Out East Road Trip Days 4 & 5: Washington D.C.

You can see a lot in two days.  Especially in D.C., where the streets overfloweth with monuments and museums.

Because it would take me about three years to write a witty paragraph about every place we visited, here is a pictorial representation instead, for your convenience and mine:

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit.  I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written.  There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment.  They aren't overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.  It's up to you to pay attention and discover what's there.

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit. I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written. There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment. They aren’t overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.; It’s up to you to pay attention and discover what’s there.

Outside the Newseum was a display of state newspapers.  Minnesota was solidly represented.

Outside the Newseum was a display of that day’s front page from every state’s newspaper. Minnesota was solidly represented.

So, there was this house.  And it was white.

So, there was this house. And it was white.

The Capitol, where Minnesota's own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns.  Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards.  No big deal.

The Capitol, where Minnesota’s own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns. Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards. He stopped to chat about the upcoming Bachelorette finale.  He was team Brooks.

The Smithsonian First Ladies' exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama's  inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized).

The Smithsonian American History Museum’s First Ladies exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized (aka about a 10)).

I will interject here to say that my favorite part of the entire D.C. trip was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s exhibit Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.  I could have stayed there all day; I have a soft spot for anthropology, and an even softer spot for history and mummies and mysteries.  The exhibit was about the human remains found at early settlements such as Jamestown, and what the bones tell scientists about the person they belonged to.  There were about five different skeletons on display, but before you got to view them and learn their stories, you learned what physical clues archaeologists look for to determine how a person died, how they lived, how old they were, etc.  It was an extremely well-organized exhibit that allowed you to feel, for about an hour, like a real archaeologist.  Truly a dream come true.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The man himself, looking imposing.

The man himself, looking imposing.

Where MLK stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

Where Dr. King stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

The Vietnam Memorial.  The little girl in the distance was an accidental (but beautiful, in my humble opinion) capture.

The Vietnam Memorial. The little girl in the distance just makes this picture for me.

Other visited spots that didn’t allow photography: The National Archives (The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, LAND GRANT FILED TO CHARLES INGALLS, etc.), and the Holocaust Museum (exceedingly powerful.  Thoughtfully, provocatively arranged.  I almost burst into tears when I saw the piles of shoes which had been taken from concentration camp inmates).

Truthfully, I didn’t expect to enjoy D.C. as much as I did.  I knew I’d like the museums, but I didn’t think I’d like the city.  But it was lively and beautiful.  And filled with friendly people.  I certainly didn’t expect that, but let me tell you, Mom and I never stood on the sidewalk holding a map open for more than two minutes without a stranger walking over to help us find our way.  What’s more, when I somehow rubbed up against something (I suspect an escalator rail) and had black grease streaked across the rear of my white shorts, a woman stopped me to ask if I knew (I didn’t). What greater kindness is there?

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Out East Road Trip Day 3: Charlottesville, VA to Washington D.C.

Yesterday was the day we attempted to tackle both Jefferson’s Monticello and Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Our house tour reservation for Monticello was at 9:00 a.m., and our house tour (or “Mansion Tour” as the brochure so elegantly dubbed it) for Mount Vernon was at 3:30 p.m.  The estates are about 2 hours apart by car.  And we needed a lunch/gas stop in between.

We felt a little rushed, a little like we should be humming the Mission Impossible theme as we sped through the Virginia countryside, but for those of you who also want to see both estates in one day, let me tell you that it is entirely doable.  That’s with a Jimmy John’s lunch, Exxon stop, and end-of-weekend traffic included.

Before I get to the Tom Cruise-esque madness, however, I need to talk a little more about Charlottesville.  Or Cville, as the cool cats say.

There were a few pilgrimages to make in Cville.  First, to Thomas Jefferson’s adored University of Virginia.  What a lovely university.  Before driving through the UVA campus, I had been able to keep my post-grad pangs at bay for the most part, but as soon as I saw the clusters of brick buildings, the shaded sidewalks, the Dinkytown, it suddenly felt so wrong not to be buying textbooks and color coding notebooks and folders (not that I’ve ever done that).  While I swallowed the lump in my throat, Mom attempted to locate the famed UVA Rotunda.  We knew basically what it looked like.  Brick.  Pillars. Dome. But even when we spotted this:

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we weren’t convinced that it was the Rotunda.  So we drove around some more, rapidly punching buttons on Bea The Misguided GPS, until we ended up back where we started.  At the Rotunda.

