Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Capitol Fourth

Watching Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall is a bucket list sort of thing for some people. It sounded like an adventure to us too, but one we didn't end up checking off.

We'd been watching news reports all week that predicted terrorist attacks somewhere in the US on the Fourth of July.  Just the night before, I heard a man on CNN say, "I won't be at all surprised if come Monday, we are talking about an attack that has taken place over the weekend."  I will admit to feeling a bit uneasy as we left our hotel room on that rainy morning.

In preparing for our DC trip, I contacted our senator to arrange tickets for tours of the US Capitol and the White House.  I submitted the dates we would be in town and then we waited to be given our tour assignment.  Just three weeks before we left on the trip, we were given our tickets by the senator's office. Our tour of the capitol was scheduled for 10:10 on Independence Day.  This wasn't my first choice since I knew it might interfere with some of the other holiday events that were taking place, but you take what you can get. 

We were denied tickets for a White House tour.  (Evidently those are extremely hard to come by and even though I requested them well in advance, we just weren't among the lucky ones.)

After the tour, when the rain had cleared.

The scaffolding surrounding the capitol's rotunda was a disappointing eyesore.  Some time ago, it was discovered that there were numerous cracks that were in dire need of repair.  We learned that this project has been, and will continue to be, going on for quite some time.  

The capitol tour is short, but well done.  It begins with an orientation film and then the group is split up among a number of guides.  Since multiple tours are conducted simultaneously, each person is given a headset, which makes it very easy to hear your assigned guide.

The "donut"--as it has been affectionately named by those who work in the building--on the ceiling, evidently protects visitors from falling debris while repairs are being made.

The Apotheosis of Washington, painted on the ceiling and symbolizing our first president having achieved the status of a god, can still be seen peeking through the donut's center.

Each state is allowed to contribute two statues of people who are considered valuable to their history.

We're from Washington state, but we were obviously fond of Utah's tribute to Brigham Young:

This statue, Statue of Freedom, is an exact-size replica of what is the crowning feature of the capitol's dome:

We enjoyed our tour.  After a brief look through the gift shop, we started to walk toward the same doors through which we had entered--where there had been airport-like security.  We were stopped from exiting, however, by a rather large group of police officers who were forming a blockade in front of the doors.  We wandered around for about 20 minutes before we were guided to an alternative exit--one tourists don't normally use.  None of the officers or tour guides were exactly forthcoming with answers to my questions.  "Are we safe?" I finally asked.  I was assured that we were, but told that a suspicious package was being investigated.

By this time, the holiday parade had begun several blocks away.  We walked along the staging area and a few blocks along the route, but the crowd had been well established for quite some time and we decided we just didn't have it in us to search for a spot to insert ourselves among the throngs.

Uncle Sam in staging area.

We decided to visit the White House visitor's center since we weren't able to take a tour.  We waited and waited for a bus before we realized that we could walk there faster than if we continued to wait.  

Not the real White House.  Just a model. (Jon's "clever" caption.)

The visitor's center was interesting and Natalie enjoyed being sworn in as a Deputy US Park Ranger. She earned this "honor" by completing a booklet by finding answers to riddles in the museum.

Since our only previous view of the White House had been from a distance, we decided then, to walk about a half a block to get a closer look.  We could see the crowd of tourists ahead, taking their pictures of the President's home and workplace.  We were steps away from getting that view when Secret Service stepped in.

"I'm sorry folks, we are closing down this area. You need to turn around and go the other way."

With that we were ushered away from the White House.

We turned the corner to see this vehicle headed in the direction of the White House:

The drivers didn't seem to be in too much of a hurry and one even waived at us, but we were unnerved.  We'd been turned away by police officers two times in less than two hours.  We didn't feel panicked, but definitely uneasy.  We all agreed it was time to call it a day.  We were done with walking.  Done with crowds.  Done with bomb scares.  So we made our way to the nearest metro station--which was almost another mile!

I did laundry.  The kids and Jon went to the hotel pool.  It was nice to be away from the crowd, but it did feel weird not taking advantage of being in DC on the Fourth.

Because the Nationals had a save the night before, our game tickets were each good for one free Chick-Fil-A sandwich.  Five free chicken sandwiches!  We really love Chick-Fil-A.  It's even better when it's free.

It was raining quite heavily when we left the shopping mall where we cashed in our game tickets for chicken. None of us liked the idea of returning to the National Mall.  Too crowded.  Too wet. Possible bombs.  But we didn't like the idea of completely missing the fireworks either.

When the rain let up, we decided to view the show from a distance.  We hopped on the metro, went to Arlington Park, found a spot on a pedestrian bridge and waited for the fireworks.

The fireworks were far more spectacular than this lame picture, but I'm sure our view was much more lame than being at the National Mall and hearing the Overture of 1812 accompanying the explosions.

So did we really experience DC on the Fourth?  Not really.  We did it all from a distance.  Do I regret it?  Kinda.  Was it still a good holiday?  Yes!  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Put Him in Coach, He's Ready to Play!

The day started with a rather quiet and reverent visit to Arlington National Cemetery.

