Monday, June 17, 2013

What's in a name?

This isn't a post about a museum or a historic site, per say, but it is a post about a site with some history.  Have you ever wondered how certain places got their names?  Well, Diggory and I ventured to Old Town Alexandria a few days ago to run an errand, and we decided to stop at a park.  I was driving south down Union Street on our way to Jones Point Park (one of our new favorite places and a previous blog entry, read here) and stumbled upon a adorable-looking park filled with children.  Hoo-ray!  We pulled over (free, three-hour street parking, by the way) and skipped up to Windmill Hill Park to explore.  Wonder of wonders, almost the entire playground area is shaded, which is a super awesome feature when it's 100 degrees and humid.  There's a fenced in climbing apparatus, sandbox, and swings and lots of green space outside the fence and perfect for kite flying if the wind cooperates.  We tried, by the way, but there just wasn't a strong enough breeze.  We later crossed Union Street and explored an old bulkhead along the Potomac River and wandered down the pedestrian-only portion of Wilkes Street to Shipyard Park and took a rather lively ride on the floating dock and watched the boats on the river and the airplanes coming in to land at Reagan National Airport.  The dock has a little shelter house and benches, so it's a nice shady and breezy place to take a load off.  Plus, you might very well see turtles taking their own ride on a floating log.  Very cute.  

It wasn't until after we got home that I decided I really wanted to know the history of the park.  Voila!  Here's an article from the Alexandria Library for your reading pleasure.  It appears that the park (which, in the whole history of Alexandria, hasn't been a park all that long) got its name from a windmill constructed in 1843 to provide water for local farmers and drinking water for city residents.  Since then, the area has enjoyed a rather colorful, and sometimes rather unsavory, history - from Civil War brothels and settlements of railroad workers in the 1860s and 1870s to fancy summer promenades of the city's most fashionable in the 1890s.  In the twentieth century, the park witnessed festivals and celebrations, such as welcoming Charles Lindbergh to Washington, DC after his famous solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, before opening as a public park and playground at mid-century.  It's really quite a lovely park and clearly loved by its neighbors.  We'll be back, sooner rather than later, I suppose.

It didn't occur to me while we were at Windmill Hill Park to take pictures of the park itself, but here's one from the floating dock at Shipyard Park along the Potomac.

There are eight turtles on that floating log.  "Can you see the turtles, Diggory?  Count them.  One, two, three..."  Yep, that's how I talk now.

The bulkhead surrounding what was once a small shipyard is off limits, surrounded by a rope fence so tiny humans are at least momentarily deterred from getting too close to the water.  The rusty gates and signs of decay are rather picturesque.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

National Children's Museum

Diggs and Nana Becky and I went to the National Children's Museum in National Harbor last week.  We've been meaning to go for quite some time now, but just never quite made it.  I had heard mixed reviews from other parents, so I'm glad we finally visited and were able to make our own judgement, for better or worse.  So, I guess I'll just come out and say it.  We had a great time, it was really interesting, but I'm not sure we'll go back any time soon.  First, it cost $30 for the three of us to go.  Maybe I'm just not used to paying admission living where we live with all the free Smithsonian museums just a few metro stops away.  Second, although it's not hard to get to, I just don't like paying for parking.  There's a parking garage adjacent to the museum, so it's handy, but still.  Paying $9.00 for a few hours of parking, on top of paying $30 to get into the museum, is just not at the top of my list of fun things to spend money on.  Third, there seemed to be a lot of things that babies and younger toddlers would like and a lot of things that the five and over crowd would like, but Diggs seemed a little big for the three and under room and many of the other exhibits were a little over his head.  Sure, he loved climbing around (briefly) in the under three padded climbing apparatus and making the lights and siren turn on in the fire truck, but other than that, a lot of the activities seemed geared toward older children.  Maybe that's my fault, maybe I wasn't doing a good job keeping him engaged while he was clearly overwhelmed.  I don't know.  And fourth, the museum itself is a lot smaller than I thought it would be (which is one of the main criticisms I'd heard from other parents) especially given that it cost us ten bucks each to get in.  It was also a little beat up and many of the toys were missing parts, but perhaps that's just the nature of a space dedicated to hands-on activities for children.  

