24 November 2015

Washington Monument and Adolf Cluss

After quite a few hassles with getting the tickets, including barely getting in because they couldn't print them at the office when we arrived, we finally went up the Washington Monument.  I wished we could have walked down to see the memorial stones that different groups have donated, but at least they slow the elevator down on the way down and you can see some.  Right now there isn't an option to walk down but I hope they'll allow that again someday.

Once you're up, you look out the windows, which is fun, and then you walk down level to the elevator going down where there are also a few displays.  I thought that it would have been interesting if they'd talked more about the history of the Washington Monument, but some of the displays were interesting.

If you don't get tickets ahead of time, you need to be in line at 7:30 (an hour before the office opens) to get them for the day, even at this time of year.  Personally, I don't think the trip up is worth that, so if you want to go up, get your tickets ahead of time online.  All in all, this isn't a must-do in DC in my opinion.

We also walked by several buildings that Adolf Cluss designed and/or built.  He was a German immigrant who built quite a few of Washington's major buildings after the Civil War, including a few that are still there.  Many of his buildings used red brick.  We saw the Masonic Temple, Cavalry Baptist Church, the Hook and Ladder Fire House, the old Patent Office, and the Arts and Industries Building.

23 November 2015


Unless I went when I was little, and we probably at least drove through Baltimore then, this was my first real visit to Baltimore.  We went to the Walters Museum for their exhibit on Islamic art and then down to the Inner Harbor and it was a lovely visit.  It's only about an hour to get there if there's no traffic.  I'd like to go back sometime because there is a lot to see there and we were only in town for a few hours.

21 November 2015


We went to Annapolis a few days ago and I loved it.  It's only about an hour from Washington and it's a lovely day trip.  The State Capitol was recently restored and it was a very interesting place to visit, along with other historic buildings in the area, the dock, and the Naval Academy.

20 November 2015

Ford's Theater and Petersen House

I've walked by these many times but I don't think I've ever been inside and it was obviously time to go.  This was another excellent tour.

It's free to visit, but if you want to reserve tickets in advance, there are various fees.  I got online to do that but as the fees kept adding up, I decided that it couldn't be that crowded on a weekday morning in November so I'd skip the advance reservation.  If we couldn't get in, we'd  just get tickets for another day.  When we got there, we were able to get right in with no wait so I'd skip the advance tickets if you're going at a less busy time of year.  

You can walk through both the Peterson House and Ford's Theater at your own pace and there are good museums and displays in both, along with people there to answer your questions.  Most were NPS employees who were very helpful, but there was also an actor at Ford's Theater who was great.  There was a lot to see at both sites and they are fascinating parts of US and DC history.

19 November 2015

Refugees, Again

My son had to write an opinion paper on a current today for a school assignment so we talked about the refugees and I got all worked up about it again so here's what I would have written if someone gave me that assignment.

Right now I'm worked up about the number of Republican governors who think that refugees are a danger to their states and that they think that they can keep any legal and law-abiding residents of the US outside of their states.  They are spouting an incredible amount of misinformation.

First, no one is going to try to enter the US as a refugee in order to commit a heinous crime for one very simple reason: there are much easier ways to enter the US.  Not only do you have to be recognized by the UN as a refugee, you also have to go through significantly more extensive screenings that take well over a year to be allowed to enter the US as a refugee.  There are a wide variety of visas available, many of which just require you to pay the fee, have one interview, and get approved to enter the US.  Why in the world would you bother coming in as a refugee when there are easier ways to get in? Of course it isn't impossible that someone would try it, but the chance is small enough that it's not something to make statements about.

Second, the screenings actually do work and have for a long time.  This Syrian refugee population isn't radically different from other refugee populations.  Many refugees don't have proper ID and we have been able to figure out ways around that- that would be an unreasonable barrier to allowing Syrian refugees in because that's a common problem for any refugee.  There have been nearly 750,000 refugees admitted since 9/11 and two have been arrested for plotting terrorist attacks in Iraq.  None of those refugees has ever actually carried out anything like a terrorist attack in the US.  This is not a random process.

Third, this hullabaloo over refugees is a manufactured crisis anyway because there is absolutely no evidence that any of the Paris attackers even were terrorists. They were already EU citizens. We are talking about turning people away for no reason at all.

Fourth, these governors don't seem to understand that they can't keep people out of their states.  Refugees are allowed into the US by the federal government.  Various NGOs help them find housing and jobs.  Refugees, like anyone else in the US, don't have to stay in any one state.  There is no way to keep people from moving to your state unless you want to set up border patrols to see what kind of visa or residence permits people have. When they have arrived in the US, they can go anywhere, just like anyone else.

