Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Vacation 2015 Came to a Close

I'll try to not to repeat myself today, but I'm not making any promises. Our vacation drew to a close over the weekend. Our last day in DC was Saturday. We packed up, loaded up and hit the metro for one last ride into the city. We had seats in the grand stands for the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade.

The parade started at 10:00 a.m. and we were close to the section where the performers stopped to sing a song or dance a jig. It was definitely the best parade we have ever seen which I guess isn't saying much since we've only ever been to parades in Huntsville. It lasted about two and a half hours and had a lot of great marching bands (my favorite) as well as floats, and some of those large balloons that they have in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. There were also celebrity performers, including Lance Bass formerly of NSYNC! There were other "celebrities" but I wasn't really familiar with them.

Once the parade was over, we caught the metro back to the station, jumped in the car and made our way southwest. We stopped for gas and food about two hours into our drive before arriving in Abingdon around 7:00 p.m. We checked into the hotel and unloaded our bags before we made a return trip to the Barter Theater for another live production. This time we saw "Anything Goes" and it was great! We laughed so hard I was actually doubled over at times.

On Sunday we went to church and then went to the grassy knoll by the Martha Washington hotel for a free bluegrass concert from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. After the concert, we went back to the hotel and watched some of the Masters before going to dinner and another play. Sunday night's play was called "The Gnome". It had apparently won some play writing competition in Virginia and it was by far the worst play I think I have ever seen. I think we both wish we could have our money back on that one.

Monday morning, we left Abingdon around 10:00 a.m. and headed South. We made a stop in Chattanooga at Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls. I'm sure I've probably been there before, but I don't recall. It had been raining quite a bit recently and so the falls was actually flowing pretty well. I didn't know it was underground and so it was a pretty interesting journey into the cave to see the falls.

We made it home around 4:30 p.m. or something like that. I honestly am not sure what time we finally landed in Huntsville. It was another good vacation and time well spent on the road of adventure. I'm blessed to have these memories with my dad.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus made an appearance at the parade! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More About The Zoo and Mount Vernon Too

Well, I'm back home in Alabama, but I have some catching up to do on the blog as I need to finish the tale of our DC vacation.

After our late night at the hockey game, we opted for a late morning on Thursday. We had breakfast at the condo before heading out to the city. Our first stop of the day was the National Zoo which is operated by the Smithsonian and therefore, free! We spent almost six hours there walking around and looking at the animals. It was a cold day and so not all the animals were out and about. I assume some of them opted to stay inside instead of braving the cold.

There were elephants, orangutans, lions and cheetahs, seals and sea lions, reptiles, birds, the list goes on and on. I think the most interesting part for me was a demonstration and lesson about orangutans in the think tank center. At the National Zoo, the orangutans have a set of cables that they will swing on to get from the ape house to the think tank where researchers study them. They are free to go back and forth as they choose and I found that to be very interesting and a nice way to give the animals some freedom.

When we finished up at the zoo, we went to Ford's Theater, but unfortunately it was sold out and there was a line that seemed like it was a mile long. I don't know if I mentioned it, but there were so many children and people in DC while we were there. It must have been spring break for a lot of kids in the country because everywhere we went, it was packed.

Since we couldn't get into Ford's Theater, we headed to the Tidal Basin to check on the progress of the Cherry Blossoms and take some photos. The blossoms had finally bloomed and they were so beautiful. I just realized I already mentioned the zoo and the cherry blossoms, but since I've written all of this, I'm just going to leave it. I guess it's been so long since I've written I've forgotten what I've written about! So sorry, y'all!

Friday we went to Mount Vernon. We got there a little before noon and our tour was scheduled to start at noon. The weather apps said it was going to be in the high 70s so we wore shorts and y'all, it was freezing! I don't think it got about 50 that day. Other than freezing, the trip was very enjoyable and probably one of my favorite things about our trip. There is so much to see on the estate and they have built a museum and an interactive area that has a lot of short films about George Washington. We spent about five hours there which ended up being perfect because we had dinner reservations at the Mount Vernon Inn at 5:00 p.m.

