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This is what you get when you mix two toddlers, two border collies, a Shetland pony, two cats, a gaggle of turkeys, a former construction worker, a former lawyer and the family cattle ranch. Thanks for visiting. All images copyrighted. Do not use any text or image without permission.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

A Capital Experience

We emerged from the train in the bustling Union Station, Washington, DC.  Alice spied a cigar shop and made us stop so she could get daddy a present.  Coming out of Union Station we were greeted by the sun and green and flowers, a beautiful Spring day in Washington.  We got a car to our hotel, the Marriott Residence Inn at Dupont Circle.  It was an extended stay hotel near Embassy Row so there were people from all over there.  My kids kept noticing strange smells in the hallway that I'm pretty sure were just different ethnic foods.  We had two small bedrooms, each with a bath, and with a kitchen and living area in between.  We settled in to our room and then went for a walk.  Mom's apartment she had with Camille at 26th & O St. in Georgetown was just down the street.  We crossed Rock Creek Parkway on the P Street Bridge.  Where there had been an open park when Mumsy lived there was now a playground.  The kids were ecstatic.  They played for a while and then we walked up to Wisconsin Avenue, the main North South thoroughfare in Georgetown.  Everyone's tulips and flowering shrubs were in bloom.  We walked up Wisconsin and ate at a Mexican restaurant that could use some serious staff training.  Then we went to Thomas Sweet's for ice cream and Mumsy found a watch and jewelry shop.  On our way back to the hotel I noticed some plaques on some of the homes.  They showed firefighters or little water carts.  So, thanks to modern technology, I was able to look up what they were.  Insurance companies put them on buildings they insured so that their fire crews would know which buildings were that company's responsibility.  There weren't municipal fire crews at the time.  We settled in early so we could start off early the next morning.

Wednesday we got up early and got dressed in our good clothes.  Our hotel had a wonderful free breakfast buffet which was really nice as we didn't have to figure out breakfast every day (not to mention it was free after all the $100 breakfasts in NY).  We got a cab down to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving where security was tight.  We got to see a stack of $1,000,000 of $10 bills in the entry and then we got to watch the process of the intaglio printing.  They were printing 20s in one section and 5s in another.  The bills are printed 32 to a sheet, first the background color on both sides, then it has to cure for 72 hours, then the black and green intaglio printing on top.  Lastly, the serial numbers and seal are added.  Then it's cut and bundled.  We were on an enclosed catwalk with windows so we could really see it.  No photos were allowed.   After our tour, we walked around the Tidal Basin, first to Jefferson Memorial, then FDR and Martin Luther King, making our way to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a long walk for the kids.  They were complaining of being tired but as young kids are wont, they were still totally wired.  We got a cab to the Hay Adams Hotel where Mumsy treated us to a first class lunch surrounded by Washington movers and shakers, some of whom seemed to be talking extra loud on purpose, hoping that you found them important enough to eavesdrop.  I did learn there is a rumor that Senator Harry Reid did not fall down but rather got in a fistfight with his recovering alcoholic brother... oh the scandal!  Clyde and Alice wanted photos of the bread for their daddy.  After lunch we walked past the White House and then when it started looking like rain we caught a cab to the Russell Senate Office Building.  We had an appointment to meet Senator Risch.  He rolled out the red carpet for the kids, meeting with us first in his office and then taking them on the Senate subway to the Senate chamber (pushing the "Senators only" button on the elevator) where we got to sit on the non-public side of the chamber and watch as the votes on amendments to a human trafficking law were entered.  Risch's intern Barry took us on a tour of the capitol building where we got to see the two Idaho statues, the replacement for the (disappeared) original corner stone, and the first historic Senate chamber which is still used for classified secret sessions.  We came out the East side of the capitol where we could see the Supreme Court and Library of Congress across the street.  We headed back to the hotel.  Mumsy had a rest while the kids and I explored Dupont Circle and found dinner.  I decided to go back to the bookstore I hung out at as a teen with my family, Kramerbooks & Afterword (the cafe).  The cafe was much improved from 25 years ago.  We all got books after dinner and walked home.  

On Jefferson Memorial steps.

Photo by Clyde

Washington Monument through a bridge railing

 We were reading MLK Jr. quotes and explaining to the kids how he sought to right injustices through peaceful means and Elliott piped up, "Like Gandhi!"  So wonderful to spend time with these smart kids. 

Little Red Alice flanked by her blue striped boys.

Happy on the Senate subway

Idaho's first Governor Shoup

Idaho's Senator Borah

The compass rose at the official center of DC, all the streets are aligned to this point.  The brick at the left designates north.