I know it seems like I'm beating up on the museum, but I'm just being honest.  We really did have a good time.  And, by far the best activity was the Imagination Playground event being held in the theater space while we were there.  There's a calendar of events on the museum's website, but there are also a few activities that were happening at the museum while we were there that weren't listed online.  The Imagination Playground falls in that category.  Basically there were about a hundred foam building blocks and tubes and such thrown onto the floor and you could build whatever you want.  At the suggestion of the attendant, we built a ramp for rolling balls.  Diggory could have stayed there for hours and hours if he had a choice.  We stayed until the bitter end and "helped" clean up.

After our visit to the museum we walked down to the water to check out the new carousel.  Sadly, it wasn't open on weekdays yet, but it is now.  Here's the link to the hours.  It's $3.00 for a single ride but $5.00 for unlimited rides in any single day.  Um, yes, unlimited rides please!  The whole area around the carousel is fenced in and there's a plethora of picnic tables and a playground inside, though I assume those are only accessible with a paid ticket.

I think maybe we'll have to check out what else is happening in National Harbor this summer and make another visit.  Maybe we'll even take the water taxi from Old Town Alexandria, just for fun!

Here are the pictures to prove we actually went to the museum!

Diggs was pretty serious about Elmo.  

The fire fighter uniforms come in a bunch of different sizes.  You could make your own crew!  Diggs liked driving the truck, but he ran out covering his ears whenever the siren went off!

Here's Nana and Diggs driving the food truck in the three and under room.  The "Nursing Mother's Area" are those two chairs in the background.  Not exactly what I had in mind when I read about it on the museum's website.

Testing out how cars drive on different textures.

Building in the Imagination Playground.

Sometimes this is "the look" I get when I ask him to smile for the camera.

Here's our completed ball ramp!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt Island

I was on the verge of cabin fever this morning, which is odd because I feel like we've been going, going, going for the last several days, so I decided, "Well, let's just go somewhere."  So, we took off in the car and went to Theodore Roosevelt Island, just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Arlington, Virginia.  Maybe, though, I should explain (briefly) why I haven't posted in almost a month!  Eek!  For one, I started a new blog...Snail Mail Momma, all about paper crafting and the joy of actual mail.  So, while many nap times are typically devoted to updating this blog, I switched it up a bit and wrote for that blog, and then since it was Mother's Day, the rest of the nap times were usually consumed by making stationery sets for my three moms (and/or watching DVR'ed Revolution on NBC.)  Excuse number two is that Mr. Diggory was sick for a bit, and then my mother-in-law was coming to town, which is awesome, but very much gave me the kick in the pants I needed to devote almost a whole week to deep cleaning my house.  

Also, it's not like I haven't been going to museums, I just haven't been going to "new" ones (ones I haven't already covered in this blog) or going to museums with the tiny human, which is the whole point, right?  So, I guess I should briefly mention that he did go to the National Aquarium in Baltimore with his Nana Becky and Daddy while Momma was volunteering at the James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University as part of the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums Reinforcement Crew activities during the AAM Annual Meeting and Museum Expo.  Putting those collections management skillz to work!  The general consensus via Nana and Daddy is that the aquarium is super awesome but super crowded, and they didn't make it through even half of the venue (no dolphins!) before it was "time to go."  Maybe it would be better if we went on a weekday?  Any thoughts?  It's expensive ($35 dollars-ish for adults), but children under three are free!  Yippee!  Also, I have to toss in that I visited perhaps the oldest residential home still standing in Baltimore, the Robert Long House, built in 1765 and operated by The Preservation Society, a membership organization charged with preserving the communities of Fell's Point and Federal Hill.  We got a private tour by an extremely charismatic guide as part of our reception post-Reinforcement Crew work and geeked out a little bit talking about fire brigades and 18th century merchant activities. 

Deep breath.  

