31 December 2015


So, I'm still clearly not a very good blogger in the US.  I didn't even write about the books I've been reading.  Here's an attempt to make up for a few of the books I missed.

The Hollow City and Library of Souls- These are sequels to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  I felt like they were a little dragged out and didn't quite work as well as the first book, but they were still good.

Greenglass House- I really liked this, although it felt like it was missing something at the end.  It was always leading up to something big but when it happened, it didn't work for me.

Uprooted- This is a Beauty and the Beast story that I liked a lot.

Circus Mirandus- I liked this one.

The Dagger in the Desk- I had thought this would be a trilogy so I was expecting the series to be over with this one, but who can complain about more of this group?  I loved it.

Starclimber and Skybreaker- These are sequels to Airborn.  The plot was, again, not great, but I don't mind that I finished them.  The first book was best.

Go Set a Watchman- I liked this more than a lot of people did.  I didn't think it unreasonable that Atticus was as racist as his society made him, but that he also could be a good lawyer and defend a man from an accusation that wasn't right.  No one is a saint.

Fangirl- I liked this one quite a bit.

Half Brother- Interesting premise, but not a particularly interesting main character.

15 December 2015

Georgia Avenue Trail

We did this walk today because we keep reading about the 7th Street turnpike in the books.  A lot of the signs were down for construction on Georgia Ave. and it would have fit a little better if we'd done this a few decades later, particularly since it talks about the riots of 1919, but it was still an interesting walk on a very warm December day.

10 December 2015

Barracks Row Trail, Union Station, Postal Museum, and the National Building Museum

It's still hard to place these trails in the best time period.  This is one that could have been done a little earlier, but it fit fine in the late 1800s.  We'd seen some of the places earlier.  The best part was going on one of the alleys that still has a few houses in it.  We keep reading about people living in rotten conditions in the alleys inside many of the large blocks in DC so it was interesting to see one (even though the conditions weren't at all the same).  It was another good walk.

Then we walked up to the National Building Museum by way of Union Station. We ate in the food court but it's only a sorry imitation of its past glory because half the food court is gone and there are mostly chains there now.  It was still good when we were there in 2013. Sad.  Anyway, Union Station was a little out of order since it would be better to visit when we're around 1900, but it was convenient today. We also stopped at the Postal Museum which was the Main Post Office in DC from 1914-1986. Same convenience rule.

 The National Building Museum offers free tours of the building and it was absolutely fascinating.  It's one of the best things we've done in DC.  We were the only two people on the tour and the volunteer who took us around spent plenty of time answering our questions and he knew a lot about the building. Highly recommended.


There's lots of stuff out there now. Too much stuff.

Donald Trump.  I think that when it comes time to punch a hole in the ballot, people won't actually vote for the man.  But even if he fades in a few weeks and isn't the Republican candidate, he is causing a great deal of harm to this country right now.  He is using people's fears about Islam to promote things that are completely unacceptable and that are creating an environment that is at best scary and at worst dangerous for Muslims living in the US.  In addition, his words are getting a lot of coverage in the media internationally and whether we like it or not, people are hearing what he is saying and that is not good.  Also, while the media has played their role in this fiasco, I do not think this is a media-driven crisis.  It is driven by fears that too many misinformed Americans have about Islam. Also, I am concerned that Trump will make candidates like Cruz look rational which they are not.

Muslims, refugees, all of that.  Please tell your elected leaders to welcome refugees.  Please make it clear that any rule that applies only to people of one religion is not acceptable.  Please protest if your city council tries to vote to ban refugees from your city.  Please be friendly to any Muslim you see (and usually you won't even know you have, of course, but do it if you notice).  Support businesses run by Muslims.  Please don't define terrorists by their religion- there is no major religion on this planet that promotes terrorism.  Please don't contribute to the fear even if you are nervous yourself.  Educate yourself instead.