Thursday we had to start super bright and early - 6 a.m. wake up.  We got our breakfast and hopped on the subway.  Dupont Circle has really long escalators.  The kids were a little spooked by them.  We got to Union Station and headed to bus terminal to board our tour bus taking us to Mt. Vernon for the day.  It was a cold windy day which made standing in line uncomfortable both at the bus station and at Mt. Vernon.  The driver was friendly and we were a small group.  We stopped in Alexandria on the way to see Christ Church which was George Washington's parish.  Then we made it to Mt. Vernon which has been really overhauled.  There is a nice orientation building and then at the end a full museum and education center that are fairly new.  I love Mt. Vernon because in addition to the historical significance of it being Washington's home it is a good example of a plantation for the kids to see.  We enjoyed the brisk walking around.  I was surprised to learn that one year Washington had over 650 guests.  The house had 9 bedrooms!  

Christ Church in Alexandria - we learned that one of the pallbearers at Washington's funeral was a George Wise - no idea if he's a shirttail relation of Elliott.

Washington's 16 sided treading barn

After Mt. Vernon the bus took us to Arlington National Cemetery where we road a tram.  Over 400,000 people are buried there.  It was beautiful with all the trees in bloom.  We got to watch the changing of guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  We wanted to see Iwo Jima but the walk would've made us miss the bus.  Despite our disappointment in missing Iwo Jima, we thought it was a good experience. The kids, especially Elliott, were very impressed with the solemnity of the changing of the guard even though it was hard to stay quiet for so long.

After hamburgers and milkshakes in Union Station we were back on the subway and home again....

Friday we got to sleep in a bit, making it to our arranged tour at the National Air and Space Museum at 10 a.m.  (which didn't materialize until about 10:30).  Our docent guide focused on firsts and we got to see the Spirit of St. Louis (first solo flight across Atlantic - Charles Lindbergh), the first moon landing vehicle (Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong), the first flight (Wright Brother's Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, NC).  The sheer scale of many of the space vehicles was impressive.  The kids participated in a paper airplane contest before we got hungry for lunch.  The crowds at Air and Space were overwhelming, so we hopped across the National Mall to the National Gallery of Art where we got to see some art and have a more civilized lunch.  Throughout the trip people commented on the children's good behavior.  Mumsy and I were also commended by the guard at the National Gallery for warning the kids before we entered the early American furniture exhibit that they couldn't touch.  He said rarely do people warn their kids or keep control of them.  So proud that our kids, while highly energized, could behave so well.  We got to see some famous paintings including works by Cassat, Monet, and Renoir.  We also saw sculptures by Degas.

We got home and rested up and got changed to go to dinner with Anya and Gregory Rolbin, Mumsy's friends who drove up from Virginia Beach.  We met at the hotel and went to Cafe Dupont, an upscale restaurant right on the Circle. 

The next morning we had our breakfast in the hotel and had lots of time before meeting Greg and Anya, so we got a taxi to take us to the last sights we wanted to see, Iwo Jima and the National Cathedral.  We got to go up Embassy Row first before seeing NCS and the Cathedral, driving by Idaho Avenue, Annunciation School and our first DC apartment.  Then we headed down through Georgetown, past the University and onto Key Bridge (pointing out where my apartment had been) before heading to Iwo Jima.  It was a fun drive and really made Mumsy and I remember our days in DC.  It was fun to see all the personal sights!

We met Anya and Greg back at the hotel and took the Metro to Eastern Market.  The area is very gentrified compared to 20 years ago.  It was fun to show them the indoor and outdoor areas of the market.  Anya bought them treats and little finger puppets.  Mom bought me a knock off bag.  We had a nice lunch too.  

Alice picked up the Style section on the Metro and kept it with her all day for reading material - "Mommy, where's my newspaper?"  That girl loves to read.

The kids favorite place in DC, the playground!  They love being together and playing.

What a special adventure for special children and their loving grandmother who is so interested in their development and learning.  My ranch kids got a good taste of city life and Clyde, especially, is already planning to return to NYC.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bright Lights, Big City

Mumsy funded and led an educational tour for the children to New York City and Washington, DC.  She arranged to take the three oldest children and myself for 10 days.

April 16 we departed from the Boise airport on an early flight going through Salt Lake City and Minneapolis in route to LaGuardia Airport in Queens.  We were able to find a play area in the Minneapolis airport to entertain the kids while we waited.

