  That isn't to say that I will be blowing all my spare cash on jewelry in the future; I just won't say no if anyone ever feels so inclined to give me, say...a topaz ring.


Jewelry that the French Emperor Napoleon gave to his wife.
I saved the most interesting part of the museum for last.  Hannah had told me that the forensics exhibits were really cool and I couldn't agree more.  There was a special section that focused on the settlement of Jamestown that demonstrated how scientists could glean the profession of the colonist from evidence on his or her skeleton.  For example, a skull was found that had some abnormalities in and around the front teeth.  Through some analysis, forensic scientists came to the conclusion that the settler was a tailor and that his or her teeth abnormalities were due to constantly holding needles between the teeth.

After I finished up at the Natural History museum, I headed next door to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  If there had been no one else around, I probably would have released several audible sighs and squeals of delight.  But, alas, I wanted to be considerate of my fellow tourists so I kept my reactions to the awesomeness surrounding me in check.  I saw the original Star-Spangled Banner!  I learned some of the history of how changes in transportation in America have transformed our cities and lifestyles.  I learned the evolution of American eating habits in the Food Exhibit.  I saw the dresses that each of America's first ladies have worn to their husband's presidential inaugurations.  I absolutely loved the Americans At War Exhibition!  I seriously got a little teary-eyed while watching a short video presentation at the end of the war exhibition.  How can you not get emotional when images of war are flashing across the screen while a reading of the Gettysburg Address is playing in the background?  Do you have a heart? ;)
In the Food Exhibition! My Mom had a crockpot just like this one!

WWII poster in commemoration of the events at Pearl Harbor.
 
The shoes Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz.

Jackie Kennedy's Inauguration dress.

George Washington's sword during the French and Indian War.

The chairs Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant sat in to settle the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox near the end of the American Civil War.
The museum closed at 5:30 so, reluctantly and involuntarily, I shuffled out of the museum doors and made my way back to Hannah's office building.  We had decided that we would eat at a place called Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia that night.  After a quick stop at the apartment, Hannah, Wes, and I hopped in the car and headed toward Virginia.  We got there a little before our dinner reservation time so we stopped at a small candy shop around the corner from the restaurant, loaded up on salt water taffy, and then headed over to Gadsby's Tavern.  Gadsby's Tavern has been around since the late 1700s and served several well-known early Americans, including George Washington.  All the servers are dressed in colonial get-up and the food is time-period specific.  I thought it appropriate to order George Washington's favorite dish, which included a grilled breast of duck with scalloped potatoes, corn pudding, and rhotekraut.  The food was delicious and filling but I couldn't stop there.  I was on vacation for goodness' sake!  So I ordered some chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on the side.  Though it's a bit pricey, I wholeheartedly recommend eating dinner at Gadsby's Tavern.


My first full day in Washington, D.C. was immensely successful!  Next stop: MOUNT VERNON!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Washington D.C. Part Two: The Time I Nearly Swallowed a Bug

After a quick Metro ride, we arrived at Hannah and Wes' cute little apartment in D.C.  A few chicken wings and a couple pieces of pizza later, we were back on the road again to take a night tour of a few of the monuments.  Our first stop was the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial
This was the first place on the trip that I felt like my obsession with American History was completely justified.  As I stood there reading the engravings of Lincoln's Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Addresses, it struck me just how amazing this country is.  People who had fought against each other in the Civil War put down their weapons and attempted to patch the country back together again.  There was still tension and hatred but they battled through it and worked things out.  Not too many countries in this world have overcome violence to that degree and still managed to come back together as a unified front.

We take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. - The Gettysburg Address

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." - Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

View of the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial.