That brings us to today!  We had never been to Roosevelt Island, and I'm not exactly sure why.  Maybe it's that I always forgot it was there, only really remembering whilst driving on the George Washington Parkway on my way to some place else...a seemingly trivial excuse, compounded by the fact that it's only accessible from the northbound lanes.  But, alas, we went and had a wee of a time exploring.  It's worth visiting, of course, but do keep in mind that the earthquake in 2011 messed up the plumbing for the fountains at the memorial (i.e. no water) and, as a result of the still-ongoing construction work (because the federal government can rarely secure funding and fix something in a timely manner), the restrooms are out of order indefinitely.  And we're potty training.  Plan accordingly, if you catch my meaning.  

So, park the car...and there's plenty of parking...and walk across the bridge, but don't miss the interpretive sign (because, I'm a museum geek, after all) around the construction barricades that explains the Native American history of the island and the explorations of John Smith in 1608.  Fascinating really.  The fishing village of Namoraughquend - meaning "fishing place" spelled in Elizabethan English - likely occupied the banks of the Potomac somewhere between the island and where the Pentagon was (much) later constructed.  The village was marked by Smith on his famous map of Virginia first published in 1612. 

Tiny human running on the bridge.  Notice that the rungs of the sides of the bridge are close together...I like that, given our experiences with Diggs falling/jumping into any area of open water.
After you cross the bridge, and don't forget to look over the edge at the water - we saw a box turtle on a log!, stop and check out the trail map on the large sign where all the paths split off.  There are no brochures available at the park, but you can pick one up at the parkway headquarters and visitors centers or download and print one from here before you set off...not a bad idea, anyway, because there's a lot of information in the brochure that I didn't see on any signs on the island. 

Posing, briefly, for momma.
Our first stop was the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial itself.  It's impressive as is but would have been even more so had the fountains been fully functional.  As it happened, I was pretty pleased with getting the photo below while Diggory chewed on a stick.  Eye roll.

Not looking at momma for the photo with the statue.
After exploring the memorial, we took off down one of the paths and walked through the trees.  The paths aren't terribly rugged, but I wouldn't necessarily call them stroller-friendly either.  I mean, we were walking, but I try to keep mommas with younger babes in mind too.  Maybe if you had a jogging stroller with air-filled wheels with deep treads?  

Further down the path we came upon a marker explaining George Mason's use of the island.  It's really too bad that the house is no longer standing.  I'll have to look up the history sometime.

I'm reading the marker.  Diggs is looking for bugs.

What's going through his mind here?

Oh, shoot.  He ate it.  

Wild strawberries!

See it!

We finally looped back around to the bridge and headed back to the parking lot.  I'll wear more appropriate foot wear next time so I don't trip on any tree roots and feel more protected against snakes (which we saw by the way, and I may or may not have said an inappropriate word, much too loudly, in the company of my tiny human.)  Oh, and I should mention that if your kid is into airplanes, this ain't a bad place to watch for them.  It's somewhat odd to hear (and see) commercial jets coming in to land at DCA when you're among a plethora of flora and fauna, but it's just a not-so-subtle reminder of the larger metropolitan area just waiting to engulf you once you get back in your car. 

Oh, Rosslyn and your tall buildings, you're encroaching on my photo.

See? An airplane!

We'll be back, for sure, as I often end these posts.  I'm thinking one of our next stops might be the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico.  I've never been their either, and it's high time I find my little brother's commemorative brick there.  And, we might be off to the National Children's Museum later this week.  Plans still stay tuned!

Monday, April 22, 2013


Happy Earth Day and hello citizens of our lovely and glorious planet!  My post today is about trees!  Well, no, not really about trees, but there are lots of trees in the pictures of our recent visits to the U.S. National Arboretum and the Winkler Botanical Preserve.  And, seeing as how it's Earth Day, I thought we'd just go ahead and do some stuff out of doors.

