Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More Mind Wanderings

I've been away from blogger for a few days. I had a lot to catch up on when we got back from DC: laundry, mail, blah, blah, blah. I think I'm getting back into the routine of ordinary life again, but my mind is going in all sorts of directions.

Expectations: Remember I said I had a special treat planned from myself on the way home? Well, it didn't work out. I don't even want to go into the specifics because it was such a disappointment, but it only reinforced a long-time philosophy of mine... Have low expectations and they will almost always be exceeded. High expectations are rarely met.

Weather: When we left the temperatures were barely getting out of the 40s during the day. When we got home, it had been 95 that day, and it was still 75 at 8 o'clock at night. Our second floor was like an oven, but I hadn't put the screens in. I hustled around to do that and trade the flannel sheets and down comforter for cotton sheets and a light quilt before bed. The next day was spent packing away all the winter clothes and getting out the summer ones. It made me realize I have way too many clothes. Some of them are business clothes that I can't seem to part with even though I haven't worked for seven years. Life would be much easier if I wore jeans and long sleeve t-shirts in the winter, and khaki shorts and short sleeve t-shirts in the summer.

Swine Flu: I was not very happy that Pipsqueak came home from school yesterday alarmed about "the bad sickness going around". Six year-olds should not feel this way. Apparently, some other kids were freaked out and talking about it which she overheard. I think we need to be educated and informed, but this is not a time to panic. It isn't a pandemic yet, but when/if it is, "pandemic" doesn't mean death. It means wide-spread illness. People die from seasonal flu every year, but they are usually people with underlying conditions which are worsened by the virus. So far, the CDC believes that swine flu isn't any different than seasonal flu in that regard. Having said that though, we can't bury our heads in the sand. It's important to keep up on the news on this from reliable sources.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mount Vernon - Virginia

Our last day here was spent at George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.

Our visit started out with a a short film on George Washington's life. We tend to see him in stone or on paper, so it was surprising to me to see what a charismatic and strong man he was. After a lengthy wait in line, we toured the mansion's first two floors, which is decorated in what I would call simple elegance. In one year's time, they had over 670 overnight guests.

There are numerous outbuildings for view including the smokehouse, shoemaker's shop, wash house, and slave quarters.

There is a substantial museum, including this life size, mounted George Washington,
this replica of Martha Washington's wedding dress and slippers,

and George Washington's infamous dentures (which it is forbidden to photograph) that are made of lead and rhinoceros teeth.

We heard a talk by an actress playing the part of Claire, Martha's dearest slave. We learned that George Washington was liked and respected by most of his over 200 slaves. He had a unique, four-tiered method of discipline. The first tier was reward, the second was demotion, third was flogging and fourth was being sent to the Virgin Islands to work in the sugar cane plantations.

We also got to visit with an actress playing the part of Martha Washington. This was very informal... sort of like joining her in her sitting room for a chat. She was charming and engaging, so he learned a lot of historical tidbits, like the fact that all her children pre-deceased her, and she and George raised the two youngest grandchildren as there own.
Tomorrow, we'll be heading home. I have a special treat for myself planned for about half way home, which I'll share on Monday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The Smithsonian had so many huge air and space exhibits that they didn't have room for them at their museum on the National Mall. This center opened in 2003 right next to the Dulles International Airport.

Sweetie was in his element. He once had a pilot's license which he let lapse, but his obsession with aviation is still current. I managed to find plenty to interest me, too. It's just really neat to get to see so many different kinds of aircraft up close... for instance a 202-foot long Air France Concorde. The catwalk makes it possible to see many exhibits from below and above.
The massive space shuttle Enterprise, NASA's 1981 test vehicle dominates the space hanger. It also dominates Pipsqueak. She's the little pink and green dot in the lower center.

Since I find World War II lore fascinating (two of my uncles fought in it), I was particularly thrilled to see the Enola Gay fully restored and reassembled for the first time in more than 40 years. That was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.
I loved these bomber jackets once worn by World War II fight pilots, one named "Return Ticket" and the other, "Belle of the Brawl".

The PanAm display case was interesting: a Life magazine article from 1968 touting "Newest Stewardess Fad: a Japanese in Every Jet", white gloves for spring and summer and black gloves for fall and winter, and the mandatory girdle, no matter how trim the stewardess... a grooming consultant would do random checks for them.
At the end of the day, we spent about a half hour in the Observation Tower watching the planes land at Dulles.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Smithsonian's Museum of American History and the White House - Washington D.C.

Today, we arrived at the Musuem of American History about five minutes before it opened and heard "The Star Spangled Banner" being broadcast over loudspeakers outside before the doors were opened to the public. The first thing we did inside was visit the flag that inspired the song. It is an enormous 30' x 34'. It was once 8' longer, but fragments were taken off and given as souveniers up until 1912.

One of my favorite areas of the museum is "Thanks for the Memories," which is entertainment and sports memorabilia, like one pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz (several pairs were used in the movie),and Apollo Anton Ono's ice skates.
We spent quite a bit of time in "The Price of Freedom" section, which surveys the history of U.S. Military. I loved this part of the Vietnam War display. The console televisions and plastic slipcovered furniture took me back to my youth.
It was amazing to be able to touch a fragment of the Berlin Wall,
and it was moving to see this twisted steel column assembly from the 70th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower. Pipsqueak finally said, "Can we leave war? It's getting depressing." That statement can be taken in more than one way.