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And Jefferson was all

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I bought a $20.00 mug at the Monticello museum shop to make it up to him.

The next pilgrimage is slightly more creeper-ish.  Kath’s blog is one of my favorites.  I actually squealed loudly in the UMM library upon seeing the announcement of her son’s birth last September, which drew a few glares from those in deeper study mode than I.  I never imagined that I would actually make it to Charlottesville, but since I did, I thought I should swing by the Great Harvest owned by Kath and her husband, Matt.  Alas, they are closed on Sundays.  I settled for a photo of the infamous building (the creeper part).  Wish I could have met you, Kath!  And eaten some bread!

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Here are my thoughts on Monticello:

1. Our house tour time was 9:00 a.m., which was the first tour of the day, and so the grounds were nearly empty.  This meant that we didn’t have to wait in line to peer into various rooms and to read the signs attached to various sites.  As someone who likes to take the time to read everything while touring, I rather liked being there early, and would recommend it for future visitors.

2.  Monticello didn’t feel like a tourist destination. It didn’t feel like a sight that had been paved over with excess pathways or altered for the sake of the public.  It felt like Jefferson’s house, and it was easy to picture the man himself walking around and living at Monticello.  This I appreciated above all else.  Tour guides and signs were candid about what had been restored and/or supplemented, but when they had needed to, say, repaint a room, they were careful to match the color exactly to the original.  Hooray for history buffs who take the time to read through journals and records just to find evidence of a specific paint color.  You make the world a better place.

3. The house tour was phenomenal.  If I ever return, I’d like to do the nooks and crannies tour, which covers the upstairs of the house, but I was plenty content with the standard tour.  The standard tour covered the exterior, entrance hall, sitting room, library, Jefferson’s bedroom/study suite, dining/tea room, formal parlor, Madison Room, and terrace.  Our guide explained what was special about each room and included interesting tidbits that humanized Jefferson as much as praised his character.  I gained a good deal of new perspective about Jefferson that only came from visiting his property.

4. Next we tried the garden tour.  I say tried because we are bona fide tour ditchers.  We are the tourists other tourists look down on.  But we also didn’t care to listen to the guide explain each tree and flower on the property.  I say that respectfully, because the guide was doing a wonderful, thorough job of it.  We just weren’t interested.  So we hung back and then made our getaway and were perfectly content to wander the gardens on our own.  Everything is nicely labeled at Monticello; I never spent any time guessing what the significance of something was, even sans guide.

Here are some Monticello photos:

Monticello means "little mountain."  Naturally, then, views were involved.  This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

Monticello means “little mountain.” Naturally, then, views were involved. This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

The house.

The house (back view).

The house (front view).  I really try to take straight pictures.  I really do try.

The house (front view). I really try to take straight pictures. I really do try.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace.  Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace. Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.  (Sorry about the out-of-focus.  I try to get that right as well.)

The kitchen.  All set up and reading for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.

The kitchen. All set up and waiting for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.  A sign on the wall that I found funny mentioned that Jefferson “never visited the kitchen except to wind up the clock.”

Jefferson's grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Jefferson’s grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Thoughts on Mount Vernon:

1. We did successfully make our tour time, but unfortunately, it fell during the hottest part of the day.  The time of day when I am prone to both grumpiness and sleepiness.  It was also a time of day when the estate was crowded and the lines are long.  Hot+grumpy+sleepy+crowds don’t a happy camper make.  So there were parts of Mount Vernon which I perhaps didn’t appreciate as much as I might have had conditions been ideal.  It’s not Mount Vernon’s fault.  Visit early, friends.  Don’t let George see you cry.

2.  Mount Vernon felt a lot like Versailles to me (the only comparison I can think of.  I apologize for whipping out my “this one time, when I was in Europe” line) in that the estate was huge, mostly self-guided, and more often than I would like, I wasn’t sure of the significance of what I was looking at, or whether it was original.  Because of my garden tour ditch, you know that I don’t always jive with guided tours.  But I do like information-laden signs.  And there weren’t enough such signs, in my opinion.