The dinner was good and the atmosphere was also nice. We had eaten there for lunch when I was a kid and I was glad we were able to do that again. After dinner, we caught the bus back to the metro station and then headed to the condo for out last night in the DC area.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

More About Our DC Vacation

Well, our DC vacation has continued to keep us busy the last couple of days. On Wednesday we got out early and went to the Supreme Court. The judges see cases on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through April and so we were hoping to catch them in action, but apparently, like Congress, they must have  had a break for Easter because no cases were being heard. We did get to tour the building, see the courtroom and watch a video about the judges and the system. It was all very interesting and I'm glad we made this one of our stops.

After leaving the Supreme Court, we stopped by the Library of Congress and did a quick self-guided tour. There really wasn't a whole lot you could see, but the building is quite lovely as is the one reading room we were able to view.

Our next stop was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum which was the best of the three Smithsonian museums that we toured. I've got to be honest, the Smithsonian's are way different than I remember them being as a child. I remember being in awe as a child and this time around I could take it or leave it. All of the exhibits now seemed geared towards children (which could be why I remember loving it so much) and there are thousands of people wandering about and there's no order to anything and it really will drive a Type A like me a little nuts.

When we finished up at the museum, we headed back to the condo for a few hours and took a nap. I realize that sounds lame, but we have walked and walked and walked and were tired and had a long night ahead of us. We left the condo about 5:40 p.m. to meet my college friend Casey at the Verizon Center by 6:45 p.m. for the Washington Capitols vs. Boston Bruins hockey game. Once we were at the game, we had some trouble getting in because of a ticket system crash, but eventually made it in and enjoyed a win by the Caps.

Thursday we went to the National Zoo which was quite enjoyable. Not all of the animals were out and about, but the ones that were meandering about were pretty active. It was probably one of the more enjoyable trips we've made here in the nation's capitol. We spent quite a few hours there seeing everything before heading to Ford's Theater where we were disappointed to discover that all the tickets for the day were gone. Y'all, there are so many people here this week. Loads of school children and chaperones and others just taking a family vacation. It's been nuts. So, I was disappointed, but not surprised that we were not able to get in.

We then headed back to the Tidal Basin to check out the cherry blossoms. They haven't been blooming all week and we wanted to check on the status. They have finally started opening up and should be at peak by the parade on Saturday. We then headed back to Alexandria, ate dinner and called it an early night so we can rest our feet before heading to Mount Vernon on Friday.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On Monday and Tuesday

Monday and Tuesday were both rather busy days in our nation's capitol. Monday we walked around eight miles and Tuesday we walked a little over nine. I'm surprised my fitbit hasn't crashed from all those steps. 

Monday morning we got into DC early and waited inline for passes to the Holocaust Museum. We got tickets for the opening time and spent a majority of the day there. The museum and exhibits were very moving and touching. I'm so glad we were able to visit this museum especially since it was not open the last time I visited DC. 

After the Holocaust Museum, we went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where we watched a film on Jerusalem that was very good. We walked around the various exhibits and spent a few hours there. The best exhibit was the mammal exhibit which had mammals from all over the world. 

When we were finished with the museum, we took a Pedi-Cab to the Lincoln Memorial and from there went to the Vietnam Memorial, WWII Memorial, MLK, Jr. Memorial and FDR Memorial. Then we went back to the metro station, grabbed a sandwich from Panera and headed back to the condo for the night. It was our longest and most exhausting day so far. 

On Tuesday we again got into DC early and got in line for tickets to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Then we went to the Capitol where we had a tour scheduled through Congressman Mo Brooks' office. The capitol tour was interesting but there were so many people there it was hard to enjoy at times. 

After we were finished with the tour, we ate lunch in one of the cafeterias there and then set off for the Museum of American History. We more or less breezed through the museum because there were several sections closed and everything else was just kind of blah, The best part was the exhibition of first ladies' dresses. 