The policy.  I support my leaders and I follow church doctrine but I can't support this specific policy.  I couldn't have supported the priesthood and temple ban for black members either.  Some people think that a good member of the church must support this policy, but that makes no sense to me since many of the same people also don't support church policies about not carrying concealed weapons into churches or that undocumented immigrants can get baptized. You can tell me all the reasons why this new policy is logical and necessary but that doesn't fix anything for me because it just feels painful to me and seems neither logical or necessary to me.  It is so hard to be LGBT in this church and now it's even worse. It's so hard already when your family doesn't fit the Mormon mold and children from some of those families will now be even further isolated by not being able to be baptized or (for boys) to receive the priesthood which will greatly limit their church participation.  I care greatly about the impact this will have on individual members. I am sad that some friends of mine, including people I have known for decades, have left the church because of this.

San Bernardino.  I cannot begin to tell you how ironic it is that two terrorists used a common US method to kill people- one that we never really have tried to stop no matter how many times it happens. They bought their guns legally.  They did what a lot of other people have done in the US so many times in the last twenty years.  We will still not pass any more measures to regulate the sale, purchase, transfer, modification, manufacture, storage, or use of guns.  We won't even have a decent conversation about it.  We'll just have people advocate for banning Muslims from entering the country so Americans can continue to kill each other because apparently we aren't terrorists.

And despite my testiness on these subjects, I am enjoying Advent and Hanukkah and Washington DC right now.

09 December 2015

DC Holiday Stuff

I have a long list of things to do this month in DC because there is so much to see right now.  So far we've done ZooLights, the Smithsonian Holiday thing, Winternational, the Downtown Holiday Market, and the Alexandria Boat Parade.

I'd been told that ZooLights wasn't amazing so we weren't expecting anything amazing.  We did have a great time at the zoo in the dark though and it was a pleasant evening.  I drove in and we found parking easily (we parked and entered at the lower entrance where it's not so crowded), but getting home when rush hour was still winding down wasn't fun.  But it takes a lot time to Metro in from our house so there's really not a good way to do this.  I'd go again if someone else drove me home.

Winternational was fun.  I got a ticket like I was supposed to, but no one was taking them and it was rather crowded.  There were people from about 25 different embassies with lots of food and things to see so it was fun.  The Uzbekistan line was always long, but I eat Uzbek food all the time so I didn't wait in it.  I tried things from Uganda, Nepal, Uruguay, and more, and talked to the person at the Saudi Arabia stand for a while.  If you go, arrive at the very beginning.

Downtown Holiday Market.  This is exactly what you'd expect it to be.  It's fun to poke around and you can stop at the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum if you want to.  Some vendors are there all month and some just for a few days or weeks so you can wander through throughout the month and see different things.

Smithsonian Holiday Event.  This is on the first weekend in December at several different museums.  We started at the American History Museum, then went over to the Air and Space Museum where you could make some ornaments and do other projects, then went to the Museum of the American Indian for their market. It was fun, but not an amazing must do.

Boat Parade.  We were first planning on going to Alexandria to see this, but then I decided there much be a better way to see the parade than to deal with the crowds that would assuredly be in Alexandria.  So we tried Potomac Park and that was perfect.  There were people there but it was never crowded and we had a great view of the boats.  There is plenty of parking and plenty of places to watch from.  You can arrive around 6 PM and bring a picnic then watch the boats when they arrive between 6:30 and 7, depending on where you are in the park.  I'd definitely do this one again in that park.

03 December 2015

Queen Ammanisa

This is a new Uyghur restaurant that just opened in Crystal City.  There are lots of Uyghurs in and around DC but there hasn't been a real restaurant here before so we tried it out today.

If you're going to eat Uyghur food, you need to get laghman.  Uzbeks make laghman but it's just an imitation of the real thing and Kyrgyz already know that when they make laghman, it's Uyghur.  They don't call it Kyrgyz.  This place had several different types of laghman which means you know you've come to the right place. You can get plov but there's not a good reason to do that.  This was real, hand-pulled laghman (not flung though; I asked).

