Archive for October, 2009

Seeing Mr. Smithson’s stuff – VA trip, Saturday morning

As mentioned earlier, there’s no way to see all of even one of the Smithsonian museums in a day, and we were tackling two.  Once in the Natural History museum, we decided to take it one floor at a time.  First floor:  live coral reef and mammals by continent.

The mammals were good, but the coral reef was GREAT!  In a large glass tank we could see dozens of corals, anemones, sea urchins, etc., plus there were loads of brilliantly colored fish swimming around.  It was beautiful and amazing – a good choice.

On the upper floors, we sought unsuccessfully for large displays of butterflies and/or sea shells.  We did find a few neat specimens of each in various places, but no large collection of either.  = (   However, in our ongoing search for sea shells and butterflies, we did locate some other cool insects and snakes of all sizes. . . and skeletons!

The Smithsonian has many more skeletons than you could shake a rib at.  They range from hummingbirds up to elephants and include everything imaginable (and a few things unimaginable) in between.  We were both fascinated and impressed by room after room after room full of skeletons.

As our time in Natural History wound down, we decided to take in gemstones.  The Hope Diamond is displayed in a special case, and it that same room are many other gorgeous pieces of jewelry.  However, neither Katie nor I are deeply into that stuff, so we bypassed the layered crowds around and near the Hope Diamond and wandered on back through the other minerals – the one that were just taken from the earth and not polished or cut.

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  For me, other than the live coral reef, NOTHING compared to those minerals.  I can’t even begin to describe them.  The shapes, the crystalline forms, the brilliance of the colors – Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  We could have spent another hour just admiring the amazing intricacy of the stuff God put underground.  I just can’t say enough about those minerals, but it was past noon and time to head to the Museum of American History.

(to be continued. . . )



From Sterling to D.C. – VA trip, Saturday

Saturday, Oct 3 – my 49th birthday!

I have figured out that people who work in Washington, D.C. have a mandatory minimum one-hour commute.  They must either drive themselves into town (45 minutes fighting beltway traffic + 15 minutes trying to find a parking place) OR take the Metro (30 minute drive to station + 30 minute subway ride).  We chose the latter.

Both of us had been to the Smithsonian several times before.  In fact, Katie and her friend, Nicole, had been there only two or three weekends earlier.  Given that, it was REALLY special for her to take me there again.  = )  We had decided that we would attempt to do the Natural History Museum in the morning and the American History Museum in the afternoon.  Of course, those were admittedly ludicrous goals; one could very easily kill a full day in either one,  but we decided we would only endeavor to peruse the things that were of great interest to us, so we’d be able to skip much and save lots of time.  It was a nice thought.

We hoped to arrive at the first museum around 10:00 or 10:30 AM, so we left Fairfield Inn at 9:00 AM, drove to the nearest Metro Station (the one at the far west end of the line from D.C.), with effort found our way into a parking garage, bought our tickets (boy, am I glad Katie was there to negotiate that machine for me!), and stood on the platform awaiting our train. As we waited, some other tourists appeared, and one gentleman asked Katie something about if he and his wife were going to the Smithsonian, should they get off at the Smithsonian station or the Federal Triangle Station.  Seemed obviously the former to me, and of course Katie and I were traveling paperless (we had no Metro map), but when Katie pored over his Metro and D.C. map, she ascertained that it we would all actually do better to get off at Federal Triangle – which we did.  In fact, we emerged into sunlight (though rain had been forecast for the whole day) less than two blocks from the Natural History Museum, and we didn’t even have to hike across the Mall.  How pleasant!

(to be continued. . . )


I forgot to say that the glasses were found

I found them the morning after I posted their loss.  They were on the lower shelf of my nightstand, behind a pair of tennis shoes.  Go figure.

In other lost and found news, I, the keeper of our kids’ mime team’s presentation gloves, went to get the glove box out a couple days ago, because the team had a presentation scheduled for today.  I went to where the glove box should be (up on the shelf in the playroom) and to my complete dismay, there were no team gloves there at all.