Our first stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The precision with which the sentinels "walk the mat" is mesmerizing.  They seem to glide over the walkway as they take exactly 21 steps with each pass and click their shoes at every turn.

The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  At the changing of the guard ceremony, which happens every 30 minutes during summer months, a new solider is brought out to repeat the exact ritual.  It is considered one of the highest honors to serve in this capacity and very few soldiers successfully complete the rigorous requirements of earning the Tomb Guard Identification Badge.

Here are the Kennedy's graves, marked by an eternal flame:

The Arlington House, the house once owned by Robert E. Lee:

We stopped by the  Iwo Jima Marine Corps War Memorial before returning to hotel to drop off our rental car for the rest of the day.

Our hotel was about a quarter mile from a metro station.  We walked there and rode the metro train into DC to see the Air and Space Museum.  Natalie, who'd not been crazy about all of the museums we'd been visiting, was thrilled with this one.  The kids were interested in finding the Amelia Earhart plane that is featured in the movie, "Night of the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."

Then Caleb, Alyssa and I walked across the mall to the Natural History Museum since we hadn't seen enough of it when we'd been there a couple of days prior.  Natalie and Jon took a museum break for a bit.

I thought the ban on selfie-sticks was hilarious:

 The Smithsonian museums really are remarkable and it simply amazes me that they are free!

After a quick stop at the Smithsonian Castle, we got on a metro train headed for Nationals Park.

If the day before had been my favorite day in DC, this evening held my favorite moment.

Though Natalie was not amused, the rest of us thought it was great that the team's nickname is the "Nats."  

N-A-T-S, let's go Nats!  We loved chanting this cheer--it was even posted on a permanent sign in the stadium--in Natalie's direction, which she found quite annoying.

I'll tell you what I thought was annoying: VERY long and inefficient lines.  I left the game in the second inning to go get food for my two older kids and me.  (Jon took care of himself and Natalie before the game started which proved to be a very wise decision.) By the time I had gotten what everyone wanted, it was the 7th inning!

They did have a gluten free grill, however, which I've never seen at a sporting venue before.  That was cool.  It had the shortest line.  But Lys also had her heart set on a Shake Shack shake.  That line was ridiculously long!  If it weren't for the fact that it was lightly raining and standing in line meant I had cover overhead, I probably wouldn't have agreed to wait in it.

In between lines I walked near the field to watch the presidents run.  So clever!  There's George, Abe, Tom and Teddy (Calvin was also just introduced to the crew):

It was fun to be in a new major league stadium, but by the time I got back to my seat and the rain had just stopped, I was adamant that this experience was just not comparing to my familiar Safeco.

Within moments of sitting down, there was a massive crack of the bat and thunderous roar of the hometown crowd rising to their feet.

Once I caught sight of the trajectory of the ball, I could swear it was soaring straight for my head.  Jon tells a different story.  He saw it coming directly toward him, two seats over.  My natural instincts kicked in: I ducked and covered my head with my hands!  Jon's natural instincts lead him to reach out his massive man hands and nab that ball bare-handed.

The crowd went wild!

Section 142 celebrated their new hero with high fives all around!

Once I realized I was still alive and my head in tact, I joined the celebration too.

And our family was displayed all over jumbotrons and national TV.

It was a big moment.  A surreal moment.  A hurry-up-and-post-this-on-Instagram moment!

My heart was still pounding when I took this picture with shaky hands:

But before I could post the above picture, I received a text from a friend who lives in Utah.  It said, "Um...I just saw you guys on TV!!!!!"  And she sent this picture she'd taken of her TV screen:

This game was the featured game on ESPN that night and my friend's husband had been watching it from Utah.  He first noticed the Y on Jon's hat and then noticed who we were.  He called to his wife to come and see who had just caught the home run ball.  She said she watched the footage and "started screaming and jumping up and down" along with us.

The celebration went on stadium-wide for quite some time.  The hitter, Clint Robinson, had just recently started emerging as the Nationals' new star.  His two-run home run put the Nationals in the lead.  The cheering continued until Robinson came out of the dugout for a curtain call tip of the hat. And the replay, with Jon's catch, was shown multiple times.

The strangers around us continued to congratulate Jon throughout the rest of the game and expressed concerns for his hand while passing around the ball, inspecting his new souvenir.  While he said it did sting when he caught it, Jon insisted his hand was totally fine.  Many of our newfound friends wanted a copy of the above picture, so I was texting it all around.

Here's the footage of that exciting moment:

And the ESPN footage my friend videoed off of her TV:

They each show slightly different perspectives and are so fun to watch!

When I texted my sister to tell her we had just been on TV, she went online searching for the footage. She took this picture of her TV screen.  It's blurry, but shows the moment Jon caught the ball.  Look at Alyssa!  I was not the only one to duck and cover.  She's still holding her hands over her head!  It appears I was still awakening from my terrified shock and hadn't yet made it to my feet to join the party.  Natalie and Caleb on the other hand are elated!  I think this proves that that ball must've been coming towards Jon, yes, but on the side of Alyssa and me.  (Directly at my head!) Natalie and Caleb clearly never felt any danger.

