Monday, October 24, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: Smithsonian National Zoo

Will has been wanting to go visit Smithsonian's National Zoo since we were planning our last trip to Washington, D.C., years ago, so I was thrilled that we could finally take her!

And nope, we didn't let the all-day rain stop us!

While we did see every single animal who lives in the National Zoo, the highlight for me (the kids saw some at the San Diego Zoo) was the pandas!!!!!!!
One panda was hanging out in the rain...

...but all the other pandas were staying comfy and warm inside.

Comfy, indeed!

See? Proof that I am both on this trip, AND saw a panda!
 Syd's camera battery died halfway through, so we shared my camera for the rest of our visit:

Will really wants peafowl, and I even know where to buy the chicks, but they're 50 freakin' bucks unsexed, so I've told her that she has to spend her own money if she wants one.
 All of the exotic birds on display, and Syd was the most fascinated with these...

We stayed so late at the zoo that all of the gift shops were even closed by the time we walked out, meaning that I could not buy myself a stuffed panda souvenir. Yay for saving money, although I really want a stuffed panda souvenir!

Would I settle for a stuffed George Washington instead? Stay tuned and find out!

Friday, October 21, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: A Tour of the US Capitol, Etc.

Sorry, but you don't get any photos of our morning spent at the National Archives, on account of there are no photos allowed. It was for sure a highlight of the trip, though, especially for me! We got to see a 1275 copy of the Magna Carta (this was a major reference point in our History of Us spine), and the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation, AND the Constitution!!!

Some takeaways:

  1. You would not believe how faded the Declaration of Independence is. Much of it is completely illegible to the naked eye by now. This website explains why, and in fact, we have that entire NOVA episode on hold for us at the library to watch next week.
  2. Americans cannot handle not standing in line. To get into the Charters of Freedom gallery, we did have to stand in line, and the guard would let in 30 or so of us at a time. As the guard verbally instructed, AND as the display of rules clearly stated, we were not to stand in line in front of the various documents; instead, we were to simply pick our way through the gaps in an organized scrum. So what do 90% of the people do, then, as soon as we're let in? They form a long line wrapping around the gallery, blocking the exit and keeping other people from being able to enter the gallery while these particular people stood in line in front of nothing rather than simply looking at what they wanted to look at and then leaving. Will and I pick our way through the gaps to see the various documents, ignoring the stink-eye that we get from tourists who've been standing in line for 20 minutes for no reason. Those tourists then continue to stand behind us, leaving the document displays on our other side completely empty, until a guard takes pity on them and says to them, "There is no line. You don't have to wait."
  3. Nothing beats primary resources! Over a week later at our tour of Independence Hall, the tour guide asked which colony didn't show up to the Constitutional Convention. Both of my kids knew that it was Rhode Island, because I'd stood each of them in front of the signatures on the Constitution and had them recite the colonies while finding them on the document. Rhode Island was missing! Alexander Hamilton was there, though, and we knew where to look for him thanks to my obsessive listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

We didn't get the White House tour that I super wanted (it's my hazy understanding that it was too close to Election Day?), but we DID score a private tour of the US Capitol through the office of one of our senators. It was especially cool because we didn't meet at the Capitol itself (although we did walk right past it)--

--but at our senator's office building. Side note: the office building had a giant sculpture that was bafflingly by Calder, and Matt I were both like, "Since when does Calder do big-ass sculptures that aren't mobiles?" I just looked it up, and there was totally supposed to be a mobile there above that giant floor piece

The cool thing about meeting at the office, though, isn't the installation art: it's the secret underground senator train!

Friends, there is an honest-to-gawd secret underground senator train:

There are even celebrity senator sightings--we saw Richard Lugar!

The train takes you right to the basement of the US Capitol building--

--and I was even more excited about our tour group of six when I saw the giant public tour groups milling around, so large that everyone had to wear headphones so they could still hear their guide.

Here we are in the Crypt, standing by the origin point of Washington, DC's street numbering system.

This is the old Supreme Court chamber. I'll show you the new one in a little bit!

Senate Rotunda--my color is off, but it was dim.

This is the ceiling of the Rotunda, with the most insane painting of George Washington
George Washington would NOT have approved of this depiction of himself.

Sister suffragists! See the unsculpted marble at the back left? There's also room for you!
Look whose office we found! These offices are right in the middle of public spaces, I was surprised to note. Our tour guide said that while they do have extra security at times, the Speaker of the House does, indeed, need to walk through throngs of tourists to get to and from his office.

Here's the view from the front door of the Capitol--the Supreme Court is on the left and the Library of Congress is on the right.
 We couldn't take photos of the Senate or House chambers, although we did get to go sit in the galleries and look around as much as we wanted. The gallery tickets that we were given are good for the entire season, though, so maybe the kids and I will travel back to DC and sit in sometime when they're actually in session.

After the Capitol, we zipped across the street and raced over to see the Supreme Court right before the building closed for the day.
Up the stairs...

