Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Top 10 Tips for Visiting DC with your family

As I planned my trip and shared with friends that we were going, someone (Christie) asked me to compile my research so they can use it when they visit in the next year.   How did she know I research everything? 😋 Confession I didn't research a ton for this trip but we learned a lot as we went.  I didn't get a single guide book from the library until a week before we left! I knew what Lydia wanted to see, I knew what history she had studied in school.  And we used that for the framework of our trip.  We didn't try to see Arlington National Cemetery or the Holocaust Museum, while they are awesome places to go, she wan't mature enough or have the context to visit such places.  Seeing the names on the Vietnam Memorial and the Gold Stars on the WWII memorial was enough for her to process about the sacrifices made for our free nation. 

1. Contact your US Representative/Senator:  
If you want to tour the Government Buildings including the White House, Capitol, Pentagon, State Department, Supreme Court, or FBI the best way arrange those tours is through your US Representative or Senator.  White House tours book 6 months or more ahead of time from what I heard and can still be hit or miss.  Our Representative even sent us a Visitor's Guide to the area.  Check their official website for the best way to contact them.  Mine had a web form for scheduling tours.  Ours also arranged our tour of the Library of Congress. 

Library of Congress Reading Room
2. Be prepared for Security. In this world we live in, Security is a given.  Most buildings we went in beside the Ford Theater had security similar to airports.  Most we could bring in water bottles, one we could not even bring in packaged snacks.  So check the rules where you will be visiting and be prepared.  We traveled light with just one large purse.  I discovered at the airport when we left the buckles on my cute boots were metal.  It was inconvenient the day I wore them to have to be wanded at each building we entered so think ahead at what you pack.

3. Use the Metro:  
I was surprised how little I remembered as a teenager when I first went to DC but I did remember how much we didn't drive our rental car and how convenient the Metro was.  This visit we bought 1 week unlimited riding passes and booked a hotel near a metro stop and rode like a local all week.  We also discovered some of the buses will also take the Metro card as well making it even easier to get around.  

4. Plan to do LOTS of Walking.  Without a car we knew we would be walking everywhere, we just didn't expect exactly what that would mean.  Our first day we walked 5.5 miles and we didn't get to DC until after lunch!  We brought reasonable cute shoes and walking shoes by the end of day 2 we gave up on the reasonable cute shoes and we were ALL about comfort!

5. National Park Junior Ranger Program: This program is not specific to DC but available across the country at any National Park Service area and is suggested for kids ages 5-13 although anyone can participate.  These are workbooks kids can complete for a given location and turn in for Badges and sometime Patches.  It makes a great FREE souvenir and guide for exploring the park area.  And as a homeschooler its a great record of the trip and learning for their portfolios. 

National Mall & Monument Jr. Ranger Book
6. Passport Books: While the kids collect their Junior Ranger badges, I enjoy collecting cancellations stamps in my Passport Book.  Each park area has dated stamps that you can use to remember the trip.  Its also a great way to plan a family vacation and see what sites may be on your way to a given destination and make a side trip.  You can purchase Passport books online or at any National Park in the gift shop.  

7. Choose the theme of your visit. There is so many exciting things to see and do in DC that you could never do it all in one visit.  Choose a theme to your visit and focus on places related to that, knowing anything else you get to see and do is extra.  For us it was the monuments. They are what Lydia kept talking about seeing and we made them a priority, exploring them on foot as well as a moonlight bus tour. We had planned to visit the National Cathedral before we left but changed our plans so we could spend more time on the mall and more fully enjoy all the monuments.  Guess we have to come back for the Cathedral!
"Mom, I can't believe I'm really here!"
8. Plan ahead for special hours and closings: As we were reminded as we visited the Government Buildings.  Regular Business is occurring in many of the building we visited and toured. And like local government offices they close at 5 each day and are only open 5 days a week.  Some of the  museums and attractions are open later.  The Monuments are lit 24/7 and have Park Rangers available until 8 at night.   Also many the National Park Service Areas close for routine maintenance seasonally.