We also enjoyed "American Presidency" where we saw Abe Lincoln's hat,
and Sydney's favorite, "First Ladies," where we got to gaze upon all the inaugural ball gowns.

Since the sun had returned, we felt like spending a little time outside. We walked around the perimeter of the White House started with the South lawn,
and the First Lady's vegetable garden.
Then we walked around to the North to see the front entrance.
On our way back, we had a beautiful view of the sunlit capitol looking up Pennsylvania Avenue.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History - Washington D.C.

Museums seem to be notoriously bad places to take photographs. They're dark and everything is enclosed in glass... both enemies of the camera. My last couple of posts have been photo heavy anyway.

I forgot how big the Museum of Natural History was, but it certainly can't be done thoroughly in one day. The only things I remembered were the Hope Diamond and the Western Culture displays. Those two things hadn't changed, but the display case for the diamond was different. Pipsqueak was underwhelmed by it. She thought it would be as big as a house. I guess 45 carats isn't big enough for her. I photographed it in black and white because of the blue cast that the display case had. We were both more interested in the raw minerals and gems on display and discussing how fooled we would be by the pyrite (fool's gold).

The Insect Zoo was new. I got a chuckle out of the fact that it's sponsored by Orkin. There were scorpions, tarantulas, cockroaches, stick bugs, millipedes, centipedes and enough other creepy crawlies to give you the heeby-jeebies for a few days. The Butterfly Pavilion was amazing with about a dozen different species of butterflies fluttering around and sometimes landing on visitors.
Dig It! The Secrets of Soil was a placard heavy display that Pipsqueak breezed right through until we got to the dirt samples from each of the United States and its territories. It was interesting to see how they are rocky, sandy or dense clay and all the shades of black, brown and red. Alabama had the reddest dirt of all.

Other highlights were: pieces of meteorites that have survived the fall to earth, pieces of lava, a giant squid that was caught off the coast of Spain, the salt water aquarium and skeletons of almost any mammal you can think of. We didn't get a thorough look at anything as Pipsqueak was so excited that all I heard all day was, "What's that? Oh. Come on. Let's see more."

The lunch at the Atrium Cafe was quite good. I recommend the soup... chicken noodle in particular.

We saw the Imax movie "Deep Sea 3D" which was fantastic. It seemed so real that I almost felt like I had to hold my breath under water. Sweetie and Pipsqueak modeled their 3D eye wear for me.
I had a couple of funny observations: Some people were trying to visit every exhibit, since I saw them referring to their guide book and stating what they still had left to see. Some shuffled through the exhibits staring blankly at everything and reading nothing like they were on a conveyor belt.

It was rainy and a great day to be shut in a museum. With showers forecast tomorrow, I think we be taking in the Museum of American History.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mai Thai Restaurant - Alexandria, Virginia

We had dinner tonight in Alexandra, Virginia at the Mai Thai Restaurant. Matching drinks with our outfits was purely coincidental. Sweetie had the Watermelon Martini, matching his shirt...

I had the Orange Blossom Martini to match my scarf. Pipsqueak's virgin daiquiri didn't match, but the paper umbrella made her day.The Tom Yum soup cleared out my sinuses from the cold with which I've been suffering.
Pipsqueak started with fried calamari. She loved it, but there were only body rings and no tenticles. I think tenticles are the best part.
The Pad Thai was delicious... just the right amount of heat.
The Drunken Noodles with Beef were okay, but the noodles seemed a little over done and it would have benefitted from a little more heat.
The service was fast and attentive. Overall, it was a good meal, but I've been to better thai restaurants.

United States Botanic Garden - Washington D.C.

The United States Botanic Garden features a 40,000 square foot greenhouse which contains over 60,000 plants. Established in 1820 and open to the public in 1850, it is one of the oldest in North America.

The greenhouse is divided into several areas....

The orchid room.
World deserts where I adored this Old Man Cactus.
These tulips were in the Children's Garden, where kids could actually dig in the dirt and water plants with supervision.
This view is from the catwalk around the top of the jungle room.There were also areas of primeval garden, medicinal plants, and rare and endangered species. I snapped a lot of photos, but I'll share a few favorites.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Our "Memorial Day" in Washington D.C.

Our original plan was to combine memorial visits with a museum and split them over a couple of days, but today was a perfect weather day for walking. We devoted the entire day to visiting the memorials since showers might be moving in soon.

First, we walked to the base of the Washington Monument. We decided before we left home that we wouldn't take the time to go up. The lines for tickets are long, and the windows to look out are tiny. I did this when I was here in 1978, and while I enjoyed it, it was underwhelming.

From there we went to the World War II Memorial, which is the newest addition to the mall. This fountain and pool are surrounded by 50 pillars representing the states and a larger structure on each side representing the the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. There was a large group of WWII veterans visiting, which made it more moving for me.Then it was on to the Lincoln Memorial. I think this is my favorite memorial because I like how strong and powerful he looks even though he's sitting down.

A hush came over the crowds as they entered the area of the Vietnam War Memorial. People seemed more respectful of this memorial than any other.
We stopped to look at to some of the mementos that had been left by visitors. I didn't care for the wall part of the Korean War Memorial since it was difficult to see etching on black marble, but the statue portion of it was haunting.The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is sprawling and difficult to photograph, but this statue of Eleanor Roosevelt captured her strong presence.Our final stop, was I think the most pictorial, the Jefferson Memorial. The late day sun only added to the beauty.
After walking for six hours, we all had enough. Now to rest so we can do more tomorrow.

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