Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Last Full Day in DC

So far on our visit to Washington DC, we had kept to a busy schedule and seen lots of historical & amazing sights.  But our last day we wanted to slow it down a bit.  We started by "sleeping in" and enjoying a big breakfast down in the hotel restaurant. Then, since it was Sunday, we headed off to church.  We decided to attend worship at St. John's Episcopal Church for a few reasons.  One, location and history.  This church is just across Lafayette Square, behind the White House. Open since 1816 it is known as the "Church of the Presidents" - every US President, beginning with James Madison, has attended the occasional service there, many becoming members. It is also the church where Abraham Lincoln often went to pray in the evenings during the Civil War. Second, outreach of the church.  Even though this was something we really wouldn't have time to be involved in as one-day visitors, we were glad to discover (via the church's website) that they had a preschool program, lots of outreach to the neighborhood youth and families, and programs & services in Spanish. Third, music festival!  When we looked up the church's website, we saw that they were having a "Choral Eucharist" the day we planned to attend, with selections from the Brahms and Faure' Requiems.  Sweet!  Beautiful choir and strings - and the organist rocked :-)
As you may know, eucharist is communion.  You may also know that the Episcopalians don't mess around with Welch's, they use real wine.  So after we had taken communion, and were walking back to our seats, I said to Simon, "What did you think?"  He answered, "It was different than our communion."
The front of the church building
The view walking out of the church
Beautiful flowers!

What?  The Obamas aren't home?
Walking back to our hotel
After a quick lunch and a change of shoes, we headed back to the mall to see a few more of the memorials and monuments. I have to say that the weather was absolutely beautiful for our entire trip and I was so glad that we were able to walk everywhere we needed and wanted to go. Here are a few highlights from our afternoon...

We traveled past the White House again, this time from the other side.
They were busy decorating for Memorial Day Celebrations
From the front (back?) of the White House, we could see Michelle's kitchen garden and bee boxes!
On our way there we also passed one of our favorite restaurants - the hot dog cart!  Who can resist?

Ninja Turtle popsicle
The World War II Memorial was our first stop, and it was a hard one.  I had mentioned earlier that Drew very recently lost his dad.  His father was a Navy veteran from WWII and his father had just visited this memorial in the fall as part of the Honor Flight program - we had seen pictures, video, and a feature on the local news.  So, at times, it was overwhelming - but good.

Next, we headed for the Lincoln Memorial. 
The kids with "Honest Abe"
Standing where King stood
 Then we traveled over to the new Martin Luther King Memorial.  Very powerful.
Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope
We ended our day with paddleboats in the Tidal Basin down by the Jefferson Memorial.  We had seen a lot, but the pace was easy.  It was a relaxing, enjoyable day.

Time for dinner and a little packing.  We head out in the morning...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Deny Everything

Saturday afternoon the big kids and I had tickets to the International Spy Museum. They did not allow photography in the museum, so you will simply have to take my word for it when I say it was amazing!  Our tour started in the briefing room, where we chose a "cover" - a name, background, etc. - that we had to remember and use through-out the museum in order to complete your mission.  The displays included spy gear & techniques, spies in different eras of history (starting with the spies Moses sent into the promised land, so we're talking about centuries and centuries of spying!), famous spies, movies about spies, secret codes & communication... all of it very interactive.  This was also where Samuel decided to spend his souvenir money.  He bought a shirt that said, "Deny Everything." We spent 2 hours there - and would have stayed longer, but our stomachs were growling.

While we were brushing up on our spy skills, Drew & the little guy took the opportunity to rest in the hotel room.  We met up at the American Art Museum (which was right across the street) so the boys could see the Video Games exhibit.

I had one of these growing up...
Samuel learning about the design techniques behind Space Invaders
We drove all the way to DC to play video games?
As we were leaving the Video Exhibit, I found out that Drew & Simon did more than rest while we were learning about spies, they were also making dinner plans. We had a great meal at a local restaurant called Ella's... a nice change of pace and a wonderfully relaxing way to end the day. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More Smithsonian!

It's 9am on a Saturday morning, and we're headed back to the Mall

Day Three
This morning we stopped at "The Castle" aka the Smithsonian Institution Building.   There was a video orientation - starring Ben Stiller, of course - a scale model of DC, and a statue of  James Smithson, who was the founding donor of the Smithsonian... created for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."  It also contains information on all the other Smithsonian buildings/museums and has a few exhibits from each (even from the National Zoo - they had a live video from the Panda exhibit!)

Some of our favorites...