9. See the Monuments at night. The one special thing I wanted to see was the Monuments after dark.  There are Park Rangers on site until 8 pm which makes them safer and the shorter days of winter made this realistic.  They are magnificent with the dramatic lighting and there extra things you can see at night.  On our Bus tour our guide pointed out Kennedy's Eternal flame and the Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery that we could see from the Lincoln Memorial in the darkness.  

10. Eating near the National Mall/Capitol: I expected to be able to find bistros and delis for lunches while we were out exploring.  While those are available further out from the Capitol and Mall the closest places are cafeterias in the Smithsonian and Government Office Buildings.  While I was disappointed to not be able to have quite the culinary adventure, it was good to have options and know where to go once we figured it out.  

Hopefully learning from our trip can make your next trip to DC one full of memories.  Check out the details our trip starting HERE. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Day 5 Mommy and Me in DC

Where do you go when you have a plane voucher to use by the end of the year, you refuse to fly by yourself because of airport anxiety, and your daughter has been asking to visit the Capitol for a year?  You take a mommy and me trip to DC!  
Day 1, Day 2Day 3, Day 4, Day 5


FACT:  over 15,000 books have been written about America's 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, which when stacked is 4 stories tall! He has the second most biography written about him, second only to Jesus.  

Its our last day in the Nation's Capitol and we are going to make it count!  Today's plan is seeing the Ford's Theater and learning about Lincoln's final chapter of his life and career.  Being from the Midwest, where he started he career as a lawyer and politician it was neat to see the other part of his career.  The Ford Theater has been restored to close to its grandeur of the 1860s, and is a active theater with live performances in the evenings.  

It is also a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service which means one more Junior Ranger badge for Lydia! At any National Park or Historic site you can ask a Ranger for a book to complete.  Ford Theater had a double tiered Junior Ranger program, do a minimum amount of activities for a badge and certificate, and an additional number for an additional patch.  Lydia did enough activities for the patch and badge.   Did I mention they do a swearing in ceremony when a child earns the Badge? 

There are multiple parts to the Ford Theater attraction and when you book tickets online you can see the options.  There are timed entrances to the museum under the theater that details Lincoln's last term of his presidency and also the conspiracy Booth tried to create in his assassination plot.  There are walkthroughs of the theater including the recreated booth he was shot,  if you are lucky enough like we were you can look in the door to the Presidential booth and look over Lincoln's chair to the stage.  You can also tour the Peterson House across the street where Lincoln took his final breaths as well as additional exhibits of the aftermath of his assassination and Lincoln's lasting legacy for our nation. 

Presidential Box in Ford's Theater
The Ford's Theater gave Lydia her 3rd Junior Ranger Badge for the trip, not bad for a 5 day adventure.  We left the theater in search of a few more Stamps for mom's Passport Book and some lunch.  Some Passport Stamps can be tricky to find, but there is an app available to help you find them.  We found the Historic Pennsylvania Avenue Stamp in the Old Post Office now the Trump hotel.  The lower level has a historical display including old vault doors and historical photographs.  

We found some lunch and a surprise at the Reagan International Trade building.  We visited the food court another night over the weekend and found it open but deserted.  it was a very different experience on Monday when it was bustling with government workers.  Tucked in one corner of the building we found a portion of the Berlin wall and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Memorial Exhibit.  Might as well learn about one more President before we leave town. 😋

Reagan International Trade Building
A certain girl was starting to yearn for home so we headed to our hotel to pick up our luggage and then on to the airport where another adventure awaited us.  While we were seeing the city one last time our plane home was already being delayed.  It was already delayed enough to cause us to miss our connecting flight and we had to look into alternate options to get home in a timely manner.  The best option was to hire a shuttle and drive to the Baltimore Airport and take a direct flight home.  We arrived home at the same time as our original flight with out having to do a layover!  And that first flight that was delayed 40 minutes when we changed plans, ended up being delayed 4 hours!  We were glad we made other plans!  

She has the traveling bug and is already thinking up our next #mommyandme adventure.  On our quest for National Park Passports and Junior Ranger Badges the Nation is our classroom.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Day 4 Mommy and Me in DC

Where do you go when you have a plane voucher to use by the end of the year, you refuse to fly by yourself because of airport anxiety, and your daughter has been asking to visit the Capitol for a year?  You take a mommy and me trip to DC!  
Day 1, Day 2Day 3, Day 4, Day 5

After walking 12,000+ steps for 3 days in a row, and walking more than the day before each day, our goal for Sunday was to not break the step record while visiting the Tidal Basin Monuments and whatever else we wanted.  