Really, the best way to keep refugees out of your state is to not have decent jobs available and a high COL.  Because refugees choose their homes the same way everyone else does- you need a place to live and a job.

I've already talked about the statistics of the refugee crisis and how very clear it is that the countries surrounding Syrian cannot handle this problem on their own.  The proposal to not allow refugees into the US at all, as some people are calling for, shouldn't even be considered.  If we care about the victims of ISIS, we must help the Syrian refugees.

ETA that the House has voted to stop refugees entering the US from Syria and Iraq.  I, not surprisingly, think it is unwarranted and inexcusable to ban people from entering based on their ethnicity.  Do we really want to be that kind of country?  I am so disappointed in the response this week.

Lincoln Cottage and Fort Stevens

We're wrapping up with Civil War sites this week and did these two in the north part of DC a few days ago.  Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time at this house during the Civil War and Fort Stevens was the only fort in Washington DC where there was actual fighting during the war.

Fort Stevens isn't very big but it's partially restored unlike most of the forts in the area so it's worth a visit.  There are a couple of interpretative signs there.  In addition to being the only fort that had a battle at it in the District, it's also the only place where a sitting president of of the country has been fired at by enemy combatants.

The Lincoln Cottage is just a couple of miles from the fort on DoD land so there are lots of rules there.  A few US presidents spent their summers there, when it was out in the boonies, but Abraham Lincoln is the one it's named after.

We weren't interested in paying $15 each for a tour and I almost didn't have us go here, but it looked like it was still worth visiting even without paying for a tour and it definitely was. You can walk around the outside of the cottage and read signs there, but there's also a visitor center that was really good with a lot of information about Lincoln.  Don't skip this one because it looks expensive because it doesn't have to be to be worth it.

There's also a lovely display in the back of the VC about immigration.

09 November 2015

Anacostia Museum and Battery Ricketts

When I was growing up we had a Smithsonian board game.  Yes, really, and I know.  You could learn about all the museums but the Anacostia was one that always sounded interesting but no one ever talked about it.  And then I went to Washington DC a lot but it never was convenient to go to because well, it isn't convenient because it wasn't designed to be convenient for tourists.

But we finally made it there yesterday to see the exhibit about how the Civil War changed Washington DC and some of the Civil War forts in the area.  The exhibit was very good and I'm glad we went before it ends in a few days. The museum is very small, but it's probably the only Smithsonian with plenty of free parking.  It's not near a Metro stop but there's a Metrobus that runs right from the Anacostia stop to the museum.  It's worth visiting even though we went for the exhibit that happened to match perfectly with our history class.

We didn't have a lot of time for the forts and my youngest was pretty much loopy after staying up too late the night before, but Battery Ricketts is at the end of a 7-mile walking/biking trail that connects a lot of the forts in SE Washington.  I don't know that we'll see any more of them, but it would be interesting to go along the trail.

08 November 2015

Southwest Heritage Trail

This was such a lovely walk a few days ago on a perfect November morning.  I'd never really been to this part of DC and it was completely fascinating. I had no idea that this was the original urban renewal site and that the original Supreme Court case regarding urban redevelopment started here. This will definitely be part of our class next spring.

Part of the trail isn't doable right now because of the waterfront construction.  Water Street is closed so you can't go to stops 9-12 which makes it hard to do this as a loop.  I was able to work it out and not get lost, but it needs to be updated because it looked like those Water Street stops wouldn't be accessible at all in the future.  That didn't ruin a very nice morning though.

07 November 2015

American History Museum

I am making an effort to go to as many Smithsonians and heritage trails as possible while we're here so I went to the Museum of American History on my own last week.  I've been there lots of times so the permanent displays are familiar, but I still love that museum.  I ended up hanging out next to Julia Child's kitchen for a long time, watching clips from her cooking shows.

06 November 2015

White House Tour

It wasn't uncomplicated, but we managed to go on a White House tour a few days ago.  We did count it as one of the DC history field trips even though it's not quite right for the class.  But the White House is obviously a major building in DC and since there's no way you can time your visit to match up with any certain time period since you have no control over when you get to go, and since it doesn't match any one time period any way, we just went when they said we could.

You have to contact one of your congresspeople first and they ask you for all kinds of personal information and the dates you are interested in going.  Just the dates.  You can't pick times which was irritating since I can go just about any day at 11 AM but I can never go at 8:30 AM.  It's a lot different when you're making the request as a tourist who's visiting the city because you can plan your visit around the time you get instead of as a resident who has a school bus to deal with every morning and afternoon.

You can't take much of anything in with you, but you can take a camera now.  The rule was recently changed and a lot of the info, including what you are emailed and the posted signs at the White House, will say cameras are forbidden, but at the last minute there's a sign that says they're fine.  But really, there are better public domain photos that you can find online unless you are in need of a selfie.  I skipped the camera and don't regret it.