Kristi Yamaguchi's skates
Football used in Coach Bryant's record-breaking game
Next we headed over to the Museum of American History.  On our way there, we realized that some serious set-up was going on right there on the Mall.  Turns out that George Washington University was having its commencement ceremonies there the next day!  Can you image graduating on the National Mall?  We caught some of it on TV the next morning.  Brian Williams of NBC News was the keynote speaker.  But anyway, back to the Museum of American History... lots of video and sound recordings (which the boys loved) as well as donations of personal items from the Presidents and their families.
Drew & Sister checking out the guitars.  There were a lot of artifacts from pop culture 
and the early days of rock and roll.
They had an amazing collection of classical instruments, as well.  
Here is one of their many "Strads"

While the boys were otherwise occupied, Stephanie and I went to the First Ladies exhibit. This dress belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln.  I walked past a picture of Mary Todd in this dress nearly everyday of my life, 1st through 6th grade.  But today was the first time I realized that it's purple!

From the 30's & 40's exhibit

My favorite item on display was behind this wall - THE Star Spangled Banner! The flag that was flying over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key wrote his famous poem. "O! Say can you see..."
Of course, no photography was allowed.Over the years this flag has been alternately hidden and displayed, people have snipped off bits for souvenirs, it has been mended and restored... and somehow it has survived.The exhibit also included a digital version of the flag on a touch screen and recordings of various artists performing our National Anthem.

There's a back story that goes with this picture, so bear with me.  Each time I go through American History with one of the kids, there are some impersonations that I do.  I do them because they are relevant, because I think they are funny, and because my children get so annoyed with me.  My three favorites are JFK (Ask not what your country can do for you...), Ronald Reagan (Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!) and FDR (The only thing we have to fear is... fear itself.)  So we get to the Exhibit on the Presidents, and they have this podium with a video screen and a teleprompter where you can re-deliver some of the  most well-known presidential speeches. Guess what the choices were?  My favorite three!  Of course I gloated, and my children groaned, and then I picked FDR and delivered my speech.  And my daughter stopped rolling her eyes long enough to take my picture.

Picnic lunch - well, OK, hot dog cart - and then on to the Museum of Natural History.  We saw all the stuff we expected to see - dinosaur bones, fossils, dead stuffed things - and they were amazing.

But there were some unexpected sights...
Unexpected sight #1 - The Hope Diamond
I had no idea this was here!  The picture doesn't do it justice.  Absolutely beautiful!
Unexpected sight #2 - Titanoboa
An ancient monster snake - enough said

Unexpected sight #3 - Butterfly Pavilion
A room filled with flowers and butterflies - and we got to walk through!
Butterflies were landing on Stephanie left and right
The little guy was a bit jealous and refused to leave until a butterfly landed on him. Here he is trying to coax one onto his finger.
We truly enjoyed all of the time we spent inside the museums of the Smithsonian.  So much to see... we only got a taste, but it was a good one!

Monday, May 28, 2012

We Step Foot On the National Mall

We have SO MANY pictures from this trip, it is hard to pick and choose.  Already I am thinking of pictures I want to add to day one!  Oh well.

Day Two

Our second morning in DC (my birthday!) started with a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Navy Memorial. I didn't even know this memorial existed until a few weeks before our trip. It was something I stumbled across as I was looking at maps, planning our days, walking routes, etc. It was especially powerful and important to us because Drew's father, a Navy veteran from WWII, recently passed away.

Next, we crossed over to the National Mall and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Lots to see and lots to do!  And we felt well prepared: Stephanie did a project on the "space race" between the USSR & America for her American History final; Samuel did a unit study on space and space travel in science this year; and we had watched Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian a few days before we left for DC... what more could you ask for?

The Apollo 11 Command Module!  (I'm geeking out)
This guy did a lot of "flying"
So did this guy, but on a more realistic level
The ancient astronomy exhibit was my favorite
Our picture with a Thermal Imaging Camera

How Things Fly

"And what planet is that?  And what planet is that?"
The big kids' favorite part of Air & Space was the flight simulator.  They were in a F-16 Fighting Falcon - Stephanie was the pilot and Samuel was the gunner.  The pilot turned them upside-down three times, while the gunner shot down an enemy plane with a heat-seeking missile!  Alas, no pictures allowed...

After lunch, we made our way to the National Archives.  I admit that when I planned the trip, I expected this to be a little boring for the kids - especially the boys.  But I was so excited about seeing THE Declaration of Independence, THE Constitution, etc., etc. that I figured they could just deal. It was my birthday after all :-) And being in that rotunda, with all the historical documents was amazing and very powerful - it was my favorite part of the entire day.  However, there was so much more to see and do there that everyone enjoyed the tour.  We stayed much longer than I could have imagined.  Of course, no photography.

We ended the day with a brief time at the Museum of the American Indian.  Definitely could have spent more time here; it will be top of our list next time we travel to DC.
There were exhibits for many of the Indian nations, each curated by members of the tribesOur time was limited, so we didn't get to see all of them, but this was one I made sure to see.  My Papaw Creighton always claimed to be Blackfoot.
A totem from the northwest and a statue of friendship, recognizing the help some tribes gave the colonists during the Revolutionary War.  (Yes, that's George Washington.)

We made our way back to the hotel with a stroll past Capitol Hill.  Another full day and we were ready to rest! And eat cheesecake; did I mention it was my birthday?