Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Museum of Natural History - Smithsonian

Thursday took us to the Museum of Natural History, one of the popular locations of Ben Stiller's latest film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. This gigantic elephant is the first animal to greet you as you walk in the front doors. Intimidating.

In the last Night at the Museum, I believe this fella came alive and chased Ben Stiller like a dog. Unfortunately, he didn't move much for us. The prehistoric section was fascinating. Perhaps the most fascinating element for us was how the assumption of evolution, from amoeba to man, controls the entire narrative of the museum. This blog isn't the place to air all my doubts regarding Darwinism, but I did leave convinced that it is probably the most powerful, and most false, idea of our age. Nonetheless, the wonders of the natural world, especially T-Rex, stirred the imagination.

The velociraptor has nothing on my wife.

Here we are next the Easter Island Head, popularly known at DumDum from Night at the Museum. Unfortunately, I was fresh out of GumGum for DumDum, but he seemed amiable nonetheless.

The section on the ocean was astounding as well. From Giant Squids to Giant Whales, the Ocean is perhaps more awe-inspiring even than D.C.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The White House, Lunch, and Our Baby

Here we are outside the White House. We're convinced Sierra's going to Harvard. All great minds begin with sandal eating...

Although we didn't get Sierra's attention, we did get a good family pic with the White House in the background. Unfortunately, this is as close as normal humans like us could get to Obama's Castle. That's the post 9/11 world we live in.

Lunch that day brought us to a fountain outside the Museum of American History. It was one of the few fountains we could dip our feet in without incurring the displeasure of hovering security guards. Sierra loved rolling up her pants and splashing about.

That's just a cute baby. This is from the day before, just after the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial and The Vietnam Memorial

On Wednesday we headed to the Lincoln Memorial, the great monument to the Great Emancipator. Honestly, when walking up the steps I couldn't but help and think of the Million Man March and the "I Have a Dream Speech" delivered by Dr. King. But Abraham Lincoln was fairly impressive as well...

Here he is. On the right wall was the Gettysburg address and on the left was his Second Inaugural Address.

That one there might be a Christmas card--if it wasn't lacking one small human napping in her stroller.

From the Lincoln Memorial he headed to the Vietnam Memorial, where 50,000 plus names are inscribed on a mirror-like black wall. Right below where I took this photo was a solitary rose. I couldn't help but comment to Kelly that memorials are so--tidy, unlike the enormous cost of human life it took to arise such blocks of remembrance.

Comic Relief After a Long Day

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The National Air and Space Museum

That same afternoon we returned the rental car and then swung by the National Air and Space Museum with Anne. Being an air force family, they were enthusiastic about the museum. Initially, I wasn't. But after getting in, I realized I was sorely mistaken...

There is a difference between the National Air and Space Museum and nearly all others: in this museum you see the real thing. The museum is an entire hangar of the history of aviation, from the Wright Brothers to the Space Shuttle. The sheer scale of this place was awe-inspiring.

Here are housed some of history's most famous planes. This plane is the Enola Gay, the WWII bomber that dropped the first ever atom bomb on Nagasaki. Depending on your perspective, this plane either saved thousands of lives and ended the war or it caused unprecedented destruction and opened our world up to a force more deadly than all of history's weapon's combined. Either way, this plane and the men who flew it changed history for good.

This seemingly innocent plane is the Aichi M6A1 Seiran. It was used by the Japanese in WWII. What makes this particular plane unique is that it didn't take off from land, nor even from an aircraft carrier. Instead, it was released from a submarine. The wings fold up, the floaters detach, and this little plane can emerge from a surfaced submarine. Now, why am I telling you all of this? The reason is because this plane could have changed history forever. The Aichi can only hold a single missle. And so early in WWII, Japanese generals what was the most damage that could be done with a single missle. Even if they surfaced right off the coast of DC., what could one bomb do? Well, they decided that the most damage would be done if several Aichi planes dropped biological weapons over the atmosphere of America, thus infecting literally millions with deadly disease. The Emperor, however, when he heard of this plan, refused to follow through because he was convinced that the world would hate Japan forever if they used such a weapon. The second plan was to bomb the Panama canal and cut off America's naval fleet. But the war ended too quickly. These planes were found in an abandoned sub in the early months after the Empire had surrendered. One can only imagine what the world might have looked like if their original plan would have been executed...