---and to the gallery!
 Bizarrely, a wedding party passed us as we were hanging out in front of this room. Seriously, someone was getting married in the Supreme Court! I even tried to look it up when we got home, but I can find no page for reserving a room in the Supreme Court in which to get married.

Yes, I still make the kids imitate sculptures.
 We did get to see everything that we wanted to see in (and outside of) the Supreme Court--

--but that left no time for actually going into the Library of Congress, alas: 

Good thing it's not going anywhere, then! We'll see it some other time.

Not on the next day, though. On the next day, we went to see the pandas!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: A Detour To Washington, DC's Monuments and Memorials

If we're going to take time out of our precious American Revolution road trip to detour to Washington, D.C., then of course we're going to see ALL THE THINGS there! And that's why even after a morning hike to the train station, an hour-long train ride into the city, a full day flitting through three Smithsonian museums until they closed, and before our evening hike back to the train station, hour-long train ride out of the city, and night-time hike back to our hotel, we took a late-afternoon hike over to see all the monuments and memorials we could see before the sun went down.

We saw a lot of them!
This lovely family portrait...

...was more than one child could handle.

Happily, the other child can handle anything. In fact, here she is holding up the entire Washington Monument!
You know how you tell your kids that if they're lost, they should find a police officer or a mom with kids to ask for help? Well, one thing that kept repeatedly happening to me over our vacation is that people would come up to me and ask me for random types of help. Seriously, somebody would beeline through a crowd just to approach me and ask me to photograph her, or walk right past Matt to come up to me and ask me a question. Here, a young man holding a Washington, DC, guidebook stopped me and said, in halting English, "Excuse me, but what are we looking at?"

"It's the Washington Monument," I said, and away he went to photograph it from a better angle, flipping through his guidebook to find its entry.

Another thing that I should probably tell you, if you don't already know it about me, is that I fairly often do mean things to Will. For instance, I have a rule that we use the stairs at the library, because exercise, but when she's alone, she likes to use the elevator. At least once a month or so, if I'm meeting her at the library or picking her up there, I'll happen to see her getting onto the elevator as I enter the lobby. I will then dash up the stairs, race over to the elevator banks, stand with my nose against the doors to her elevator, and, when it opens, yell "Boo!" and scare the shit out of her.

It is never not funny.

Anyway, you could walk right up to the Washington Monument, and people were standing around it touching it, so I said to Will, "It's supposed to be good luck to lick the Washington Monument. Go do it."

She was all, "Uh, NO!", but I was all, "Oh, come on! You can't come to the Washington Monument and not lick it! It's tradition!"

"Well, why don't you lick it, then?"

"Jeez, Will, I've already been here once and licked it, and your dad came here as a kid. It's serious good luck, so you only get to lick it once. Look, did you see that guy just lick it? Oh, look, there's another one!"

Matt did not verbally protest, but he did give me major stink-eye as my kid then walked over, put her nose against the Washington Monument, hesitated for a few seconds, and then tentatively licked it.

Don't judge me. She was a major jerk to me at fencing last night, and this is practically my sole source of pleasure.

We didn't lick anything at the World War 2 memorial--

--although I swear, the second that I found the section that pertains to Pappa, a guy set his camera on a little tripod right on top of it and began to take a bunch of selfies while I stood to the side and seethed. Can I just say for a second that memorials are not your playground or your photo shoot location? People seemed to behave suitably respectfully at the Vietnam Veteran Memorial, but on our trip I saw plenty of people treating other memorials just like random pieces of public sculpture. Here at the World War 2 Memorial, I was upset and missing my Pappa like nobody's freaking business, and I just wanted to look at the monument made to his heroism and think about him, while random tourists bumped into me and gossiped loudly and basically acted like jerks in that sacred space.

*steps down off of soapbox*

Pappa fought in the Atlantic theater, and this monument included the place names of the major fields of battle in that theater. I was surprised and touched by this, because it meant a lot to Pappa that he stormed the beach at Anzio, and helped liberate Rome. He joined the Army straight from CCC, before the US declared war, and I asked him once if he'd have joined if he'd known he'd have to fight. He said simply that he would have, because it needed to be done:

 It was a really beautiful memorial.

Here's the view from the edge of that memorial, across the reflecting pool and to the Lincoln Memorial:

And here's the view from the other end!

I was super excited to see the Lincoln Memorial, as we'd actually done a short unit study on it in the summer. We studied Lincoln (remember when we went to his boyhood home?) and the artist of the memorial, organized a field trip for our homeschool group to a special collections library that has an excellent collection of Lincoln artifacts, and made sculptures.

Here are some of the other resources that we enjoyed from that unit:

The culminating activity, then, was to visit the actual Lincoln Memorial, live and in person:

 Did I mention that we also memorized the Gettysburg Address for that unit? We memorized the Gettysburg Address, and here it is!

One of my goals while visiting the monuments was to find a park ranger and pick up National Mall Junior Ranger books for the kids, but we got there so late that there wasn't a park ranger to be found. I finally accosted one who was trying to sneak past me to retrieve his water bottle from the information booth (which I was stalking), and he told me to go knock on the door of a certain office inside the Lincoln Memorial.