Upon arriving in New York, we got an arranged car, a minivan to accommodate all of us.  It was noisy and there was lots of traffic.  We had a Chinese driver.  Alice heard "cuss words" right off the bat, just as her dad had told her.  So even though she looks exhausted in the photo after a long day of travel, you can be sure her brain was still firing rapidly with all the new exciting stimuli in the big city!  She was really tuned into it.  We crossed the bridge into Manhattan and made our way to the Essex House, a JW Marriott property on Central Park South.  The lobby was beautiful with a big blue arrangement of hyacinth and other flowers.  We got two rooms at the end of the hallway that could be made to be adjoining by closing a door in the hallway.  It was quite luxurious.  Alice, Clyde and I shared one room and Mumsy and Elliott got the other.  We got settled in and headed to the restaurant where Aunt Catherine joined us, surprising everyone with gift bags.  She headed up to see our room and started jumping on the beds with the children before we all settled in for the night.

Our first full day in New York we got on the double decker bus tour to get our bearings and see the sights from a great vantage point above the hubbub of the crowd.  I loved getting close up to all the wonderful windows and architectural elements that aren't so visible from the street.  We'd hoped to avoid the hustle and bustle of Times Square, but right off the bat we had to change busses in Times Square.  The kids were amazed by the crowds and the crazies, including a woman in a thong and pasties and "Naked Cowboy" who thankfully had underwear and cowboy boots on.  We continued on to the Empire State Building where we met Catherine and headed up.  It was a foggy day so not the best visibility but the city looked beautiful shrouded in fog.  We could see downtown to the Freedom Tower and financial district, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, Stuyvesant Town (which I spotted but didn't know what it was until later on the bus ride).  It was windy at the top, but the kids enjoyed the view.  We hopped back on the bus and continued past the court and municipal building which were located around a central plaza and were majestic looking from our perch atop the bus.  We got off and walked over to the 9/11 Memorial and Tribute Center.  I really liked the new Freedom Tower building and it made me happy that they had built another skyscraper, it seemed victorious in a way.  The memorial fountains are wonderful in that they really gave me a feeling of vacancy and loss.  The water falls down into a hole you can't see the bottom of and the two fountains sit right where the foundations of the towers were.  They are massive and empty, surrounded by the names of all those lost, categorized by their role which made it so obvious how many first responders were lost doing their jobs and trying to save and recover the other victims.  The Tribute Center told about the history of the tower and had some artifacts and video stories.  We had a cursory visit, as much as I thought the kids could handle.  Catherine stayed around to get a tour from a survivor which she said was very moving but would've been too much for the children.  We continued walking down past Wall Street to Battery Park to get back on the bus which took us up through Chinatown and Little Italy and past the United Nations before we got off at Rockefeller Center and walked home to our hotel.  It was a full day!  The children settled in to have room service and hang out in the room with Mumsy while Catherine and I had dinner and attended Jane Elias's "Do This One Thing For Me", a one woman show about her relationship with her dad, a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.  It was moving and still funny, a great production.  After we went out with Jane (a fellow alum of Duke and my freshman hall) for some drinks.  It was a fun night.

On the 18th, the kids and I slept in while Mumsy and Elliott got schoolwork done and headed outside where the good weather prompted them to take a pedicab through Central Park.  They got to see the Balto statue which Elliott really enjoyed after learning about Balto in homeschool.  We got dolled up in dresses and seersucker suit and met them at Macy's for brunch and shopping.  The kids all got some wonderful new clothes and we had a long brunch in the bright and airy Trattoria Stella.  The waiter predicted Elliott will be a football player after seeing how much he could eat.  After Macy's, we all walked to Times Square for the matinee performance of The Lion King.  I was pleasantly surprised by it.  Alice bopped along to the music.  The sets and costumes were amazing.  We walked away from Times Square and got a cab home to the hotel.  We changed into play clothes and went to FAO Schwarz, explored all their offerings before getting some tea and a snack at their sweet shoppe.  We crossed over to Central Park and got a horse carriage ride.  The forsythia was out and the trees were starting to flower, it was sunny and warm, there were lots of people out enjoying Spring.  After our ride, we went to The Plaza Hotel basement food court and got some dinner, crepes and pasta.

