Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fun at the Smithsonian(s)

One of the greatest treasures of Washington D.C. is all of the Smithsonian museums. They are all awesome and all completely free (well, sort of, our tax dollars go towards supporting them, so in a way all U.S. citizens are season pass holders). Here is Craig in front of a Prairie Scooner - the type of wagon Americans used to travel to and settle the West.

One of the highlights is the Air and Space Museum. Here Craig found the Mars Rover. This isn't the one that actually went to Mars, but is one of the functional models used to test the various systems.

But before the Mars Rover lifted off, Neil Armstrong left this tiny capsule and walked on the moon!

Some of my favorite exhibits are the experimental jets, like the X-15. This rocket-powered airplane broke speed and altitude records way back in the 1960's. It still holds the speed record for a manned flight!

That orange plane wayy in the back is the X-1 that Chuck Yeager piloted while breaking the sound barrier for the first time!

A more modern area of the Smithsonian shows the costume Edina Menzel wore in the original Broadway production of "Wicked".

An here is Kermit the Frog!

And here is one of the original sunstones from the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois.

Our little history buff really enjoyed the Thomas Edison exhibit. He did a report the prior year at school on Thomas Edison. This is a picture of some of the failed designs Edison used for the light bulb.

More designs and experiments. Unlike other exhibits, Craig was constantly saying "Daddy, can you take my picture by this?"


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Our Nation's Capitol

At the top of the most prominent hill in Washington, D.C., is the United States Capitol building. This is where the United States Congress meets to debate laws and pass legislation. We got a tour of this wonderful building while we were in Washington!

Our tour started at the Senate Offices. There are three buildings that house the United States Senators and their offices. They are connected to the U. S. Capitol by an underground subway. Here's Craig and I on the Congressional Train!

Our tour started deep in the basement of the Capitol. Washington, D.C. is a very hot and humid place in the summer time.  Back in the 1800's, when the Capitol was built, there wasn't any air conditioning. So, people would cool down naturally via perspiration. Sometimes, however, this created an odor that was a little too noticeable. Those offending congressmen were asked to come down and diffuse the odor by bathing in one of eight marble tubs located in the basement. These are no longer in operation, but they are a funny reminder of a time long past.

Inside the Capitol is a full-sized replica of Lady Liberty, the statue who stands on top of the huge Capitol dome. She stands 19 feet tall and carries various symbols of freedom. She was designed in the mid 1800's, just before the Civil War. Congressman Jefferson Davis was in charge of the Capitol building committee, and influenced the hat that Lady Liberty wore. You history buffs will recall that Jefferson Davis later became the president of the Confederate States during the Civil War. The original design called for Lady Liberty to wear a Phygian Cap, which was the ancient Roman symbol of an emancipated slave. Jefferson Davis, being a slave-owner, didn't want any symbol that justified the freeing of slaves, so he had the sculptor change the hat to an eagle.

Lady Liberty now stands on top of the massive 4-ton Capitol Dome.

The top of the Capitol Dome is the literal center of Washington, D.C. This star on the floor of the Crypt marks the center as well. This room is just below the Capitol Rotunda, and is surrounded by limestone pillars. During the Civil War, barrels of gunpowder were stored here.

The Capitol is adorned with statues commemorating great citizens of the United States. Each state has donated two statues. This is Craig in front of a statue from Illinois depicting Abraham Lincoln.

Can you guess who is depicted in one of the statues from Utah? Yup, that's Brigham Young, second President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, first governor of the State of Utah, and founder of the University of Utah.


The Capitol is decorated with more than just statues. There are beautiful murals and painted walls throughout the building. The hallway pictured above housed the official Offices of State, but they've long since been too small, and are now empty.

There are some important officials who still make their office in the Capitol. The Office of the Speaker of the House is one of them, and here were are on the balcony of that office. It's got a great view of the National Mall with the Washington Monument in the distance.

The highlight of the tour is the Capitol Rotunda. This great room is decorated with many paintings of important events in U.S. History, such as the Pilgrim's landing, the baptism of Sacajawea, or various battles of the Revolutionary War.

One of the Revolutionary War victories depicted is the surrender of Cornwalis. After Cornwalis' defeat in the United States, he was sent to India, where he was charged with protecting Great Britain's interests in the region. As part of his efforts, he build a military outpost on a tiny island in the Strait of Melacca known as Penang.

At the top of the Capitol Rotunda is the Apotheosis (or exaltation) of Washington. Here, George Washington is depicted in heaven with various Roman deities. At Washington's feet is Lady Liberty, this time wearing a Phygian cap.

We loved touring our nation's capitol! A special thanks to Senator Hatch's office for arranging our tour! Stay tuned for our visit to the Smithsonian Museums!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

President Lincoln

Situated a few miles North of Mount Vernon is Washington, D.C., the capitol city of the United States of America. Here you'll find the National Mall, where monuments are built to honor the memories of some of our nation's best leaders. Inside of this Greek-inspired temple resides a monument built to honor the great Abraham Lincoln, who is Craig's favorite president.