He also told me that he'd been trying not to be seen in the booth since his shift was over and if anyone saw him, he'd soon have a line of people wanting to talk to him. After we thanked him and walked away, he sighed and turned to deal with the next person in the line of people who had formed behind us as we'd talked.


Will was completely uninterested in hiking back up to the Lincoln Memorial, so Matt and Syd went up and then came back down a long time later. Matt said that there'd been nobody in that particular office when they'd knocked, but that they'd attracted the attention of a police officer while they stood there, and when he came over to investigate, Matt told him what they were after and he opened up the office and popped in, himself, to see if he could find the books. Unfortunately, he came out with only a couple of little activity pages, not the official books, but as my face fell Matt took me by the shoulder and whispered into my ear, "He also gave me two Junior Ranger badges and said we could give them to the kids after we thought they'd learned enough."

Hallelujah! Don't tell the kids, though, because they still haven't earned those badges to my satisfaction...

We didn't get the tour of the White House that I'd wanted (although we DID get the tour of the US Capitol, and I'll show it to you tomorrow!), so we had to just walk by and look at it from a distance, sigh:

But we did see protesters and news reporters and, on the hike back to the train station, we stopped at Syd's favorite DC destination: Dunkin' Donuts.

Next time: we're going to see the US Capitol!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: A Detour to Washington, DC

Although it's not relevant to the American Revolution, I have been wanting to take a longer trip to Washington, DC--and to have Matt there to enjoy it with us!--since the kids and I first went there four years ago.

Those kids are bigger and better walkers now (on this first day, we walked almost 9 miles!), and this time we gave ourselves more time to explore and a larger list of sights to see.

Top on everyone's list, though, were all the Smithsonians one could possibly fit into one's day!

You could never fit all of the Smithsonians into one day, or even one week. Maybe you could ration yourself to one Smithsonian a day, but even then you probably wouldn't see everything in every one.

I began the day a little bummed that we couldn't get into the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture, which had recently opened and which I had SUPER wanted to see. Since Smithsonian museums are free, it had never occurred to me that I might need to make a reservation, and, alas, all of the timed tickets for the entire year were long gone by the time that we strolled up to it and saw the LONG, long line of bystanders waiting for someone to miss their reservation so that they could be let in a dribble at a time.

Ah, well. The museum isn't going anywhere. We'll be back again to see it someday.

Instead, we hit hit our other favorite Smithsonian museums: the Natural History Museum--

WOOK at how big mah babies have gotten since the last time they stood in front of the elephant!

We found a cookie cutter shark specimen! Of all the sharks in the oceans, the cookie cutter is the scariest. I'm serious. Google it.
These are genuine Neanderthal bones, not the casts that you'll usually find. It's nearly impossible to find genuine remains of our evolutionary ancestors in the US, as we no longer make it a practice to steal treasures and antiquities from their homelands, but the Smithsonian was given this less interesting specimen.
Even though it doesn't have a skull, it's still awesome to us!

Their human evolution gallery, as a whole, is pretty awesome.
We have family lore surrounding the sea otter. In some zoo or other, Will noticed that the sea otter is a member of the weasel family. This led to us calling sea otters "sea weasels," which eventually became "sweasels." We bring up sweasels in conversation all the time now.

It annoys me how similar they look. I think the trick is that the Viceroy has white spots there in the top third of the wings, whereas the monarch is orange almost all the way to the top.

These are fabulously concise definitions. I plan to put these exact ones in our memory work, now that our rocks and minerals unit is complete.
Shout-out to crystal model building!
The gallery had all of these beautifully labelled and displayed minerals, and I wanted to photograph each one, but the lighting in there is crap. I would throw a lot of money at the Smithsonian if they would make me flash cards of every single crystal and its label!
Hope Diamond!
 --the Air and Space Museum--

Can you see why I photographed this? SHARKS!!!
Self-portrait via Skylab

Wright Flyer!

One of my superpowers is that I know all random songs, and I'm happy to sing them loudly. In public. Will showed me this interactive exhibit of early flying-themed songs, and I rewarded her for her thoughtfulness by loudly singing the chorus to this song, which I randomly know.
Don't worry, though. I forced each child to earn $50 in vacation spending money, and Will rewarded me for my foresight by blowing all of her money on novelty candy everywhere we went, as well as insisting that candy bars found in the grocery stores that we visited to resupply during the trip also counted. And hotel vending machines.
Even though it's a big city, I'm amazed and impressed at how lovely and walkable DC is. There's always a monument or statue or fountain or little park to rest your bones at.

--and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History:
We got to show Matt the Star-Spangled Banner (which you can't photograph), but his favorite thing was this George Washington statue. He's a major George Washington fanboy.
Look how timely for election season! Yay, Suffrage!
When the museums closed at 5:30, we did miles more walking to see monuments and memorials, but aren't you tired just from watching us do this part of our day? I am! I'll show you all our monuments and memorials--and our private guided tour of the US Capitol Building!--tomorrow.


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