I got the gyuro laghman (I think it was the braised meat one on the menu?  We didn't really use the menu) and my husband got the dry-fried.  Apparently they also have a picture menu, but we didn't look at it since we knew what we were getting into, except that we couldn't always figure out how they'd translated some things and we would have been better off with the Uyghur one.  Anyway, both were delicious and perfect, although both weren't as spicy as they should have been. I asked for lazy, but our server wasn't Uyghur and didn't know what I meant.

We also got a couple of samsas.  Some of the reviews of the place hadn't liked the samsas (they seemed to be comparing them to other things like dumplings, which samsas most certainly are not, or to empanadas, which is a closer comparison but still not right), but they were absolutely right.  They tasted exactly the way they should have and were perfectly warm and flaky.

It was such a lovely meal.  The owner has been in the US for about 6 years and his family owned a restaurant in Urumqi (he was born in Kashgar and grew up in Urumqi).  We were there around 2 and there were a couple of Uyghur women there along with two men who were speaking Russian- one was Russian and the other Central Asian.

I can't imagine that this restaurant has much chance at success- Uyghur food isn't well known at all and it's stuck in Crystal City. It's also categorized as Chinese or Turkish food in some places which is probably the best they can do, but it doesn't give people the right idea because it's neither Chinese or Turkish.  It's just amazing Central Asian food.

And now I need to make laghman again.

01 December 2015


A lot of the DC heritage walks don't fit in just one time period, but since the city grew a lot after the Civil War, we're checking out some of the different neighborhoods and this week was Tenleytown.  Nothing of national significance really happened here but it was an interesting walk around the neighborhood and we both learned a lot.

A few of the signs were down.

29 November 2015

Freer and Sackler Galleries

I went to these on my own a few weeks ago since they have some Asian art and since the Freer is closing for a long time at the end of the year. I happened to be there on the one day in the month that they open the shutters to the Peacock Room and even though it was a cloudy day, it was nice to have some natural light in there.  I like the Asian art too, but in the end, I don't like art museums like these quite as much as I ought to.

I really liked Filthy Lucre though, over in the Sackler.

28 November 2015

Botanic Garden

People say that the Botanic Garden's trains are worth visiting during the holidays so we tried to see them today.  I knew it would probably be crowded, and it was.  But no one wanted to wait in line so we skipped the trains and poked around the gardens a bit.

If the youngest child weren't in school we'd go over on a weekday morning to see the trains, but since that's not an option, we were happy seeing one train going around a tree inside.  I don't think any of us minded not seeing the trains, at least with that long of a line and I imagine it wasn't that bad a line since we were there early.  But the gardens are worth visiting and even if you don't see the trains, it's a nice holiday stop.

27 November 2015

Renwick Gallery

The Renwick just reopened two weeks ago after a two-year renovation and some of us drove over to see it on Thanksgiving afternoon.  I'd wanted everyone to go but someone was in a post Thanksgiving dinner stupor and someone else was outside playing so they'll have to go later because it was a great museum for anyone, including children.

I wanted to go because it's a Smithsonian, but I've also been reading about the building for the DC history class and it fits in nicely after the Civil War.  It's not large and it's not in the middle of most of the Smithsonians.  We didn't have any trouble finding parking on a holiday and it was quick to zip into the museum.

I like every exhibit, from the 3D printed statue to the fiber art one, but I unknowingly saved the best for last with The Midnight Garden.  It truly was amazing.

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.

22 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 refugees [ETA later that it appears that nearly all were EU citizens, but not all]. 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.

03 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.

05 October 2015

It didn't rain all that much here in September, but it's been lovely and rainy for the last few days. The Carolinas can be forgiven for not liking it, but it's felt like fall here and I love it.  It was a little tricky last week when it looked like a hurricane could come here because we're not ready for a hurricane and we don't have a car yet and it was already quite soggy, but it all worked out and now I have a few candles for jack-o-lanterns and I didn't get too wet while acquiring them. And the sun just came out for the first time in quite a few days. This is one of the few times I can appreciate it.  The feeling will pass in a few minutes.

