Blog

search for me

Just Exploring Wintery Washington

 

When you’re walking outside with your coat open because 30 degrees feels like spring, you know it’s been too cold. 

Since coming back to D.C. from Houston holidays, we’ve mostly stayed indoors, on our couch, under two or three layers of clothes. Our apartment doesn’t heat well, but at least it offers shelter from the wind that turns 4 degrees into “feels like -11.” 

Last week, a broken water main at work extended my winter break by a few days. Back to the couch! But cabin fever is real (the term turns 100 this year), and after seeing photos of the frozen reflecting pool, I wanted to witness some of the winter-transformed city. What I learned from that endless 2015 Boston winter was getting outside helps winter blues, as long as you bundle correctly. 

Here are a few photos from the times we’ve dared venture out. 

  Meridian Park fountain

Meridian Park fountain

 
 
  Joan of Arc  

Joan of Arc 

 
  "Stay off"

"Stay off"

IMG_5999.jpg
IMG_6006.jpg

This Christmas display was on W between 15th and 14th Streets NW last week. I hope it morphs into a Valentine's Day decoration in the next few weeks. 

IMG_5991.jpg

Favorite D.C. Places: Cherubs and Goose

Here are some cherubs strangling a goose. 

  What did that goose ever do to those cherubs? 

What did that goose ever do to those cherubs? 

This fountain is in one of the two main floor atriums in the National Gallery's West Building. The weirdness of the statue makes this atrium superior to its east wing counterpart, which is identical but for the blander fountain. I saw both statues last weekend, and I can’t remember what the other one is. It’s definitely not angels roughhousing with a goose. 

When taking visitors to the National Gallery, we always go to the rotunda, whose Italian marble pillars, dark floors, and Pantheon-inspired dome always get a "Wow." But the garden courts are cozier, and the skylights, greenery, and Goose and Cherubs put this particular indoor courtyard among my many favorite spots near the Mall. It’s a perfect place to hide from the weather, if you can soldier through the summer humidity or the dreary winter to get to the museum. The chairs around the atrium mean you can sit, people watch, eavesdrop, or read a book for as long as the museum is open. It’s full of light, it's free, the landscaping around the fountain changes every few months, and you’re surrounded by art.

And at least last weekend, it was relatively empty. The tourists were all lined up down the street at the Natural History and American History Museums. 

The State Fairs are Coming!

State fair season is upon us. And there are a bunch of state fairs kind of close to D.C..

The size of states in the Northeast still thrills me. Drive four hours in the right direction and you’ll probably pass through as many states. Drive four hours north from Houston and you’ll be in Dallas. When I realized how close all these states are, I put together a spreadsheet of state fairs within a five-hour drive of D.C.  If I’m going to get to all 50 states’ fairs, it will require planning. As a side note, I haven’t figured out what to do with the states that don't have an official state fair, like Pennsylvania. 

  Judges at Maryland State Fair failed to award Cthulhu hat a ribbon

Judges at Maryland State Fair failed to award Cthulhu hat a ribbon

Anyway, in 2016, I checked Maryland and D.C’s fairs off my list on the same weekend. I'm updating my spreadsheet to make my attack plan. Here's a run down, in chronological order: 

Delaware State Fair: July 20-29, from 8 am - 11 pm, except on opening day, when gates open at noon. The Delaware State Fairgrounds are at 18500 S Dupont Hwy, Harrington, DE 19952, approximately 2 hrs from D.C. Tickets are $9 at the gate for adults and $4 for children. This list of 98 things to do at the 98th Delaware State Fair really sells their fair. Free samples of Cheerwine? Yes please, I just heard about this soda (not wine) and have never seen or had it. Walk among butterflies and learn to repair a butterfly wing? Hold a baby chick? Sheep and Wool Ambassador Contest? I want to do all these things. I’m sure some of the other state fairs offer similar activities, but kudos to Delaware for the list.

New Jersey State Fair: Aug. 4 - 13 at 37 Plains Road, Augusta, NJ 07822, about 4.5 hrs away. They're open from 10 am - 10 pm, except on the last day, August 13, when the gates close at 5. Tickets purchased before August 4 are $9 for adults and $5 for children. 

State Fair of West Virginia: Aug. 10-19 at 947 Maplewood Ave, Lewisburg, WV 24901. This fair is four hours and 40 minutes from D.C. Gates open at 2 p.m. on August 10th; otherwise, they're open from 9 am - 11 pm. Adults pay $11, or $9 in advance; children 12 and under get in for free. 

  Calf at Maryland State fair

Calf at Maryland State fair

Maryland State Fair: Aug. 24 - Sep. 4 at 2200 York Road, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093. This is about an hour and 15 minutes from the city. They have yet to post their hours and ticket prices, but last year, my ticket cost $8. 