We left the grandeur and majesty of the Lincoln Memorial and walked down to the reflecting pool to make our way to the World War II Memorial.  As we were walking alongside the water, we noticed that there were hundreds of ripples appearing on the surface of the pool and realized that there must be thousands of bugs taking a quick evening dip.  Then we started feeling little winged creatures hitting our faces (which, if you know me at all, is not my cup of tea) so Hannah suggested we backtrack and take a different path to the WWII Memorial that wasn't so close to the water.  As I opened my mouth to agree, a bug flew right into my mouth and towards my throat.  I had no choice but to spit on the grass in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  "Sacrilege, darling." (Name that movie.)

Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the World War II Memorial.  The memorial is split into two halves representing the two fronts of the war, the European and the Pacific.  Stone pillars surround a large fountain in the middle, each inscribed with a state name or the name of an American territory. Hannah and I walked around touching the names of the states we have been to.  It wasn't until we noticed all the webs and inch-wide spiders that covered the pillars that we decided to only lightly touch the names and then quickly move on to reading the quotes.

BATTLE OF MIDWAY JUNE 4-7, 1942
THEY HAD NO RIGHT TO WIN. YET THEY DID, AND IN DOING SO THEY CHANGED
THE COURSE OF A WAR…EVEN AGAINST THE GREATEST OF ODDS, THERE IS
SOMETHING IN THE HUMAN SPIRIT – A MAGIC BLEND OF SKILL, FAITH AND
VALOR – THAT CAN LIFT MEN FROM CERTAIN DEFEAT TO INCREDIBLE VICTORY.

Walter Lord, Author
      
 WE ARE DETERMINED THAT BEFORE THE SUN SETS ON THIS TERRIBLE STRUGGLE
OUR FLAG WILL BE RECOGNIZED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD AS A SYMBOL OF
FREEDOM ON THE ONE HAND AND OF OVERWHELMING FORCE ON THE OTHER.

General George C. Marshall   
        OUR DEBT TO THE HEROIC MEN AND VALIANT WOMEN IN THE SERVICE
OF OUR COUNTRY CAN NEVER BE REPAID. THEY HAVE EARNED OUR
UNDYING GRATITUDE. AMERICA WILL NEVER FORGET THEIR SACRIFICES.

President Harry S Truman
 


The fountains in the middle of the WWII Memorial.
Represent!
Though I nearly swallowed a bug and I saw far more spiders than I ever care to see again, I enjoyed our first excursion to the monuments and the patriotic atmosphere of the capital.  I couldn't wait to see what else was in store!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Washington D.C. Trip Part One: Welcome to Your Nation's Capital!

I woke up on Thursday, September 12 at 3:30 AM.  I had to leave for the Concord BART station at 4:45 AM to make the 4:57 train.  So instead of getting up at 4:25 and quickly throwing comfortable travel clothes on like a normal person, I got up an hour and fifteen minutes before my mom was to pick me up.  I showered, shaved my legs, dried and straightened my hair, and methodically picked out a nice outfit because, really, who wants to show up to the nation's capital looking subpar?  Not this girl.  So I got to the BART station on time, looking refined and far too polished for so early in the morning.

My Virgin America flight was to depart from SFO at 8:00.  Let me just say that I don't even remember the last time I flew out of SFO (if I ever have) and that I had never flown Virgin America before.  Once I arrived at the airport, I had absolutely no idea where I needed to go.  After looking at a few signs, I gleaned that I needed to ride a train around the airport to get to my terminal but, of course, I got on the wrong one and ended up going all the way out to parking lots and car garages before finally circling back to the terminals.  Luckily, the security line wasn't that long and I was able to make my flight despite my stupidity.