Since you can't take anything with you, I ended up bringing a jacket just for the pockets since I hate to fill up the pockets of my jeans with stuff.  We went home right after because we didn't have anything with us.  Just the metro card, a credit card, a house key, and ID.  You don't need to print any of the papers.  Just show up.

Our time was scheduled for 11:00 and we got there a little after 10:30 and got in line then.  No one cared what our exact time was (maybe they would if you were an hour early or something?).  All the people around us in line were also scheduled for 11 AM. It took a while to get through all the lines and ID checks, so I think we got inside at about or a little after 11.

When you're inside, you can look around as you please. They allow you to go to a very limited area, obviously, but there's no rush.  The Secret Service people know lots of things and you can always ask them questions, or just do what we did which was to ask them to tell us about the room we were in so I didn't have to think up a specific question.

It was interesting but not something I would have gotten around to without this class, and I didn't change my mind about that after going. It is inconvenient to schedule the tour and to fit it in your day so don't bother unless you really want to go.  The new White House visitor center is much easier to visit and really interesting.  That's a good option to do instead.

05 November 2015

Downtown Heritage Trail

We walked along most of this trail a few days ago.  This one is perfect for the Civil War.

I always like these trails because they're easy to navigate (unless there's construction) and there's plenty of information at each stop.

02 November 2015

Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is not the same outside of Mexico, especially in a place where there aren't many Mexicans, but we did go to the Dia de los Muertos thing at the Museum of the American Indian yesterday and to the Mexican Cultural Institute today.

I bought the last pan de muerto at the Mexican bakery near our house and we're having horneados for dinner.  I had atole for lunch too.

28 October 2015

Fort Washington

We went to Fort Washington because I wanted to show my son how far away and how small the only defense of Washington was at the beginning of the Civil War.  It turned out to be a completely fascinating site that's worth visiting.  It's south of the city on the Potomac in Maryland.  There are plenty of signs around to explain what you're seeing, plenty of fort to poke around, park rangers to talk to, and a short video to watch.  This site would also work for the War of 1812 since its commander blew it up when the British sailed by and they rebuilt it afterward.  Either way, this one is worth having on your list.

27 October 2015

Washington Monument and Smithsonian Castle

We're wrapping things up from pre-Civil War Washington DC.  I couldn't think of any place to visit that related to retrocession that we hadn't already done (my son is tired of my pointing out when we're going in or out of the old district and he's seen enough boundary stones to last a long time) so we just talked about that and the reasons why it happened, but we did go to the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Castle.

The Washington Monument wasn't finished until the 1880s and we'll go up it in a few weeks when we're on that decade, but since it sat, unfinished, for 30 years, we needed to stop by now.  Also, I'm not sure that I'd ever actually been inside the Castle so it was interesting to go there.

We do need to talk about railroads and transportation more but we'll get that with the Civil War and afterward.  It seemed more logical to wait since railroads didn't make a huge impact on the city before the Civil War.

We also stopped by the Museum of Natural History, not that that has anything to do with this history class, but there was time.  The tarantula feeding was exciting since the tarantula got out of its box and there was much screaming in the insect area of the museum.

23 October 2015

Dear Weather People

La Manzanilla is a different place than Manzanillo.  La Manzanilla only has a couple thousand people and is further north and is near where Patricia should make landfall.  Manzanillo is a much larger city with over 100,000 people and right now it looks relatively safe. It's confusing, I know, but there's a difference and it's important to get it right.

This one looks like it could be horrible, right in a lot of places we love.  Be okay, Mexico.  We're thinking about you.

22 October 2015

Sky Meadow State Park

We wanted to get out of the city last week because we finally had a car to do it in, but we didn't want to get out of the city with everyone else in Washington DC so we went to Sky Meadow State Park.  It's closer than Shenandoah and a lot less crowded.  There were still people around, but it didn't feel like we were constantly dealing with people.  There are lots of nice trails here and I had a good time.  It's an easy drive just a few miles off 66.  Also, there are apple orchards in the area if you want to pick some or buy some.

21 October 2015

Washington City Canal Lockkeeper's House, Navy Yard, and the Congressional Cemetery

I keep forgetting to take the camera with me, but fortunately these places all have plenty of public domain photos out there.

Whenever we'd drive into Washington on Constitution Avenue, I'd always wonder what the little stone house on the corner of 17th Street was.  That's not exactly a convenient place to stop to read the sign and I'd always forget to check when I got home, but now I know.  It was a lockkeeper's house where the Washington branch of the C&O Canal joined the old Tiber Creek and the Washington City Canal.