Here's a fun tidbit. When the first astronauts returned from the moon, scientists didn't know if they would be infected with any kind of diseases from the moon's surface. So they built this quarantine capsule for the astronauts in order to protect earth's population from "moon germs."

The Air and Space Musuem is a bit off the beaten path, but if you every travel to D.C., you gotta check it out. And get the's worth every minute.

Washington Monument and WWII Memorial

After our disaster at the capitol, we walked along the National Mall and beheld this giant obelisk, erected to honor George Washington. Some take an elevator to the top...we just take pictures and ask why anybody would build such an odd, functionless structure.

Just past the Washington Monument is the WWII Memorial. We would come back later in our trip to get a closer look, but here's a general picture of the fountains (with the Lincoln Memorial in the far background). The WWII Memorial was placed between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument to symbolize how crucial WWII was in defending our nation's ideals.

Although the official mood of the memorial was somber, apparently nobody told Sierra. (Again, don't worry grandmas, our hand is hidden right behind the granite blocks).

The Capitol

Our trip to the capitol building was perhaps the biggest fiasco of our entire vacation. Here was the plan. Take a scheduled tour of the capitol at 11:10am on Monday. Meet out congressman, learn our history, be patriotic. It wasn't in the cards. We left our house that morning a few minutes late, rushed to the Metro stop and hopped on the bus. After we got off, we realized that we had a 7 block "walk" to the capitol. Because it was now 10:55, we ran. Running uphill, pushing a stroller in the heat of D.C. was not how we wanted to start our day. But nonetheless we arrived, with sweaty pits and all. We arrived to security at 11:25, hoping to still catch our tour. Problem. The security guard informed us we couldn't bring in even an empty water bottle. We thought at that point, "Shoot, then what in the heck are we going to do with our bagged lunch?" One security guard kindly suggested that we throw it away. Since our mini cooler had not only our food but all of Sierra's food as well, we didn't think that was a good option. So, I tried to go and hide our lunch in a corner and just hope it would still be there after we returned. No dice. So fella with an oozie chased me down and said that if I left my lunch by the wall, they would have to evacuate the premises (assuming, of course, I was carrying a dirty bomb, not baby food). So, sweaty, late and facing losing about $60 in food and lunch paraphernalia, we threw in the towel. The closest we got to the capitol was the picture you see below.

But man did we enjoy our lunch outside the capitol. Sierra was sure glad we didn't throw away that bottle. What then would she gnaw on?

Making the best of the scenery outside the capitol...

Because I felt like I needed a little love after our fiasco, I decided to give some away to this good looking aluminum man, planted outside the Smithsonian.

And here's our cute baby, just lovin' life next to the Grant Memorial. I can't saw that the epic struggle for freedom really matches our baby's big smile, but I prefer the latter anyway.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Washington National Cathedral

Last Sunday we went to church at the Washington National Cathedral. Here we are right after the service in the Bishop's Garden.

The Cathedral was majestic. It reminded us both of the cathedrals in Europe and Latin America, with the exception of the stained glass windows. Many depicted scenes from American history, and one even depicts the Apollo 11 moon landing. This church has seen some of the greatest people in American history, from nearly every president to even Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement.

Here we are with Tom and Erin; Tom is actually Rich's (our host) nephew who has been staying with the McFarland's for the past several weeks while in medical school. They have been a huge blessing to us while we've been here in Washington D.C. They are both believers, both in the Air Force, and both extremely interesting people. It's funny how travels can cross your paths with the most interesting, and unlikely, people.

This is the back of the Cathedral. It pictures Christ in the center of a host of saints and outstanding individuals from the history of Christianity.