Sunday we headed over to Pier 83 where 42nd Street meets the water on the west side.  We met Catherine there and boarded the Liberty Cruise.  We got a great view of the Manhattan skyline from the water.  I particularly liked seeing the contrast with the New Jersey side which had lower more spread out buildings, including the charming Lackawanna ferry terminal, where trains deliver people to the ferry boats to Manhattan.  We continued down right past Ellis Island to Liberty Island, getting great views of the Statue of Liberty from the comfort of a boat with seats rather than having to wait in line.  When we returned to Pier 83 we were approached by the harried/haggard driver of an aged gray stretch limo.  After a little negotiation, we hopped in to go to Catherine's neighborhood.  It was so funny to be in such a long car.  The kids were all excited about the television and I couldn't help think how filthy it all must be.  Alice even stretched out on the couch like seat, lounging there like some kind of rock star (her mother screaming "Ewwww" to herself).  The driver was really impressed and exclaimed, "Those are the best behaved children I've ever seen!" before giving them all his business card.  We went up to Aunt Catherine's and saw her apartment.  Alice crawled right up into the sunny windowsill like a cat.  The boys roughhoused and jumped on the bed.  She had lots of art and pretty rugs and a view of the Empire State Building.  She's on the 6th floor of a 6 story building and it was surprisingly quiet and bright - a perfect peaceful oasis in the city. We walked to a neighborhood restaurant that's actually owned by someone with Idaho connections that Mumsy knows.  "Cowgirls" is a perfect family spot with food to please children and fun 1940s cowgirl decor.  After that, we walked over to Washington Square Park where we listened to some jazz (one man played two trumpets at once!), watched these twins do a show where mostly they extorted money from the crowd before one of them jumped over a line of 5 audience members, and played on the play equipment.  From the park we walked to the subway and hopped on to go uptown. It was pretty crowded so at first we stood but once some people exited we were able to get seats.  I'm always surprised how rickety and clickety clackety the NY subway seems compared to DC.  It was a loud swaying ride to 68th St.  Then instead of heading north to 72nd, Catherine took us south to 64th because she really wanted Alice to see Alice's Tea Cup and Mumsy had wanted a cup of tea.  After a long wait with the kids entertaining themselves in a shopfront, we were seated and had treats and tea.  We proceeded on to Camille's when we were done.  To me, Camille's apartment will always be quintessentially NY, because it was the first place I ever was in NY.  It's small and has a garbage chute in the stairwell, an old dark elevator, and a small lobby with art nouveau clay tiles.  When I was little it was all pink (Camille said that was a rebellion after her divorce), but now the guest bedroom is green and the main rooms are yellow.  It is still cozy and comfortable with wonderful eclectic decorations including a lot of Bill's classic antiques and "Billy lamps".  The children had a blast playing with Bill while we got some time with Camille. They led us over to "The Beach" which Clyde kept playing jokes with.... "Elliott didn't you know we're going to the beach?"  It was a nice small restaurant with a pub feel with kelly green booth benches and yard umbrellas and string lights.  After dinner, we were treated to ice cream with hot fudge sauce back at Camille's before grabbing a taxi back to the hotel.

Monday we woke up to pouring rain.  We had planned to go to the National Museum of Natural History which was perfect for a rainy day.  Unfortunately thousands of other tourists had the same idea.  We waited in a long line before getting redirected under the entry steps to a confusing automated ticket booth in a wind tunnel.  Once we got inside we waited in the coat check line for 30 minutes before heading into the exhibits.  It was pure pandemonium.  We stuck together until Mumsy wanted tea (and should've stuck together longer).  The restaurant I directed her to was closed.  The children and I finished up and exhibit and headed to the line for the Hayden Planetarium show we had tickets for.  We waited and waited for Mumsy and I so regretted not sticking together.  Turns out she was in a different line.  We finally reunited and luckily the show was running slightly late so they let us in and we made it just in time.  It felt good to sit down.  The show, Dark Universe, was pretty deep and I don't think the kids could really fathom it, but they said they liked the space pictures they saw so that's good.  After that we headed to a special natural disaster exhibit.  Because it required tickets, it was less crowded which was nice.  Alice loved it.  She continues to be very interested in all kinds of natural disasters and it seems to have morphed to interest instead of worry as she learns more.  After a long long day in the museum, we headed home to the hotel and ate early in the restaurant.  I let the kids watch a movie (The Nut Job which had Elliott in a laughing fit) while Mumsy rested.  My college roommate Leah met us at the hotel where she got to meet the children and then we went down to the bar and got to catch up.

On Tuesday, we got up and went to breakfast at Cafe Europa for our third day in a row.  Once we found a (somewhat) affordable clean cafe with food everyone liked we stuck with it!  As it turned out, it was a regular hangout of Catherine's, close by her drawing classes.  She joined us and we headed back to the hotel and got our luggage and made the trek down to Penn Station.  I'm glad she came with us to get us to the best entrance and get settled and situated.  Schlepping bags was no fun. I wish we could've checked them, but we made it.  The Acela train is made for business passengers more than it is traveling families with lots of luggage. The first train car was crowded but we were fortunate to find a table for four in the next car.  I sat next to a liberal human rights organizer of some sort and it was kind of fun to hear him talking about political strategies in rural red states.  He was surprised I knew so much of what was going on in Idaho.  In their experience and polling, not many Idahoans were aware of the Add the Words campaign.  The children really seemed to like the train.  They learned it reaches up to 135 mph on the trip.

 Stay tuned for Part 2....