3. The best part about Mount Vernon was the fact that there were various buildings to explore.  Most of them were located in a semi-circle on either side of the “mansion.”  So, for a selection, we peeked into the overseer’s house (and read a brief description), the salt house, the stables, and the kitchen.  Washington’s estate was self-contained, and it was interesting to see its various operations.

4. Most of the Mount Vernon guides were as grumpy as I was!  Perhaps they were merely responding to my chi, but my goodness, people were being barked at left and right instead of being helpfully directed.  I didn’t feel as welcomed as I had at Monticello, which lessened the experience for me.

5. The mansion tour was not the typical small-groups-led-through-by-one-guide tour.  Instead, a continuous line wound through the entire house.  In each room was a stationary guide who repeated a memorized spiel over and over again.  They answered questions, too, but as we were kept moving, there wasn’t much time to ask.  Some of the guides were animated and entertaining, but some recited their pieces in a monotone which again, dampened the quality of the tour.  I didn’t feel Washington come alive at Mount Vernon.  I had trouble convincing myself that we were really in his home, on his lands.  I wish I didn’t have to speak so negatively about an important historical site, but I want to be honest.

6.  Lest you think I hated the experience, here are a few big positives: first, the original blacksmith’s forge is still being used.  The blacksmith was pounding away as visitors watched, and often paused to hand onlookers examples of his work to examine, and to explain the various steps involved in making axe heads or hooks or hoes.  Further (and this is the really cool part), the blacksmith–who again, does his work where it would have been done in Washington’s time–makes all of the pieces necessary for restoration projects on the estate.  The second positive is an honoring ceremony that takes place at Washington’s gravesite twice a day.  The guide pulled two veterans from the crowd to place a wreath on the grave, asked two girl scouts to lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, and asked another audience member to read from a passage about Washington.  I thought it was wonderful that visitors to Mount Vernon are allowed to participate in the honoring of Washington and his contributions. Third, there are animals at Mount Vernon.  Sheep and pigs and cows and horses.  And they smell and lay in the shade and chow down and otherwise behave as naturally as could be.  They lent some authentic ambiance to the place without even trying.

Mount Vernon photos:

The "mansion."  Okay, it really is a mansion.  I'll stop with the quotes.  But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion?  I'll never know.

The “mansion.” Okay, it really is a mansion. I’ll stop with the quotes. But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion? I’ll never know.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings.  But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone.  This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings. But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone. This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

The Potomac!  I won't say how much I squealed when I saw it.  It's rawthur a famous river, you know.  I'm partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon's backyard was quite grand.

The Potomac! I won’t say how much I squealed when I saw it. It’s rawthur a famous river, you know. I’m partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon’s backyard was quite grand.

The stables still smelled like horses!  Amazing!

The stables still smelled like horses!

No offense TJ, but GW's gardens were better than yours.

No offense TJ, but GW’s gardens were better than yours.

The overseer's house.

The overseer’s house.

The blacksmith's shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

The blacksmith’s shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

My sheep friends.  Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

My sheep friends. Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

Let Me Catch You Up

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Intriguing title. Disgusting recipe (although I didn’t make it, so let me know if it’s actually delicious).

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Grammar error! North Branch, MN, shame on you!

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Delicious gyros at the Soho Cafe in Uptown, Minneapolis. By the way, sorry for the poor pictures. Sometimes my phone does well, sometimes (mainly in poor lighting), it suffers terribly.

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The Gentleman Caller and I saw “Urinetown the Musical” at the Jungle Theatre last night. It was a rehearsal show, so we got in for free (with $5 donation). I had no idea that the public was invited to rehearsals like that-and it ran smoothly and without directorial interruptions just like a regular show.

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Brief sunshine one morning last week. Otherwise, it’s been raining for about three weeks straight.

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Chicks in the feed store this afternoon. Ever since I was little, we’ve been going into the local feed store for dog food, and I’ve peeked in on the chicks when they’re there in the spring.

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Why, hello!

The Tempest

I am currently sitting on the third floor of the library.  I am smug because I managed to snag one of the comfy chairs.  I am full because I just polished off my lunch of orange and homemade chicken soup.  I am focused because I’m reading for Feminist Theory.  I am tired because I chose the Downton Abbey finale over sleep last night.  I am slightly uncomfortable because there is a woman I’ve never seen in my life taking pictures of me from a few shelves down.

This is awkward.  She just moved around to my left and is taking some more.