So we started off on our non-stop, five-hour flight to the Reagan Airport.  Just as we were flying over Colorado or so, I realized that Virgin doesn't give out complimentary food and drink and, being the cheapskate that I am, I refused to buy myself anything.  So I rationed out the small bag of cereal I had packed for myself that morning and survived on that until about 3:30 ET.  I checked Google Maps on the TV screen in front of me and saw that we were almost there.  But, as fate would have it, Washington, D.C. was experiencing a touch of bad weather.  The pilot, who had an awesome British accent, got on the intercom and told us that we were being diverted to Richmond.  However awesome the guy's accent was, I was none too happy about that announcement.  About 30 minutes later, he told us we were being diverted to the Dulles airport but that we would have to circle around for a while until we got more information.  I sat there looking at Google Maps and watched the tiny red plane on the screen turn around and around until, finally, we were told that we were cleared to land at the Dulles airport.  I still wasn't too excited about it but at least Dulles was closer to our final destination.  But after we touched down on the rain-soaked runway, the pilot announced that we had actually landed at the Ronald Reagan Airport.  Thanks for all the unnecessary anxiety, man.

View of the Washington Monument from my plane window!
I texted Hannah, went down to the Baggage Claim to grab my luggage, and made my way to the airport Metro station to meet Hannah on the platform.  I made my way through the doors and stepped out into the most humid air I have ever felt.  My hair immediately became frizzy, and I wondered why the heck I had spent the time drying and straightening it that morning.  Despite the instant bad hair day, I found Hannah, got on the Metro, and started to wind my way through the city I had always dreamed of visiting.  My awesome vacation had begun!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Videos

I just figured out how to upload videos onto my blog.  So here are some of the ones that were still left on my phone.  Some are old and some are new.  But all of them include my nieces and nephews because, let's be honest, they are too cute not to take videos of.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Childhood Reminiscing Session #1: Celia, the Spy

(I have decided to set aside one day a week for writing little vignettes about my childhood.  This will allow me to practice my creative writing skills for that best-selling novel I'm going to write someday ;).  Plus, when I'm 90 and my memory has gone a little fuzzy, my stories will have already made it out of my clouded mind onto the page for the world to peruse.  So here's to killing two birds with one stone!  Enjoy Childhood Reminiscing Session #1!)

I was seven years old when Harriet, the Spy came out in 1996.  Something about that movie just captured the imagination.  Anytime the rare and luxurious opportunity to rent a movie from Blockbuster came up, my choice was always Harriet, the Spy. There's something to be said for spying.  It's nothing like a reality show where the participants know they are on camera so they act accordingly.  It's more like The Truman Show.  The people who were unfortunate enough to fall under my scrutiny were completely unaware that others might be watching them.  They were in their element.  They were acting as their true selves.  I don't think even psychologists get that kind of raw quality when performing their scientific studies.  (Probably because it could be considered unethical but that's beside the point...)

My friend Hannah came over to my house one fateful afternoon to play.  Still firmly believing that my calling in life was to be a spy, I suggested that we spend the afternoon spying on people.  We found some notebooks and pencils to record our observations and then set out into the backyard, anxious to find the perfect spying location.  We settled on the far corner of the backyard where the ground sloped down to the fence.  We had a perfect view of the sidewalk from our perch and the branches of the nearby redwood tree completely hid us from view.  We could see without being seen.  Not bad for a couple of amateur spies!  We carved "Hannah and Celia's Spy Place" into one of the panels of the back fence and kept our eyes peeled for random passers-by.

Sure enough, a construction truck pulled up right within our line of vision.  Two guys, one middle-aged, the other in his 20s, got out and walked around the truck to examine the sidewalk.  Apparently that little glance at the sidewalk was exhausting because they then climbed into the back of their truck and pulled out a couple of sodas.  After downing half a can of soda in one swig, the middle-aged man let out a rather loud belch.  Thus our first spying session ended shortly thereafter as we two seven-year-olds had to duck down behind the fence to hide our uncontrollable fits of giggling.  After taking down copious notes about the human behavior we had just had the privilege to witness, we headed back inside, thoroughly pleased with ourselves for completing our first successful round as spies.
Mission Accomplished.

(As a side note, I need to say that I created the above graphic on my own.  Because I am not one who is generally known for being incredibly tech-savvy, I just wanted everyone else to rejoice with me in this small victory.)