Craig learned about Abraham Lincoln and his role in abolishing slavery in the United States and has admired him ever since. Mr. Lincoln returned the favor by giving Craig $5! Craig found a $5 bill - which has Abraham Lincoln pictured on the front of it - on the ground just outside of the monument!

Inside the giant temple is a larger than life statue of President Lincoln. Inscribed above him are the words "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever".

The Lincoln Memorial is situated across from the Washington Monument, which was built on honor our nation's first president.

The interior walls are adorned with the words of Lincoln's two most famous speeches. The first is the Gettysburg Address, and the second is Lincoln's second inaugural speech which was given just a few months before his assassination.

This is Ford's theater where President Lincoln was shot by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The Presidential box is pictured above.

President Lincoln was a strong man, so despite being shot in the head, he didn't die immediately. There were several doctors in the audience and they took Lincoln to a red-brick apartment building across the street from the theater, where Abraham Lincoln spent his last few hours. He was pronounced dead in this building the morning after he was shot.

We had a fun time learning all about Abraham Lincoln!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The House that George Washington Built

At the end of last May, we took an exciting tour of Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and New York City! We had an awesome time and it all started in Fairfax County, Virginia where our nation's first President called home.

Here we are in front of Mount Vernon! George Washington built this house in the 1700's using land he inherited from his father. He built it in the Palladian style of architecture, which featured a long green lawn leading up to the front door with tree-lined paths on each side of the lawn. It was meant to reflect a more natural style.

The mansion sits atop a hill overlooking the Potomac River. Jennifer, as a little girl, would roll down the hill to the river while her parents watched from the patio.

There was quite a crowd to get inside of Mount Vernon! This property is no stranger to crowds, however. When George Washington was living here, he and his wife Martha would entertain many guests from all around the world. Virginia in the 18th century was still a wild frontier, so hotels were scarce and good hospitality even more scarce. So, Washington build many guestrooms in the house, along with a large dining room and a ballroom. Cooking was done primarily in the other houses around the property.

Also not done in the house was "business", if you know what I mean. Like all homes in those times, the house had no indoor plumbing. Instead, George Washington built four octogonal-shaped huts around the property called "necessaries" where one could attend to one's business.

George Washington was a bit of an inventor. He innovated many things at Mount Vernon. One of his innovations was in the way the exterior of the home was finished. Blocks of nice sandstone were not available in the 1700's, so to give the appearance of stone, George Washington had his painters throw sand on the exterior walls while the paint was still drying. So, the house was built entirely of wood, but looked like it was built of stone!

George Washington developed other innovative solutions to his greenhouse and vegetable garden. The greenhouse, pictured in the background above, had huge windows that faced the sun and a large fireplace inside. This let Washington grow tropical plants in his greenhouse all winter long, including citrus trees! He also lined his vegetable garden (foreground) with small boxwood trees. These helped sheild the vegetables from cold weather, so the growing season was lengthened by the micro-climate Washington created.

Another Washington innovation is the fence he used to keep his livestock on the farm. Instead of building a traditional wall, he instead excavated a part of the hill and built a retaining wall. This way you could look out over the grounds from the house and not have the view broken up by any fences.

George Washington was famous for the food his house cooked. He loved fresh fish and hoe cakes. We tasted some fish and hoe cakes at the restaurant nearby.

It's easy to see why George Washington longed to spend his days at Mount Vernon. We had a great time and learned a lot about history in the process.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Incredible Walt Disney World Adventure

This past February we got to go to Disney World with Jennifer's parents and her brother's family! Yes, we are the Incredibles. And yes, we have super powers. Want to know what they are? Well, keep reading!

This is Josh. He is the youngest Incredible. His super power is being thoroughly unimpressed with his Aunt Jennifer's attempts at becoming his favorite aunt.

This is Nathan. He is a master of disguise! While at the Epcot World Showcase you couldn't tell him from a regular sombrero wearing tourist in Mexico! Incredible!

This is Ben and his dad. Ben's super power is helping everyone have a good time - especially when riding the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster!

This is James. As you can see, James knows how to ride a speeder through a giant sequoia forest while evading Imperial Storm Troopers. Awesome!

This is Craig. As you can see, he possesses ghosting powers! Creepy!

And he taught them to Nathan!

Here's Grandma with her boys. She is incredible with little boys! She just gets them! This is why she has eight grandsons and no granddaughters (yet).

This is Uncle Aaron. He is master of consuming apple juice at the German Hofbrauhaus in a manner that may suggest it is something other than apple juice.

This is Aunt Leticia. Her superpower is mastery of traveling with five boys all around the country. Think of her as a human troop transport.

Jemmer is master of fun, like making everyone in the family an Incredibles t-shirt to wear to Disney World.

This is Grandpa, who is the best at getting everyone to Disney World every other year for a fantastic vacation! Thanks Grandpa!!

What a fun vacation!