The art on the front of the Cathedral depicts creation (a walk-through of the Cathedral brings you from creation to redemption). In the middle is the creation of man, and on either side is the creation of day and night. The Christian imagination is indeed beautiful.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Life at the McFarlands

This page introduces our esteemed hosts, Anne and Rich McFarland. Anne and Rich are Debbie's good friends from when they all lived in Colorado Springs. We had only met them a handful of times, but during our brief conversations they told us to come out and visit sometime. They didn't know what they were getting into... They have been absolutely fantastic to us. They've fed us breakfast and dinner every day, given us two rooms to stay in, let us use their patio, washer and dryer, and even their cars. To say they've been warm is an understatement. Last Saturday Anne took us to see her horse, Winston. Anne shows Winston in horse shows along the East Coast. She's taught us horse lingo like "a four step gait" that we constantly need translated. Below are Winston and Anne.

When meeting Winston face to face, Sierra was a bit terrified. She got a look of terror in her face when she got close to this ginormous dog. But after a while she warmed up to Winston. Actually, after about a half hour, and after seeing us pet Winston, she started to reach out her hand to pet him as well. The progression from fear to fun was a delight to behold.

Here is Sierra and Anne after Sierra's first ever horse ride. She was all smiles as they walked around the barn. We may, however, be kicking ourselves for this day when she turns six and asks for a pony for her birthday. Regardless, today was a blast for our little girl.

Here's a picture at dinner that night which includes Rich (far left) as well. Super Sierra was a bit off since it was only minutes from her bedtime. But we all were happy. And considering the meal which we had only minutes later, we had good reason to be.

The last posting was a video of Sierra's ride on Winston. It rocked her little world.

Sierra, Anne and Winston

The Pentagon

This past Friday we took an exclusive tour of the Pentagon, which is the central command for all US military operations. We only got in because we knew an "insider"--Pete Rutt (the dad of a friend from our small group) took the time to give us a walk-through. We didn't get many pictures of the inside (cameras are strictly forbidden), but we did get some good details. The Pentagon has over 25,000 employees working for the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, and the Army. The structure is five levels high (only two basements....not thirty according to many movies) and has five concentric rings. Walking through the halls we saw civilians and soldiers at work, as well as a host of paintings to both war scenes and military generals. The Pentagon is like a small city--you can do everything from buy food to go to the dentist within its walls. The tour took a couple hours, which included a view of the Pentagon Memorial for the 184 people that were killed on 9/11. Below is the baby and I hanging out outside after the tour. She was a champ. Making hardened commanders smile is only a task that she was up to...

Here's my beautiful wife outside the Pentagon.

Sierra got a bit pooped during the tour. Once we put her hat on, apparently she thought it was nap time. Cute as ever...

After the tour Pete and Linda Rutt took us our to dinner at Champps. We learned about Pete's work on IT at the Pentagon as well as crazy family stories about our buddy Jake. So Jake, is it true that one time when you were 10 years old you woke your mom up in the middle of the night to ask permission to pee? And that's just the beginning of the incriminating stories we got on you...
Thanks to the Rutts for a fantastic afternoon!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The National Archives

Welcome to the National Archives, the shrine for the Charters of Freedom (which include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights). Our visit to the archives includes an interesting vignette. On the Metro we randomly struck up a conversation with a woman who was smiling at Sierra. As it turns out, she works at the archives. As we were stepping off the Metro, she said, "Follow me. I'll get you past those long lines." So we followed her, headed in a back door, looped through a maze of hallways, and emerged in the Rotunda, the hall that contains the Charters of Freedom. And, to our satisfaction, we saw a sea of middle schoolers on their class trip waiting to get in just behind us. Patricia, if you're reading this, we salute you. Below is a picture of simply one of the displays...I took a photo of the Declaration and the Constitution, but they just look like yellow blobs. Although most of the lettering has faded, being right next to the documents that form the highest law of our land and basically inaugurated global democracy was an experience I recommend. Unfortunately, it's an experience that all those middle schoolers can hardly appreciate. Education is best enjoyed, in my opinion, by adults.