This was highly disconcerting, as I didn’t know if we had enough spare gloves to prepare a set for our now very large (19?  20?) team.  The children and I looked high and low – literally  – all over the playroom, Jessica’s room, the attic, our office, the pantry, the cellar, Jessica’s car, the van, and Andrew’s room.   We didn’t venture into Josiah’s room, because it’s a war zone in there.

No team gloves.

Now, these gloves are really hard to lose.  They were stored in a clear box that’s about 12″ by 8″ by 16″ high.  It’s not a small box.  It won’t fit under a bed.  It’s not the kind of thing that could just vanish from sight beneath or behind something else.   Realizing that I had responsibility to provide a lot of gloves in various sizes in two days, I pulled out all the new and/or extra gloves and started sorting and labeling them.  I was able to scrounge together enough, but some of them were those old baggy ones that won’t really stay on. I also went to Wal-Mart and bought another box to store/carry them in.

Back in the playroom, labeling the new box, and with gloves in three styles and four sizes spread all over the ping-pong table, I looked again up at the shelves surrounding me.  We store lots of an hand-me-down clothes for Andrew to grow into up there.  I scanned the marked boxes for the umpteenth time and my eyes landed on a U-Haul box (from our move 13+ years ago) that was neatly labeled “Misc Homeschool Books”  – in my dad’s handwriting!

Now, we do re-use boxes ad nauseum, but I can tell you that NO box in the playroom contains any homeschool books.  All our book are in the library, or in our office, or on the buffet, or on the dining room shelf, or any number of other places they’ve been set or left, but NOT in the playroom.  U-Haul boxes are really nice (to those of us who lust after storage in either the cardboard or plastic persuasions) and we had surely put something else in that one, but why on earth would anyone shelve a box with an old label out?!?  Either the box was empty, or else it contained something and whoever put it away labeled it and then shelved it with the label hidden.  Of course, there is one other logical possibility, but I’m sure that NO ONE in our family would EVER fill a box and shelve it without labeling it at all.

My curiosity piqued, I HAD to find out what was in that box.  I reached up and jiggled it, and it didn’t feel like it was full of clothes.  In fact, it felt kind of empty, with a roomy feel as I shook it.  I pulled it down.  Shock and awe for sure – someone had put it away without even folding shut the top flaps!  In the box sat the missing glove box, full of snow-white, sweet-smelling gloves, neatly clipped in pairs and color-coded by size.  Who’da thunk?

I was thrilled to have found the missing gloves and quickly reported their reappearance to those who were looking and praying with me, but I have not yet figured out WHO put the glove box inside another box and then shelved it so that only an eight-foot tall being could ever tell there were gloves in it, or WHY whoever it was did such a thing.  Was s/he trying to play a cruel trick on me?  Or maybe the spiders carried it up there at night?  Perhaps it’s just one of those hidden mysteries that will never be solved, but I can tell you that the gloves are now stored on a low shelf where I (and every one else in the family) can clearly see them at all times.

No more tests

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  Jessica has completed both the SAT and the ACT and she will never take either ever again in her natural life.   Scores on the SAT are expected circa October 31, and ACT scores will arrive by postal mail in “five to eight weeks.”

Will drive for food – VA trip, Friday evening

Well, it turns out there was a reason why we were driving counter to all the rest of the traffic as we left Mt. Vernon:  we were going the wrong way!  We were actually headed straight into D.C. on a Friday night, instead of heading west OUT of D.C. to our fine abode in Sterling.  However, navigatrix cum laude found a three-state map of the Carolinas and Virginia in one of Katie’s door pockets, and ascertained that if we continued north of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, we would eventually hit something that would take us to I-495, which is the inner beltway loop.  We’d be coming in at the south part of the loop and could follow it west and then north to Highway 7.  7 goes west out of D.C., and from it we could take 28 south, find Old Ox Road and be home free, so to speak.