Last week Diggory and I visited the U.S. National Arboretum for the very first time at the invitation of our good friends from church, Abby and her son Noah.  In the midst of our commute, however, I was reminded why I've lived in Alexandria for five years but had never made the trip to Northeast DC just to visit the arboretum.  We got stuck in traffic in the middle of the morning because of a parade (albeit a parade for a good reason, but still) and a trip that should only have been 35 minutes to travel 15 miles, turned into an hour and a half of stop and go, stop and go, slam on the brakes for a jay walking tourist, stop and go, then go really fast, then stop, etc., etc., etc., etc.  Oh, DC traffic, how I loathe you.  I'm not complaining, really.  I'm just sayin'.

But, alas, I am super glad we finally made it to the arboretum, which is an incredibly lovely (and huge) oasis of all things green and growing.  Our first stop was the Arbor House to use the "facilities."  I'd been in the car for an hour and a half, mind you, and drinking coffee the whole time.  The Arbor House has restrooms (with changing tables), a drinking fountain, maps, and a gift shop.  It's near the parking lots at the R Street entrance to the arboretum.  There is also an entrance off of New York Avenue, and there are parking lots scattered throughout the arboretum so you don't necessarily have to walk the whole thing.  AND, there's also a tram!  I thought it would be super fun to take Diggory and Noah on the tram ($4 for adults, children under 4 ride free) but it only runs on the weekends.  Alas.

Running up the hill to the Capitol Columns.

We stopped into the Administrative and Visitor Services building next, to ask about what the best stops for kids might be and found that the large koi pond surrounding the building is closed for renovations.  There are restrooms here too.  Pick up a map, if you don't already have one, and pick up any of the numerous brochures.  There's a cell phone tour of the whole arboretum, a walking tour of flowering trees (available through the "blooming season"), and a calendar of events and programs.  Next we walked through the herb gardens and then up the big hill to the National Capitol Columns.  The twenty-two sandstone columns were carved in the 1820s for the U.S. Capitol building but removed in 1958 during an expansion project.  There's also a small waterfall and a reflecting pool, which Diggory promptly stepped (and then fell) into, resulting in a less than graceful and slightly dramatic rescue and totally not-glamorous wardrobe change.  After that, we walked due west across the lawn, had a snack, and then followed the Eagle Nest Road back to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.  The bonsai were really amazing and clearly lovingly attended to and admired.  (I had a bonsai once.  Briefly.  I got it at Epcot Center on a high school band trip to Disney World.  It did not like the three day drive back to Iowa on the non-airconditioned bus.)  We also caught the tail end of the Ikebana exhibition highlighting the flower arranging art of Japan.  The next big event is the Potomac Bonsai Festival, May 3rd through 5th.  And, if you go, don't fret over the thousands of bees.  They're apparently male carpenter bees who have made their home in the wooden pergolas.  They don't have stingers...but they might bump right into your head.

Yep, he literally paused, looked at the water, and stepped straight into the pool. Awesome.

Post-wardrobe change snacks.  

Holding hands to cross the street.

Playing with rocks in the Japanese garden.

Wow.  That's basically the only caption necessary.

We probably covered less than a third of the arboretum in the two hours that we were, I suppose we'll just have to come back.  Wink, wink.

That brings us up to today...when Diggory and I spent our Earth Day morning at the Winkler Botanical Preserve in Alexandria, VA.  It's super close to our house, but I'd never actually been there because I couldn't figure out (and/or didn't take the time to figure out) how to actually get there.  Where's the entrance?!  Well, needless to say, it's not advertised very well and the signage isn't great...but I think that's sort of the point.  It's a preserve.  It's not a park.  I won't go into the details, but you can read about how the preserve is currently threatened by the expansion of office and federal buildings on Seminary Road here, and there's another good review of the preserve here.  The main entrance is at 5400 Roanoke Avenue.  Turn off of Beauregard Street onto Roanoke Avenue and drive all the way to the end of the street.  Go up a short hill and drive through the metal gate.  There's a small parking lot on the left.  Park there, and voila, you're at the preserve.  There are a bunch of trails, generally arranged in a loop around a small pond and a waterfall.  If you walk straight north, toward the gigantic BRAC building looming on the horizon, you'll come to Catherine's Lodge, used for programs in partnership with Alexandria Public Schools.  We saw some geese and that was cool for Diggs, "honk, honk," but the flora was absolutely spectacular, and I was totally impressed with how well maintained the preserve's trails are and how truly peaceful it was, even considering the ever-present drone of Interstate 395.  We turned right to walk around the pond, crossed a bridge, and found the top of the waterfall...clearly man made, but still nice...and then walked back down, making a big loop.  There were trails that led into the southern part of the preserve that we'll have to check out next time.  We had to meet daddy for lunch, after all.  But, even though this was our very first visit, I know we'll have to make this a regular outing.  I was totally impressed.  I've said that already, I know, but it's true.     