I should also mention that the archives contain basically all primary sources of American history, from immigrant documentation and letters from our founding fathers to thousands of reels of congressional video or photos of presidents when they were six (George W. was quite a little cowboy). The museum inside, called The Public Vaults, was fantastic. Below I am flexing next to the pillars outside the National Archives.

Here's the view from afar. The structure is impressive to say the least.
After the tour we sat on the steps and enjoyed some ice cream. Sierra got her very first taste of vanilla ice cream. She was delighted.

Across from the National Archives is the National Sculpture Garden. Resting by the pond is just what we needed before making the trek home.

Thoughts on the National Archives: There is an inscription beneath a statue outside the Archives. It says, "The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that Brings Forth the Harvest of the Future." What do you think about that? The US government has gone to great lengths to remember just about everything with the idea that our past is perhaps our most treasured asset to guiding us into the future. If this is true, a lot more of us should be reading and studying history on leisurely weeknights than watching American Idol or CSI. I don't mean to cut too deep here, but future generations are depending on us. Will we leave them without the wisdom of history or will we give them both the lessons of good and ill so they can form a better future? That's a question we should all wrestle with.

Georgetown University

Day Three brought us (eventually) to Georgetown University. Let me tell you, getting there was no easy task. I've come to believe that the city planners of D.C. were either drunk or cross-eyed when mapping out the city. I've never seen so many loops, dead ends, and one-ways to no where in my life. Regardless, we eventually made it to see the historic university, which boasts graduates such as Bill Clinton, and, more famously, Patrick Ewing. Our only business here was eating lunch on the grass and soaking in the energy of a premier undergraduate institution.

Bringing smiles to the masses...a high five to my girls.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Arlington National Cemetery

The second half of Day Two brought us to Arlington National Cemetery, final resting place to over 320,000 servicemen either in the military or connected to the US Government. Who gets buried at Arlington, you may ask? You can be buried there if you were killed in action, received a Purple Heart (wounded in action), were a POW, have over 20 years of service in the military, or have some other kind of congressional exception (several Supreme Court Justices, as well as the crews of the space shuttle Discover and Challenger, are buried there, for example). The cemetery is absolutely enormous...almost as big as all of downtown D.C. It's rather disconcerting to see the tremendous price that was paid in human life for the maintaining our way of life. Below is a sampling of the sea of gravestones at Arlington.

This is called the Tomb of the Unknowns. Erected in the 1940s, this tomb commemorates all the soldiers who died yet could not be identified--or were "known to God alone." A soldier guards the tomb 24/7. He walks back and forth with the utmost precision--21 steps one way, a pause for 21 seconds, and 21 steps the other way. Why 21? Add the numerals 1776, and that's what you get. Interestingly, that's also why presidents get a 21 gun salute at their funeral. The guard changes every hour. We had the chance to see this elaborate ceremony, complete with complete inspection of the soldier going off duty and a solemn command for the audience to stand out of respect and remain silent at the site.

Here's the grave site of JFK. Above his tombstone is the eternal flame, where the words "with history as the final judge of our deeds" are quoted in his inaugural address. The grave of JFK is probably the second most popular site behind the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Yeah, Arlington was solemn, but we found some time for smiles to lighten up the mood.

We even found time to put our baby on a canon from the USS Maine, a ship that was sunk to ignite the Spanish American War. Don't worry, grandmas. I'm hiding behind the canon to make sure she doesn't fall.
Thoughts on Arlington: Societies and nations need ways of maintaining themselves. They do this through honoring sacrifice. And the greatest honor goes to the greatest sacrifice, hence Arlington. I had to ask myself, while walking out, how do we in the church honor sacrifice? Do we have days that honor the missionaries who brought the gospel to the English-speaking world centuries ago? Or do we honor pastors for their sacrifice? When we think of church history and the great heroes there enshrined, far too many Protestants fear that giving them due respect will lead to statue-worship and popery (not potpourri). Lesson: how you honor your heroes will determine what your people will respect and what kind of legacy you will leave for the next generation.