Such an incredible moment, such a fun night.

It was topped off with with a patriotic fireworks display.

And we rode the metro back to our hotel flying higher than a kite.  

George and Abe

Visiting George Washington's Mt. Vernon was easily a D.C. highlight for all of us.  We learned so much about the Father of Our Country.

We started with a tour of his mansion.  We saw the bedroom where he died rather suddenly of a throat infection and in his study was the very chest he used to carry his belongings throughout the Revolutionary War.  We even saw his dentures.

No photography is allowed in the mansion, but this internet picture shows the "new room", which the Washington's used to entertain.  Mt. Vernon underwent many expansions during Washington's life and he called this the "new room" because it was one such addition.  It makes up the left wing of the house.  Green paint, we learned, was exceptionally expensive in those days, so these brightly colored walls are a sign of his wealth.  

The back side of the house has a stunning view of the Potomac River.

Washington had over 300 slaves.  I thought it quite sobering to view their living quarters.  We saw Washington's vast farmland and gardens and outbuildings where his slaves would've labored from sunup to sundown. Also on the estate is a slave cemetery.

One of Washington's carriage houses:

Lush green grass in every direction:

We paid our respects at the tomb of George and Martha:

Included in the Mount Vernon experience is an outstanding museum and educational center.  It's exceptionally well done, with forensically reconstructed wax figures depicting Washington at three stages of his life.  The center also shows three fantastic movies, one of which was a multimedia experience; two screens, one smaller and circular in shape, are used to tell the story of the Revolutionary War.  Fog surrounds the screens when Washington and his Continental Army cross the Delaware River in the middle of the night, and snow falls inside the theater when they are at Valley Forge.

When all was said and done, we'd spent four hours exploring George's estate.

Just up the way a few miles, toward Washington D.C., is Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.  This would've been the nearest town to Washington's home and it was here that he attended church regularly.  It's a beautiful, historic place with lots of modern shops.

We're used to seeing Starbucks on every corner, but they don't usually have such a colonial flair.

We planned to stop at Pops Old Fashioned Ice Cream Company for a treat.

When we saw a free trolley come by, we decided to hop on.

We rode the trolley several blocks and got off at Christ Church, where George Washington's box pew is still marked by a metal plate with his signature.

A sweet older lady had us sit in his pew while she shared facts of the church.  I assumed the doors on the box pews were used to keep children from running around the chapel and thought that we in our church should adopt that practice.  We learned, however, that these box pews were used to give families privacy to worship "according to the dictates of their own conscience."  People had come to America for religious freedom and there were differences in how they each worshipped.  So interesting!

Then it was time to turn our attention to our 16th president.

First we visited the Peterson House, across the street from Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was taken after he was shot by John Wilkes Booth.  We saw the room where he died and then made our way through exhibits also in the building.

We then were admitted to the Lincoln museum that is in the basement of the theatre before seeing a short two-man play about the events of that fateful day.  The picture below shows the stage and the box seats on the right, where Lincoln was sitting.  The play, told from the perspective of the theatre owner and lead actor of the play Lincoln had been viewing that day, was very well done.

Our next stop was the National Museum of American History.  It was near closing time, so we didn't get to see nearly as much as we would've liked, but we found the sunstone from the Nauvoo temple and the museum's most significant artifact, the original Star-spangled Banner.

Of course no photography is allowed, but it looks like this:

It is said that General George Armistead ordered a flag so large "that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance."  Mary Pickersgill (not Besty Ross) sewed the enormous 42' x 30' flag. Though it has deteriorated over the years, the flag has been painstakingly preserved.  What a special experience to visit Ft. McHenry and then view the very flag that flew there and inspired our national anthem!

When we were kicked out of the museum at closing we decided to walk to the Washington Monument for a close-up look.

It had been an overcast day, but just as the sun was setting, the clouds parted on the horizon and cast an exquisite golden light on the National Mall.

We had to walk the long way to visit Abe.  The area nearest the reflection pool was fenced off in preparation of Independence Day.

Look at this gorgeous sunset:

On our way to the Lincoln Memorial, we snapped this picture of the White House.  It would be as close as we would get to it during our D.C. stay.  More on that later.

It's hard to really appreciate the grandeur of this memorial until you are standing before it.

One of the president's hands is clenched to symbolize his strength and determination, the other relaxed hand is representative of his warm, compassionate nature.  

Lys and I decided to break out the selfie stick.  Everyone else was doing it.  But then this best-ever photo bomb happened:

I mean, really.  We were trying to get the Washington Monument in the background, but at the last second, this boy who even appears to be mimicking the shape of the very object we were trying to capture, popped up in its place.  

So we tried again.

Though it was probably too juvenile and slightly disrespectful to Abraham Lincoln, I actually smiled when I saw Caleb sliding down this marble incline:

The sun was setting and we were famished, having not eaten a meal since breakfast.  We made the long walk back to our car by way of the Vietnam Memorial.  By the time we were seated at District of Pi Pizzeria (voted by the family as our favorite meal of the week) is was 10:00 p.m.

 Though I hate to pick favorites, of all our days in D.C. this one was it.