Annnnnd...there's the big BRAC building.

Wow, a stick!

Stop to smell the flowers.

Running past the lodge.  Please don't run into the pond, Diggory, please!

Climbing rocks...after filling pockets with smaller rocks.

We practiced saying "green" a lot.  Because there was a lot of "green."

See, a lot of green!

We also talked about moss.

I also put Diggory in a tree.

Hiking the trails above the waterfall.

See?!  We really did go have lunch with daddy.  Food trucks on 7th Street in L'Enfant Plaza.  And, yes, there's a food truck that sells cookies and milk.  Yum!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Catching Up...Yet again, yet again.

Hum, so, wow.  It's been a long, long time since I've updated my blog.  Bad, mommy blogger, bad.  Suffice it to say that I have actually been going to museums and other historic sites.  I just haven't had (ahem, or taken) the time to actually sit down and devote an entire nap time to writing.  That said...I'm not going to devote this entire nap time to writing either, so I'm going to do more of a photo essay...for the sake of time, yours and mine.  

Since the end of February, Diggory and I have been to six sites together, and I went to one more without him.  So, yes, I'm a little behind in my one-a-week, goal...maybe I'll play catch up one of these days.  First, I wanted to go to the Alexandria Black History Museum, and I thought Black History Month would be the perfect motivation to final get there.  It's a very small museum, but the permanent exhibition, Securing the Blessings of Liberty, on the history of African-Americans in the Alexandria region is extremely well done, full of information, and just every so slightly incredible feat for such a large and important topic.  I especially liked the panel of photographs listing homes in the area with important slave and African-American histories.  Maybe we'll devise our own walking tour one of these days.  From a logistical stand point, there's plenty of free and metered street parking in the area, and the museum is directly across Wythe Street from the Charles Houston Recreation Center, which has a small soft playroom.  

Checking out the permanent exhibition at the Alexandria Black History Museum.

The Alexandria Black History Museum in the background, across the street, is partially housed inside the historic Robert H. Robinson Library, built in 1940 following a sit-in at the segregated Alexandria Library.

Over the next several weeks, Diggory and I visited several sites with my parents, aka Nana Lynn and Grandpa, who were in town for a few weeks.  First, we visited the Nordic Cool exhibition at the Kennedy Center.  The exhibition closed on March 17th...another reminder to get my posts up in a timely manner...but the building and performances themselves have an excellent history, and it's a marvel of architecture, to be sure.  There's a parking ramp under the Kennedy Center, and it's not terribly expensive, if I recall.  If you're on the metro, there's a free shuttle to and from the Kennedy Center from the Foggy Bottom metro station.   

Checking out Scandinavian design with Grandpa.

Half Norwegian?  I think so.  (Posing with the Lego mural.)

Building with Legos.  I didn't know they were Danish-designed, did you?

"Hi, Grandpa!"  Inside one of the artworks in the Nordic Cool exhibition.

My very own little Viking.  He's only an eighth Norwegian, but he somehow got the blonde hair and blue eyes!  Woo hoo!

Just a few days later, we all made the trek to Hot Springs, Virginia for the Virginia Association of Museums Annual Conference.  I was presenting a workshop on mannequin dressing for museum textile collections with a lovely friend and colleague of mine...and I have to admit, I was perhaps a little more excited about spending some time at The Homestead than I was about the conference itself.  The Homestead was opened in 1766 and has an extremely rich history. The Jefferson Pools are their own little wonder...ever taken a dip in a hot spring, surrounded by an octagonal building built (and just ever so slightly patched up) in 1761?  I have.  