We followed that plan, found 7 west (which looks and acts like a freeway in those parts), and realized with the clock pushing 7:00 PM that we were both quite hungry.  Not to worry:  Scott had given me a generous meal allowance, and I decided that this was the night for us to splurge and enjoy our one non-fast-food dinner.  We weren’t aware of any Golden Corrals in the Greater D.C. metroplex, but Katie, who could subsist for a semester on chicken fingers, said that Italian sounded good, “like maybe. . . Olive Garden!”  That sounded good to me, too, and just then one of those nifty blue signs announced “FOOD NEXT EXIT.”

As we exited, I noticed that there were arrows indicating food to the right or the left.

Katie:  “Which way do you think we should turn?”

Me (scanning rapidly):  “Uh. . . how about left?”

She turned left and we started looking for food.  Usually, when one exits a freeway at a ramp announcing FOOD, one can see the Golden Arches or the KFC bucket or something like that just a few blocks from the freeway.  We did not see any such. In fact, the road we turned left onto (four-lane, divided, like all roads in northern Virginia) looked dark and neighborhood-ish.  However, we were optimistic.  Perhaps we’d have to travel a bit, and beyond the residential stuff, we’d come to the colorful neon stuff.  I said, “Let’s go about a mile.  If we don’t find any food by then, we can turn around and go back, because it said FOOD to the right, as well.”

We went a mile.  We couldn’t believe that there had been no food thus far; surely it would appear just over the next hill.  Lots of people how lived in the residential areas off this four-laner were coming home from work.  There were stop lights every few blocks.  Traffic was not zipping merrily along.  We were probably averaging 28.7 miles per hour, and the situation continued to look bleak, when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a pair of gold arches, so high and so clear.

Neither of us wanted McDonald’s; we wanted REAL FOOD, but just past that lone fast food joint was a Safeway!  Aha.  The mystery solved at last.  There was FOOD to the left, but it wasn’t food-served-ready-to-eat.  It was the kind of food that you bought, took home, cooked and then ate.  Well.  7:30 was coming upon us and trust me, neither of us was about to cook that night!

We turned around and very slowly made our way back to the Highway 7 overpass.  Now that we were heading “to the right,” we were sure to find lots of restaurants just waiting to take my plastic.  At least we can claim to be eternally optimistic, because we drove three miles that direction before coming upon anything edible at all, and what we found at the three-miles-to-the-right point was a Giant, which is another supermarket.  So, my analysis had been correct.  In northern Virginia, the blue highway signs that say FOOD NEXT EXIT mean that a grocery store is located an unknown number of miles off the freeway at that exit.  Now you know.

Hungrier and somewhat discouraged, we plodded back to Highway 7 and got on in the westerly direction.  It continued to be a divided highway, but I guess we were entering yet another city.  (Cities, towns, villages, and incorporated areas are strung like pearls along Highway 7.  It’s basically one big long metro area, with occasional signs indicating that you have entered a different jurisdiction. )  It may have been Tyson’s Corner, and no, I don’t know what Tyson did there or which corner he did it on.

So, we’re tooling through Tyson’s Corner and it’s nighttime, and the area is like those places just a few blocks removed from downtown in major cities.  The buildings are high, but not skyscrapers.  It looks like downtown, but there’s no parking along the streets.  There are fancy boutique type shops in the ground-level floors of some of the taller buildings.  It’s a night life kind of place.  And suddenly on the far left corner, in the first floor of what looks like it might be a hotel, IS AN OLIVE GARDEN!!!  As I live and breathe.

The traffic dodging queen zipped into the left lane, whipped around a corner and into a parking garage and there we were.  It was quarter to eight, and neither of us could truly believe that after driving and steadily searching for food – any food! – for over an hour, we had stumbled upon the one restaurant Katie had wanted most.  Yes, we were in jeans and t-shirts, but yes, we strode right in like we owned the place and had a very nice meal.  And yes, Katie had chicken.  And cheesecake minus the raspberry sauce for dessert.