Okay, it’s all right: she finally introduced herself.  She’s part of the University Relations team, taking photographs for the UMM website.

Welcome to my life, friends.  And you thought Kim Kardashian has paparazzi problems?

In other news, Morris is under yet another blizzard warning.  Not knowing this, I walked to school this morning (not that there were other options had I known) through 33 mph winds. That was fun.

What was fun was that at one point in the walk, I passed my friend Andy.  Not bothering to peel the scarf from his face, he shouted through it a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!”

Will You Be My Valentine?

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  I’ve noticed that when it comes to this particular holiday, there are lovers and there are haters.  I am a lover.  I love the chocolate, I love the cards, I love the flowers, I love the red and pink.  I love the air of excitement: you never know who you’re going to get a Valentine from.  It’s the day of the year, in my opinion, when those who are too cowardly at all other times to profess their love can do so without shame.  (And anonymous notes count).

Believe me, I’ve done the anonymous notes.  That was fun.  But this year, as I have a gentleman caller, I got to be a little more up front about my feelings.  I also got to suggest that instead of attempting to choose between the sub-par Morris restaurant options (think a fancy but gross Italian place, a Subway, and a Pizza Hut), we make our own gourmet meal.

Steak, twice-baked potatoes, salad, and chocolate mousse for desert.  (By far the fanciest meal I’ve ever had whilst at school)

Let me tell you that having just finished making the mousse, I think the g.c. will have to take the reins on the rest of it.  I’m actually tired.  I really am a pretty good cook (thanks Mom and Dad for forcing me to start dinner all throughout high school), but mousse was over my head.  It’s putzy: you need about four different bowls, you have to constantly mix things just until they reach a specific consistency, and if you do something wrong, your mousse will lack volume.  The horror!

Plus, there were a few setbacks that stressed me out considerably.  Firstly, someone ate one of my eggs.  I had precisely four left in the carton, the exact number needed for the recipe, and this afternoon, one was gone.  Okay, well, I’ll just do a half recipe.  But wait, will that work?  Aren’t people always going on and on about how halving recipes isn’t reliable?  All right, calm down Hol, we’re just going to have to try it.  (five minutes later) I need a bowl filled with ice water?  We don’t have ice!  There is no ice in our freezer, because we are college students and don’t own things like ice cube trays or whisks or measuring cups.

I finally realized that I could use snow in lieu of ice water.  It worked rather well, and provided a much-needed Little House on the Prairie moment.

All drama aside, the mousse is currently setting in the fridge.  No housemates are home yet, but I intend to guard that darn mousse with my life.

If you want the recipe (may you have more patience than I with it), it’s right here: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/05/perfect-chocola/

The batter (which I unabashadly tasted), was delicious.

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Let Me Catch You Up

Sorry I’ve been quiet lately.  Truthfully, there hasn’t been much to write about.  I walk to campus in -40 degree windchill (yesterday).  I try to save the world via student government (Monday).  I play intramural volleyball (Tuesday).

(This afternoon) I make a mistake with my checking account and hold up the line at the grocery store for fifteen minutes while I fiddle with my online account via Iphone, transferring money to pay for my cereal and pears and peanut butter.  And then the Chancellor of UMM, in line behind me, offers to pay for my groceries (“I don’t want anyone going hungry,” she says kindly).  I am thankful to go to a school run by such generous people.  But mostly, I am mortified.  I finally get my credit card to work, and then I practically run home, sliding on the ice and torn between laughing and crying.  I decide to laugh, because I am quite possibly the most ridiculous person on the planet.  My mom laughs too when I call her, and I realize that perhaps the reason why I get into such scrapes is so I can tell people about them afterwards.  It’s quite worth a little humiliation to have a good story to share.

And now (I assure you, having read the above, you’re quite caught up), I am sitting at a desk in Imholte Hall.  I am at UMM’s literary magazine’s All Night Write.  It’s a wondrous night in which students are locked in a large classroom with their laptops and various junk foods, and given permission to abandon scholarly pursuits in favor of creative writing.  My gentleman caller is next to me.  He’s given me permission to talk about him.  He’s focused, and being very patient with me (I keep interrupting his work to make jokes, to proclaim my undying love for orange soda, etc.).  I am here for the writing, yes, but let’s be honest: I’m mostly here for the socialization.

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