First we had to stop at the Washington Monument building to get stamps for our Passport Book that we had missed the day before the snow and the dark.  Then we caught our first Lyft ride across the to Jefferson Monument so we could explore there and walked around the basin to the FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr.  Monuments.  My favorite was the FDR monument in which you journey through his 4 term presidency with open air rooms of sculptures and quotes that defined that decade of our nation's history.  

It also warmed up nicely and all the snow we had enjoyed the day before was melted.  So in our short visit we got to see a wintery capitol and snow covered monuments and also a spring season as well with no snow in sight and green grass on the Mall. 

We discovered our Metro cards also worked on one of the buses so we caught a bus back to the Smithsonian and had lunch at the Museum of Natural History.  It can be hard to find  local places to eat near the Mall and Capitol area.  What we discovered is most of the Smithsonians and Capitol office buildings have cafeterias on the lower levels with plenty of choices. 

After lunch we stayed at the Natural History Museum and explored the Rocks and Minerals and Gems Exhibit.  Lydia learned all about Volcanoes, Earthquakes and mining.  She was in awe of the wide range of precious stones on display, especially enjoying the sparkle of the Hope Diamond.  We made it a short day before heading home to pack for the journey home tomorrow.    

Before dinner, we watched most of the Santa Clause on TV.  It was the first time Lydia had seen it.  She was amused that the boy's haircut was much like her brother's.  I'm not sure if that is a good thing since the movie is over 20 years old!

Day 3 Mommy and Me in DC

Where do you go when you have a plane voucher to use by the end of the year, you refuse to fly by yourself because of airport anxiety, and your daughter has been asking to visit the Capitol for a year?  You take a mommy and me trip to DC!  
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5

Saturday was our coldest day of our trip.  We woke up to snow falling in huge flakes, a cause for excitement for a Florida girl!  Our goal for the day was Junior Ranger badge #2, National Mall and Monuments.  It sounded fun when we woke up to explore the National Mall while the snow fell around us.  Lydia had completed most of the Junior Ranger book at home as preparation for the trip, all the National Park Service Junior Ranger programs are available on their website and can be mailed in for completion, a great resource for homeschoolers like us. 😊  

We discovered a less frequent Metro schedule on the weekend when we got the station, but made a new friend with a University of Illinois Alumni, headed to the Capitol for a board meeting.  It makes the world smaller when you meet people who know your hometown when you travel.  

Our first monument of the day was the Lincoln Memorial.  Its massive size and role in history makes it impressive. Lincoln is special to us since we live in the area where he started his political career as a circuit lawyer.  The snow got wetter and colder as we made our way down the mall stopping to visit the Korean Memorial and the newest WWII memorial.  What we forgot to consider as we envisioned visiting in the snow is there are no shelters on the Mall.  So for a Florida Girl caught in her first winter storm she got pretty miserable.  

World War 2 Memorial, Washington DC
As we rushed to find shelter in a Smithsonian Museum we were caught off guard by a blossoming Cherry Tree near the Washington Monument.  Lydia fell in love with the flowers, proclaiming it to be her favorite.  We warmed up with some Hot Chocolate and southern bread pudding in the American History Museum Jazz Cafe before exploring inside for the afternoon.  Lydia especially enjoyed the Spark Lab where kids could invent and work on solving real life problems hands on.  She planned and built a prototype of a housekeeping robot and had the coding figured out for it as well in her head.  

After a few more exhibits we found some dinner and made our way to Union Station for mom's special event of the trip, a moonlight tour of the monuments.  By now the snow had stopped and the sky had cleared, leaving everything covered in a blanket of white.  It was a beautiful way to end the day and experience our first snow in many years.   