Diggory and Grandpa at The Homestead.

Building a snowman at The Homestead.

Inside the Ladies' Pool House in Warm Spring, Virginia.

The lobby at The Homestead.

See, we actually did do some work?!  The presenters at VAM.

On our sojourn back to Northern Virginia, we stopped at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.  A check box ticked off on that ol' bucket list.  I won't describe all the details, but I was pleasantly surprised that they were so child friendly and accommodating.  Diggory got sort of upset at one point, and the tour guides guided my mom (God, love her) someplace else (where ever that was) and brought us the stroller, etc.  I think he just really didn't want to be on the tour...he wanted to run around, and I don't blame him, he'd been strapped into the car seat for over two hours already.  So, once the tour was over, he did get to run around, and he promptly fell into the mud.  Red mud.  It was awesome.  Luckily, there were bathrooms nearby.  Logistically, the site itself is great...the new(ish) visitor's center and museum are extremely accessible, there's a shuttle up to the house itself, the cafe is great (lots of high chairs and indoor and outdoor seating), and there are family restrooms just past the entrance.    

Yep, red mud.

Our tour group entering Monticello.

Momma and Diggory at Monticello.

Grandpa taking pictures...we did a lot of that.  Beautiful day, and beautiful views of the Charlottesville area.

Before Grandpa and Nana left, we needed to check some things off Grandpa's sight seeing list.  Namely, the exhibition The Civil War in American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (which is beautiful and closes on April 28th) and President Lincoln's Cottage.  Both of these don't really count as blog-worthy sites, not because they're not awesome (they are) but because Diggory and I already "did" SAAM last year and he didn't come with my dad and me to Lincoln's Cottage.  But, alas, they are museums...and you should go to them.  A few notes about Lincoln's Cottage.  It's accessible through the Eagle Gate of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest Washington, DC.  Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-12.  Children under six are not encouraged to visit, due to battlefield imagery and tour length of approximately one hour, though I suspect it's more of the tour length that's the issue.  Tours are guided in small groups, and once you're in the house and on your tour, an upset child would be a huge distraction and inconvenience.  Just sayin'.

Nana pushing the stroller through the water scrims in the courtyard at SAAM/NPG.  Do you see our "artful" designs in the lower left?   

Taking pictures after the tour at President Lincoln's Cottage.  Wonderfully restored, great visitor's center and permanent exhibition, free parking, not hard to get to.  

Ha, ha!  That brings us to today!  This morning Diggory and I ventured into Georgetown to run an errand, and I thought, "Hey, let's just check out the Old Stone House while we're all the way into the city."  So, we did.  And it's true when they call it an urban oasis.  The garden in the back is so sweet and quiet, in the midst of the chaos that is M Street NW.  I've walked by many times, and I think I did poke my head in the gift shop on the lower level once, but I'd never been into the actually museum.  Very interesting, indeed.  The house itself is the oldest structure still standing in the District of Columbia.  Built between 1764 and 1766, the house was used as a residence and merchant's shop, and even a car dealership until it was transferred to the National Park Service in 1950.  And, wonder of all wonders, more than 85% of the structure is original...that's really quite a feat.  Parking can be tricky in Georgetown, but there's a public ramp right next door...and don't discount street parking, though it can be a little tight.  The last two times I've been in Georgetown I've found a free spot and a metered spot within two blocks of where I needed to be, and today, our meter still had 48 minutes left on it when we arrived.  And that's really something...especially when a quarter only buys you seven minutes.  There aren't any public restrooms at the Old Stone house, but there's a bounty of restaurants and cafes nearby, and a Barnes and Noble right across the street, if need be.  Oh, and other than the ground floor, it's definitely not stroller accessible...but you probably assumed that.

Okay, that's it for today!  Where will be go next?  I've got some ideas...stay tuned.

Enjoying the sunshine on the steps of the Old Stone House.

The dining room in the Old Stone House.

 Climbing the stairs to the garden at the Old Stone House..."Look, Mom! No hands!"