When we were done with the museum, we went to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for our tour which lasted about 30 minutes or so and was interesting. This would be the last event for the day because at this point we both had aching feet and were ready to get "home". So, we headed back, got some dinner and called it a night. 

More adventures are in store for the rest of the week. There's no telling what we might see or do!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Thus Far

It's been a busy few days since I last posted. In case you didn't know, I'm on vacation. That's right. It's once again time for my yearly travels with my dad. This year's location is Washington, D.C. which may not sounds like fun to some people, but being the political junkie and lover of America that I am, I thought it was time to visit again because I haven't taken a vacation to DC since I was 12. 

We left Huntsville on Thursday morning around 10:00 a.m. and headed north. Our first stop was Abingdon, Virginia. We have been to Abingdon in the past and like it a lot and so we decided it would be a good place to stay both coming and going. After arriving, we had dinner at a local restaurant The Tavern which was good, but not as good as we remembered it being. After dinner, we saw a live production of Hamlet. There were only six cast members and five of them played multiple characters which I thought might get confusing, but it seemed to work out rather well. The show was good and even my dad liked it for which I was grateful because he wasn't overly excited about seeing a Shakespearean production. 

On Friday, we got up and drove to Alexandria, Virginia where we have rented a condo for the week. We had a little time to kill along the way and so we swung by Virginia Tech so I could take a look at their football stadium. My dad has seen quite a few games there from when he was traveling for work and so it was nice to finally see it for myself. 

We arrived in Alexandria around 3:303 p.m. and after dropping off all our belongings, we decided to head on in to see something and so we settled on Arlington Cemetery. We got on the metro and got off at the cemetery with about an hour to spare before it closed. So, we went over to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After that, we headed back to Alexandria and ate dinner at a local place called Carlyle which was really good and then called it a night. 

Saturday we started the day at Arlington and took the tour around the cemetery, getting off and back on the trolley at various spots. We saw the Kennedy grave site, went back to the Tob of the Unknown Soldier, visited Arlington House and also walked over to the Iwo Jima Memorial. When we were finished at Arlington, we went down to the waterfront to check out the Cherry Blossom Festival fun. There were lots of things to do, mostly activities for children. We scored a lot of free samples from Proctor and Gamble which was nice. We then had a lot of time to kill before the fireworks show that night so we went over to the Pentagon Memorial. This memorial is for those who lost their lives at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. 

When we were finished at the Pentagon Memorial, we went back to the water front and got some dinner from the food trucks and about froze to death waiting on the fireworks. It was a super cold day and I wished 1,000 times over I had brought my jacket with me, but, alas, I did not and I nearly became a Popsicle before the night was over. 

When the fireworks were complete, we stopped at a grocery store by the metro and got a few things to cook for breakfast and then went down the metro only to discover the whole system was down. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like 30 minutes, a train came and we were able to make our way back to the condo. 

Sunday, we got a late start as we went to church in Arlington and it didn't start until 10:30 a.m. After church we went to the National Mall and were able to visit the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument before we had to head back to the waterfront for our 4:00 p.m. cruise we had scheduled. The cruise was just around the Washington Channel and lasted about 45 minutes. We were supposed to be able to enjoy the cherry blossoms, but the trees still haven't blossomed and we have our fingers cross that they will open up before we leave. 

So far it's been a good trip. We haven't been completely organized the whole time, but we have figured some things out along the way and I think the rest of the week will go a lot smoother. 


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review - Rasmus and the Vagabond

When I was a kid, I read a lot of books and at a young age developed a love of reading. One of the many authors who helped develop my love of the written word, was Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking books. (Oddly enough, Pippa my dog, is not named after Pippi Longstocking, but rather Pippa Middleton). 