Vietnam Memorial, Washington DC

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

Day 2 Mommy and Me in DC

Where do you go when you have a plane voucher to use by the end of the year, you refuse to fly by yourself because of airport anxiety, and your daughter has been asking to visit the Capitol for a year?  You take a mommy and me trip to DC!  
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5

Did you know: If you are traveling to the DC area, you can contact your State Representative or Senator and they can arrange tours for you for many of the Government offices including the White House, Congress, State Department, the Supreme Court and others.  Requests should be made as early as possible for the highest chances of getting a spot especially for the White House.

Longworth House Office Building
Today is Friday, and our big tour day all booked through our US Representative's office.  We are scheduled to see the US House, Library of Congress, Supreme Court and the State Department.  The only tour we requested that we couldn't do was the White House, which can be hit or miss at any time of the year.

By now Lydia is a pro at swiping her Metro card and we are off with the commuters early today to see where our government works.  First stop is the Congressional office for IL13, Rodney Davis-R, where we met some of his staffers and our tour guide for the morning.  Morgan showed us all around the Capitol and House of Representatives.

Cornstalk Pillar in US Capitol
Previously having lived in Orlando FL, there is nothing to compare to the history we got to see being in the Capitol.  While much of the Capitol was rebuilt after the War of 1812 these cornstalk pillars remain.  If you look closely you can see holes that were burned out of the sandstone because of the heat of the fire when the British burned the Capitol.

Original US Senate Chamber
As our nation as grown so has the need for different spaces for the parts of our government.  The original US Senate chamber has been restored to its original appearance after being passed to the Supreme Court who used it from 1810-1860 when the Supreme Court moved to another outgrown chamber in the Capitol before gaining its own building in 1935.

The day of our tour the House was not in session so we were able to visit the House floor and sit in the seats of our representatives.  Due to security we were unable to take any cameras, phones or purses with us into the room so no pictures to share.  But memorable to know we sat in the seats that we see on C-SPAN and where new legislation is made.  One of the holiday surprises we found on our tour was the Capitol Gingerbread house.

Capitol Gingerbread house
We found some lunch in the Longworth dining hall before making our next scheduled stop of the day at the Supreme Court.  We did not find many restaurants among the congressional buildings or around the mall but the office buildings and Smithsonian buildings had cafeterias or food courts which were good to eat at if you knew where to look.

Supreme Court

Sandra Day O'Connor exhibit at
the Supreme Court
Everything is BIG when it comes to our national government buildings so going around the corner to our next tour appointment of a Supreme Court lecture was not as quick as we thought and we missed our second appointment, a lecture in the Supreme Court Chambers. WE still visited the Court and was able to spend some time in the visitor center which we would have missed otherwise.    Lydia enjoyed reading about about Sandra Day O'Connor  our first women on the Court.  One of the trailblazers that lets my daughter truly believe she can choose any career she wants.

The next stop on our schedule for the day was the Library of Congress, as a couple of book lovers we looked forward to this, we didn't have great expectations of what it would be, but the beauty of the National Library blew me away!

Library of Congress Great Hall 

And these images are just in the grand hall outside of the main reading room, which has its own adornments, statues and murals.  To enter the main reading room you must have a library card and be 16.  Many rare and valuable books are in the collections at the Library of Congress including 1 of the remaining three bound copies of the Gutenberg Bible!  Seeing the Gutenberg Bible was especially wonderful for us due to our previous work with bible translation.  Lydia is not old enough to go in the reading room but we did visit the Young Readers Center down the hall where she got to see copies of Harry Potter in various languages including Braille.  Its a cozy two room center with space to curl up with a good book and fun activities to do.  Lydia enjoyed the short escape from the bustle of the rest of our tours.

Above: main reading room,
R: Young Readers Center
We had been our feet for most of the day so we headed back to the hotel before our evening adventure.  Lydia had brought her American Girl doll, Isabelle with us our trip and Isabelle's story takes place in Washington DC.  It was only right to take Isabelle to the American Girl Store for her own souvenir T-shirt.  The store is located in a mall not far from a metro stop so we were off for the evening to the mall! (with brownies in our jammies when we got home).