We looked at some old maps and drawings before we went to help us visualize what this part of the city would have looked like around 1840 and the house has a map there too.  We also walked along Constitution Ave which is where the Washington City Canal went for part of its distance (it went down into the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard).  The lockkeeper's house is the only known visible remnant of the canal.  You can, of course, still see the Washington Branch of the C&O Canal in Georgetown.

We also rode down to the Navy Yard and saw the barracks and Latrobe Gate.  The gate has been completely altered, but it was one of the few public buildings the British didn't burn in 1814 (the Commandant's House near 8th and G is another one you can see).  This is an important site for the War of 1812 in Washington DC, but you really can't see much without an escort (which is doable, apparently, but we didn't do it).

The Congressional Cemetery was another pleasant spot with a number of famous people buried there.  William Thornton is a man we've read about a lot since he designed the US Capitol and then spent a lot of time arguing with people about actually getting it built since a lot of his plan wasn't actually structurally sound.  This isn't a place you must go but I thought it was worth stopping at near the Navy Yard.  If we could have gone to the Naval Museum and seen the display on the War of 1812, we probably would have skipped this.

Depending on which way you're coming from on the Metro, you can either get off at one of the Farragut stops, Federal Triangle, or the Smithsonian stop to get to the lockkeeper's house.  They're all a little less than a mile away.  The Barracks and Navy Yard can be accessed from the Navy Yard stop (how surprising) or Eastern Market if you're on the orange, blue, or silver line.  We walked to the Congressional Cemetery from Latrobe's Gate, but you can get there from the Potomac Ave stop or the Station Armory stop.

20 October 2015

Peirce Mill and Rock Creek Cemetery

I got the whole family to drive out with me to Rock Creek to see both of these sites.  Peirce Mill (that's spelled correctly) was built in the 1820s and it's fun to poke around.  There are NPS people there to answer your questions and from April-October they do live demonstrations of the mill two Saturdays a month.  We'd actually seen this when we lived here before, but I didn't really know much about it then.

We also went over to Rock Creek Cemetery.  It was established before the District of Colombia was and became a public city cemetery in the 1830s.  It's large and interesting with a wide variety of stones.  The oldest stones we saw were from the early 1800s but we didn't look for very long.

You can go by Metro to both of these but I think it's worth driving so you can get a better sense of how big and empty DC was in its early years.  Peirce Mill is a bit of a walk from the Cleveland Park or Van Ness stops. Rock Creek Cemetery is nearish the Fort Totten Metro, but you have to walk down to its south end because the gate on North Capitol probably won't be open.  It says it should be on Sundays, but it wasn't this past Sunday.

07 October 2015

White House and Stuff Area

Monday's trip was around the White House.  Hopefully we'll be able to do the real tour next month, but we circled around and saw St. John's Episcopal Church, the Octagon House (here's what I blogged about it when we went in 2013), the Blair and Decatur Houses, the Treasury Building, Freedom Plaza with its map of the original L'Enfant plan of the city, the White House Visitor Center, and the zero marker for the city just south of the White House.  And lunch at Which Wich.

The Decatur House is doing tours a little more often right now, but my son vetoed the tour idea and it wouldn't have worked anyway since they cancelled the 12:30 tour.  The Octagon House is worth visiting, but it's only open in the afternoon during the last few days of the week.  Definitely not on Monday mornings.  Walking around the map on Freedom Plaza was cool and it's right by the White House Visitor Center.  That also was worth stopping at and we learned a lot about the White House.  If you can't do a tour, the visitor center makes up for a lot.

This was a short trip but we have to keep them short on the weeks we get a late start.  And it's hard to find much to see from the very earliest days of the city anyway.

06 October 2015

Capitol Tour and Library of Congress

I'm still having a hard time figuring out how to best do these DC field trips, especially how to keep them from becoming a US history think rather than a DC history thing.  I'm not quite there yet.

Last Monday we did a tour of the Capitol and also poked around the Library of Congress a bit.  The LoC would have fit better a few months later because that is when the building was built and that's more about DC than US history, but it was there and the timing worked out.  There's a lot to see there about the beginning of the LoC which fit the time period we're currently learning about, but again, that's US history, not DC history. 

The Library of Congress is a lovely building though and we had a great time there.  Except for a possible visit when I was little (I don't remember much of anything about Washington DC from that trip in 1985), I hadn't been there before and it's definitely worth a visit.

We ate lunch in the tunnels between the different LoC buildings and I recommend that too.

Capitol tours can be booked online and there are lots of different times available.  You watch a movie about it and then there's about a 45-minute tour.  I was quite impressed at how well they were able to get thousands of people through that building every day.  There was a lot about the early history of the building but we could have visited this building at pretty much any point through the year.