DC State Fair:  September 24th from 11 am - 8 pm at Waterfront Station, 375 and 425 M St. SW. It's free. 

State Fair of Virginia: Sept 29 - Oct. 8. Hours are 10-10 Friday and Saturday, 10 - 9, Sunday - Thurs. It's at 13111 Dawn Blvd, Doswell, VA, 23047, an hour and 45 minutes from D.C. Tickets for adults are $15, or $12 in advance. Kids are $11, or $8 in advance. They advertise "sliding ducks," so Virginia tops my list this year. 

Have you been to any of these state fairs? If you're from one of those state fair-free states, is there another fair or event you recommend? What are you most looking forward to at your state's fair? I'm looking forward to all your state fair pictures, especially any of duckling slides, impressive quilts, elaborate cakes (especially if they're moldy), and weird art submissions.  

Happy state fair season! 

A Weekend of State Fairs

Over the weekend, I went to the Maryland and D.C. state fairs, and I realize I've been spoiled by Kentucky and Texas. 

Maryland’s state fair takes place in Timonium, about an hour and half from D.C. It covers the essentials. You can eat corn dogs, something called a pork sundae, deep fried cream cheese, cinnamon rolls, Oreos, or my favorite fair food, the giant turkey leg. Their Home Arts building includes quilt, crochet, photography, cross-stitch, and various baked goods contests. There’s a Horse Center, which my allergies and I avoided, a Cow Palace, and other livestock barns full of goats, alpacas, sheep, pigs, and newly hatched chicks. We visited the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ exhibit, where we pet a rat snake and learned you can eat the invasive snakehead fish at a Baltimore restaurant called Alewife. In the Agricultural Center, I sampled alfalfa honey and admired prize-winning but normal-sized pumpkins and eggplants.

The fair program advertised a Negro League Baseball exhibit in the Exhibition Hall. In the back of the room, next to a balloon display and the entrance to a bulk candy shop, we found a gentleman with a what seemed to be a personal collection of Negro League Baseball articles, plaques, and posters. The rest of the hall was retail and political booths. Thankfully this section was small compared to Kentucky’s — no t-shirts of mascots brutalizing each other. But there was also no Raptor Rehab booth, and not an oversized pumpkin or watermelon in sight. This was the most ornate cake we saw: 

  Pig in a blanket cake

Pig in a blanket cake

Maryland’s fair has most of the things I love. D.C’s state fair is a one-day affair in a parking lot. We’re not a state, so it’s unfair to ask too much of our fair (do you like how much I’m using the word “fair”?). In the line of food trucks, one offered deep-fried desserts. They had various contests, and we endured the heat long enough to see the winners of the longest, heaviest, and funkiest vegetables. At 27 pounds, the D.C. pumpkin beat out all the ones we saw at the Maryland State Fair.

They also had a new-to-me fair feature: a towering marijuana plant, discounts on medical cards, and a booth on growing your own plants at home. 

But I miss the 1000-pound pumpkins, the weird and fabulous poultry, the duck-herding border collies, and of course, the duckling slide. Virginia's state fair starts in late September, and I see they have poultry, giant pumpkins and watermelons, AND "always-popular sliding ducks." That sounds promising.  

You Should Read "Lafayette in the Somewhat United States"

If you’re obsessed with the musical Hamilton and want to learn more about “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman,” now is as good a time as any to take a break from spreading the Hamilton gospel to your co-workers to read Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. 

I am well aware how embarrassingly little I know about history. Vowell, in a conversation with Quakers, helped me realize a potential reason for my disinterest in the history I learned in school. She visits the Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse near the Brandywine Battlefield in Pennsylvania, where Lafayette got shot in the leg. After telling her new acquaintances that she’s researching Lafayette, one of them says, “We understand our history as war.” 

“Yes,” I thought, remembering my history education as notebooks filled with battles and dates, the only one of which I can clearly recall being 1066, William the Conqueror. No wonder I thought history was boring for so long. I don’t care about battles.

Reductive as that may be, I do care about people, and Vowell, with huge doses of snark, presents all these historical figures as imperfect humans. Yes, George Washington led the Continental Army to victory, but he had a lot of help (and slaves). Yes, a very young Lafayette crossed the Atlantic a few times to help the United States in their fight against Britain, but to do so, he deceived his in-laws and pregnant wife. Yes, the Continental Army triumphed against its colonial oppressor, but man, were they a hot, underfunded, unshod and barely-clothed mess.

 Lafayette and some friends at Lafayette Square. Photo by Gabe Bullard. 

Lafayette and some friends at Lafayette Square. Photo by Gabe Bullard. 

Now for some highlights of the many, sarcastic gems from the book.

-On Lafayette’s seasickness during the boat ride to the United States: “He spent the miserable voyage learning English, presumably mastering how to conjugate the verb ‘to puke.’” 

-Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s assessment of the American soldiers’ bayonet skills before he taught them Bayonet 101: “'the American soldier, never having used this arm, had no faith in it, and never used it but to roast his beefsteak.'” 

-On Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the first draft of Notes on the State of Virginia while the Continental Army struggled to defend his state: “Basically, the governor of Virginia had thoughts on everything but how to arm and feed and reinforce the soldiers risking their lives to save his state.” 

-The horror expressed by a French officer dining in Washington’s tent when the general failed to serve the meal “in a succession of courses like in civilization. Apparently Washington ‘gave, on the same plate, meat, vegetables, and salad.’ On the same plate? Were these Americans people or animals?” I think the French are still wondering this now that the doggy bag has found its way to their country

If I included all the parts that made me laugh, there would be little left for you to read. Overall, I was left feeling admiration and some warmth toward our Revolutionary War heroes, plus a desire to read more of Washington’s correspondence. I also added several more places to visit to the Travel List, like Lafayette’s birthplace and the cemetery in Paris where he’s buried. 

I’m working on improving my loose grasp on history. Hamilton and books like Vowell’s help immensely. And actually, it’s really easy to read this book and also annoy your coworkers about Hamilton.  

A Monumental Bike Ride

Drive from Arlington into D.C. on 66 and you cross the Potomac with a grand view of the river, the Kennedy Center, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial off to the right. I’m prone to neck-craning anytime I’m near water, and with the added distraction of monuments, I become a danger to myself and others. After making this drive a few times, I realized I needed to get myself, sans car, to the bank of the river so I could do all the looking I wanted before I drove off the bridge. On Monday, I finally rode my bike down the Rock Creek Park Trail to the river. Apart from a few steep inclines and some bike-shaking cracks on the trail, it's an easy, pretty ride past the zoo, a par course, a cemetery, and the beginning of the C&O Towpath Trail. 

 (L-R): Kennedy Center & trash, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Key Bridge & Georgetown.

(L-R): Kennedy Center & trash, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Key Bridge & Georgetown.

Once I got a good look at the Key Bridge and the river bend between the Georgetown Waterfront Park and the Kennedy Center (and all the trash that collects there), I kept biking. Since I haven’t been to the mall at all since moving here, I continued my bike ride past the Lincoln Memorial, then decided to find the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which I’ve never seen. It’s on the Tidal Basin, and since I’d also never been there, I decided I should bike around it and get up close to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. From there, I closed my Tidal Basin loop, pausing to check the paddle boathouse schedule (Wednesday-Saturday this time of year) and stare at these tiny, iridescent fish flashing just below the water’s surface.  From there, I headed home, stopping at the par course pull-up bars to test my upper body strength. 

 
 Fish not pictured.

Fish not pictured.

 

This bike ride made me realize that while my neighborhood has started to feel like home, I haven't yet grasped that these monuments are also part of home. I have to remind myself that it usually takes at least six months for me to get really comfortable with a place. In the meantime, the ride inspired a few more exploration goals:   

Visit Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Explore Lady Bird Johnson Park.

Follow the Rock Creek Park Trail all the way down to Hains Point, where the Potomac meets the Anacostia. 

Just Exploring the National Library of Medicine

In June, I spent two days at the National Institute of Health's Library of Medicine, where a librarian friend who’s encouraging me to look into librarianship introduced me to her co-workers in various departments. Here are some things I learned about the library.

There’s a daily tour at 1:30. I was the only one it. On the lower level, a set of dioramas shows the collection’s movement from downtown D.C. to Maryland. The collection lived in Ford’s Theater between 1866 and 1887. Today, it’s on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, where it moved in 1962. The building’s Cold War design includes a collapsible ceiling that would allow the roof to come down and seal the collection. This is terrifying. Let’s not dwell on it. 

The library offers extensive online resources, including Turning the Pages, an online look at 13 rare items from the collection. I’ve flipped through all of Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal at least twice, and Hanaoka Seishu’s Surgical Casebook is a gruesome diversion. 

In the library’s History of Medicine division, they have a Nobel Prize on display. This department also organizes exhibits of their archives. They’re currently showing a selection of pictures of nurses, part of a collection of 2,588 postcards assembled by an RN and donated to the library. You can see it here

During my behind-the-scenes wandering, I got to visit the library’s conservation lab, where I met a woman preparing to restitch the binding on a book whose pages she had finished washing. Various librarians talked about Rare Book School, which offers classes mainly in Charlottesville. Who else wants to go to Rare Book School? 

My NLM visit succeeded in getting me to think more about pursuing librarianship (while introducing me to the term “librarianship”), and I’m grateful to my friend and her colleagues who took the time to speak with me. You don’t have to be a maybe-librarian to visit the National Library of Medicine. It’s open to the public, and anyone can get a library card. Or you can skip the Metro ride and security checks and explore the resources from home.