Day 1: Mommy and Me in DC

Where do you go when you have a plane voucher to use by the end of the year, you refuse to fly by yourself because of airport anxiety, and your daughter has been asking to visit the Capitol for a year?  You take a mommy and me trip to DC!  
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5

All smiles at 5 am!
I booked our flights to maximize our time to explore the area.  Which meant we were waiting for the hotel shuttle at 4:30 Thursday morning.  The boys in the family drove us to the airport hotel and went on their own all day adventure at the Children's Museum before going home.  We had an empty aircraft on our first flight which was only 55 minutes,  not even long enough for Lydia to drink 5 sips of her on-board hot chocolate.  Morning hot chocolate was a habit she picked up on our family cruise in the spring.  We found donuts on our layover at the airport and settled in to the comfy chairs to wait for our second flight of the morning.  It was only 6:30 am  local time.  Then we were off on another not full flight to our final destination, Reagan National Airport in Washington DC!

Thanks to a co-worker of Bob we arrived equipped with SmarTrip cards to ride the Metro all week.  Getting around on the Metro was one reason I picked DC,  we could get around without having to have the added expense and hassle of renting our own car.  So our first adventure was to find the Metro station at the airport and ride to our hotel.  Early check-in was availible since it was a down time.

We settled in to our home for the next 5 days, picked up some smoothies for the next Metro ride and headed to the Capitol!  Today's goal was to see the White House and National Christmas Tree.  On the train ride we met a young girl about 4 who was dressed up for a Christmas party.  Her and her mom were heading to the Judge's Tree Trimming Party and she looked the part in her pretty dress.

Lydia and our State's Tree
While we didn't get lucky with tickets to tour the White House, we visited the Visitor Center and learned about the history and heritage of the Peoples House.  Lydia earned her fist Junior Ranger badge of the trip for President's Park. We walked to the National Mall at Dusk and saw the National Christmas Tree surrounded by smaller trees for each of our nation's states and territories.  We discovered that our state tree was decorated by a Girl Scout Troop from our area, exciting to us as Lydia became a Brownie Scout just last month!  We admired all the trees and took notice of those that came from the states where our family lives.  Some were decorated by children and schools and others by individual artists.  Lydia said to me as we looked at the White House in front of us and the Washington Monument behind us, "I can't believe I'm really here!"

After a sleepy ride home on the Metro after our exciting day, we ate dinner in our room from the hotel bar as we watched a movie on TV in our jammies.  Anyone remember "The Shaggy Dog" with Tim Allen?  Gotta get enough sleep as tomorrow we tour the Capitol!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Turning the Page to a New Chapter

After many cryptic posts on Facebook and questions about #moving on my posts, we can final share what we have been up to.  We are ending our time as Florida residents and moving back to the Midwest to be closer to family.  Last week we had the final pieces to the puzzle fall in to place when Bob accepted a new position at the University of Illinois in the Technology Services Department.

While we love Florida and call it home as a family of 5 our extended family are all in the Midwest and it is time to be closer to them as where family is also home. This spring my dad developed some on going back issues and we want to be closer to help out.

Since we have started preparing for this move earlier this spring we have seen God's hand in it, both preparing us when we didn't know what was coming and in the details as we move forward.

#1  God prepared us for the change!  Since last fall we have been restless and were thinking about and considering moving within Orlando, finding a church closer to our house, and looking for a different job.  All things that are now changing with our big move.

#2  God has been faithful!  When we had to shut the door completely on a local move,  answered our prayers on hearing something on a new job the next day.   Bob got his first interview request that day.  For the job he has now accepted.

#3  God goes before us!  At Mother's Day I visited my parents and was able to look at houses.  The market we are selling in is very hot and favorable for us to sell, While where we are buying is much slower giving us more time to look and make offers.  The home we are hoping to buy is currently a homeschooling family and even has homeschooling neighbors we are told!  Which will be great to make some early friendships.

We already know we will miss the sunshine and weather of Florida, and I'm not looking forward to relearning how to drive in ice and snow but family WINS!  We are looking forward to family dinners and afternoons with Grandma and day trips to see the kids new baby cousin!

Our first cruise, earlier this month, May 2017
We set sail for our next adventure on June 23, when we celebrate our 10 year college graduation at the beach with friends before heading north.  Bob will start his new job July 5th.  
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