To be honest, I didn't know that Lindgren has written any books other than the Longstocking series; but, as it turns out she has written plenty of other books. A couple of months ago, I was offered an opportunity to read and review "Rasmus and the Vagabond" which was written by Lindgren and being re-printed. I decided to jump on the opportunity since I had loved all the Pippi books so much. "Rasmus" arrived at my doorstep soon after and I'm pleased to say it was a fun and easy read and I enjoy Rasmus and his shenanigans just as much as I enjoyed Pippi. 

The story follows Rasmus who was living in an orphanage that is operated by a staff that is a little strict to say the least. The children are looked after with a watchful eye while performing chores and fun is more or less discouraged. After finding a silver coin while performing some of his chores, Rasmus decides to set out on his own and this, my friends, is where his adventures begin. Rasmus meets a "vagabond" named Oscar along the way and they begin traveling together which results in countless adventures for the two friends. They both have a love for people who are often forgotten such as orphans, or the homeless and through their love of people and adventure, they develop a strong a lasting bond. 

"Rasmus and the Vagabond" is very well-written and such a great a fun story. A classic for generations past, you will definitely want to add it to your child's collection as well. It will, no doubt, be a story that will be read over and over again. At 180 pages, it can easily be read in a day or two depending on how much time you put into it. You could also read a chapter or two at night to your child before bedtime. It is a great book for kids and adults alike. I'm thankful to have received this copy and glad that Plough Publishing House decided to reprint this classic for future generations to enjoy. 

"Rasmus and the Vagabond" is available for around $10 at Amazon and other retailers. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Three Times The Surprise

My cousin Anna, yes, the same on who moved in down the street, turned 30 over the weekend and her sweet husband planned not one, not two, but three surprise parties for her. So, my weekend was more or less consumed with surprising Anna, although I don't think I yelled "Surprise" one time. 

The festivities kicked off Saturday afternoon at Shakalaka. You may recall I spent some time there for my own recent birthday. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Shakalaka has added a new area to the fun in the form of an obstacle course with ropes and bars and rings and tight ropes and all other manner of obstacle course fun. Remembering the trouble I had getting out of the foam pit at my birthday soiree, I elected not to participate in any activity that might land me in a foam pit. In other words, I only jumped on the regular trampoline and played some dodgeball. There were tons of people there, mostly children and to be honest, I didn't want to slow up their fun; nor did I want to fight my way out of the foam pit. They seriously need a step to get out of that madness. We jumped from 3:00 - 4:00 and burned a lot of calories and had even more fun. Sadly, I also walked away a case of Athlete's Foot which really isn't all that unusual as I tend to get it from time to time. 

After the jump around, I ran an errand for Jan, Anna's mom, and then went home to shower and change and prepare for party number two which was a gathering of some of Anna's friends from school, most of whom were from out of town. Jan made chicken enchiladas, taco meat and had a plethora of toppings. I made a five-layer dip (as opposed to a seven-layer) and some tortillas rolled up with cream cheese and Mexican spices that were apparently a big hit because they were all gone. I'm not sure how many people ended up at this party, but I would venture to say it was close to 40. Everyone seemed to be having a really great time and most importantly Anna was having a good time. 

There was so much food left over from the party that we gathered back at Benny and Jan's for lunch on Sunday which was great. After lunch, I headed home to take a nap which was more like a resting of the eyes more than anything. I also managed to get a few chores done around the house before heading out for the third and final party of the weekend. 

The last party was a family only party at Baumhower's (formerly known as Wing's) and seriously, the food there is sub par compared to when I waited tables there 137 years ago. Anna and Randy were the last ones to arrive and I think she was surprised, but honestly don't know because she made such a quiet entrance. There were about 15 of us in all and I am pleased to say we were served in a rather timely manner. I was hoping to be home by 8:00 p.m. that evening and, in fact, achieved that goal which made me very happy. It's not that I wasn't thrilled to celebrate with the family, it's more like I enjoy being home by 8:00 p.m. on work nights because I am old and set in my ways. 

It was a fun and eventful weekend celebrating Anna's 30th. Hope you have many more, cousin!