So, full and happy at last, we did continue our drive west, and after much more time we did come to our hotel, where we did play a grand game of Hail to the Chief which I lost miserably, and it was to all a good night, during which Katie slept ten hours and I slept something less than that.

Lost and found?

News Flash!  Scott’s glasses have gone AWOL.  If you see them wandering aimlessly, kindly return them to us ASAP.

Mt. Vernon – VA trip, Friday afternoon

Friday, Oct 2

We didn’t have a map, but I guess in 2009 that is not a problem.  I had had the foresight to print out directions from Purcellville to Mt. Vernon, so while my excellent chauffeur deftly dodged the traffic, I navigated us successfully to our destination.  I think it was about an hour or so drive, but some 15 minutes into it, I asked her if she had the tickets she had purchased on the family credit card a week or so ago.  “Hmmm. . . now that might be a problem.  I forgot to print them out.”  Well.  We discussed our options and decided that (since Robertses never go back – ha ha!) we would press on, hoping the Mt. Vernon folks would be able to locate her payment in their computer, and if not, she would pay for a new set of tickets.

We did pretty well at following our printed directions, and we did, yea and verily, arrive at the gates of Mt. Vernon.  There, Katie explained our ticket conundrum to the very nice lady-behind-glass.  She indicated that without tickets we would be unable to enter the grounds, and this would be a significant problem, as intricate hedges and stone walls effectively prevent you from seeing even a glimpse of anything Mt. Vernon-ish without a ticket.

Katie asked the lady-behind-glass if she could look up our electronic payment.  There was some hemming, a bit of hawing, and much grinding of computer gears, and shortly she triumphantly announced that yes, we had paid, and yes, she could print out our tickets, so yes, we could go in.  Our God is merciful (and so was the lady-behind-glass)!

We spent several really fun and interesting hours touring parts of the place.  We walked through the main house – amazing.  Mr. Washington loved bright blues and greens, so several of the room were painted very deep and bold colors.  They were ornate, lavishly furnished, beautifully decorated.  We oohed and ahhed appropriately.

We relaxed in the rockers on the “back” porch, watching the Potomac River flow along.   Then we roused ourselves and strolled among and through many of the other buildings.  I didn’t realize that Mt. Vernon was more like a small village than what I think of as a farm.  Cobblers, blacksmiths, spinners and weavers, coopers, gardeners, cooks, and many, many more each had their own buildings for living and working.  Just the fact that all those buildings are still standing after some 250 years is remarkable.

We walked through intricate gardens where George Washington had instructed his slaves to experiment with various flowers, fruit trees, vegetable plants.  He had an incredible mind and was interested in many different disciplines.

One of the things I most enjoyed at Mt. Vernon was “meeting” Lady Washington.  She sat in a rocking chair in one of the restored cottages and told us all about her life with The General.  The setting was a few months before he died, although she surely didn’t realize how soon that would occur. She spoke completely extemporaneously, simply answering whatever questions we visitors posed.  She was truly a delight, and I learned a lot about her famous and noble husband.  We visited for about 20 minutes, but I could have listened to her for two hours.

Having neither the time nor inclination to do the full hike down to the wharf and back, we completed our time at Mt. Vernon with a stroll through the orchard to the General’s and Mrs. Washington’s graves.  Afterward, I stopped in the gift shop for a souvenir book.  = )

As we left the parking lot, we noticed that ALL the traffic was going to the left in an exceedingly long and slow-moving line.  We were really glad that we needed to go to the right, where there was no traffic at all.  We tooled merrily along the George Washington Memorial Parkway and wondered why we were so blessed to be traveling opposite all the rest of northern Virginia.

(to be continued…)