Even though there isn't a decent Mexican/Latino grocery in northern VA (when I've tried to track on down, even when I specify that I'm looking for the type of place that sells fresh food like poblanos and masa, I get suggestions of stores that sell lots of packaged Goya products) or even within decent Metro range, there are a lot of other great choices around for grocery shopping and it's been a lot of fun to eat a wider variety of foods.  And someday I might get to live in Mexico again or a part of the US with decent Mexican groceries.

I love being so close to DC.  

Mistakes, Being Offended, Gun Control, and Other Random Things I've Been Thinking About

-Gun control.  This one sorely tries my patience on Facebook.  I have a lot of friends who seem to be concerned that the government is going to take away everyone's guns.  We are so far from that happening that the idea completely distracts them from the much more important point that guns are far too unregulated in the US and too many people are dying because of that.  There is a vast gulf between what we have now and taking away all the guns.  We already have a lot of laws that inconvenience us to help make us safer.  Owning a gun should be no different.  Please talk about this, President Obama.  Please politicize this.

-I know that a lot of people think that everyone gets offended now and  taking offense all the time is a problem.  And yes, there are times when people get irritatingly offended about all the things. But I don't like it when people try shift the blame for their mistakes to someone else because someone else got offended.  Sometimes you actually did something wrong.

The latest example I noticed of this was when the creators of a website took it down because they said people were offended by it.  For some background, the LDS Church had its twice-a-year conference this weekend where a number of people speak to the entire church.  It's a large audience of people.  One of the speakers used a made-up word* throughout his talk which got a lot of attention.  It turned out that a close relative of the speaker had created merchandise using that word and a website to sell it before the talk was given.

There is a big difference between someone, any random person, quickly creating a t-shirt using a catchy phrase they first hear in conference and someone who is a close relative of a speaker who uses a unique word creating a website before the talk was given to sell merchandise with the word.  I don't love the first idea, but the second is definitely troubling.  Quite a few people pointed this out and after the website owners switched between selling the shirts at cost and donating the profits, they took the website down, saying that people were offended.

I don't think the creators of the website were trying to make a huge amount of money off the talk and I do think their basic intention was good.  T-shirts are a good way to get your message out.  But I also think it was inappropriate for these particular people to create this particular website right now and it is okay for people to point that out.  The website owners made a mistake and it's okay to accept responsibility for that instead of shifting the blame to others because they told you your actions were inappropriate.

-Technically I am one of Jason Chaffetz's constituents and I really hope he isn't elected as Speaker of the House.  I send him emails periodically to tell him what I think of his ideas. I am not surprised he is giving it a shot.  He does have a very nice person working in his office who is helping us get White House tickets.

*I imagine that translating this one was difficult.  Do you make up a new word in other languages too? It's fairly complicated to make this talk work well in 100 other languages.

24 September 2015

I hate it when daily life keeps me from doing anything I want to blog about.

I at least am having fun cooking.  There may not be any decent Latino groceries around, but the local apples and peaches are lovely along with a good Asian grocery.  And the library and I are getting along just fine. Also, fall.  Thank you, fall.

It's also nice to be in a place with reasonable for the US public transportation, even if I did spend all day yesterday going to and from the orthodontist.  But I was irritated that I was spending the day that the Pope was in DC sitting at the orthodontist.

At least I can schedule a tour of the White House and the Capitol when I feel like it (except, the White House tour scheduling rules are stupid because you can only pick the day, not the time- I have just about any day, but I can't make it at 7:30 AM any day because we are living here, not touristing here).  And I if my son is sick on the day we have a tour scheduled, we can do it the next week because we'll still be here.

15 September 2015

Georgetown and Alexandria

We did our first DC history trip today and went to Georgetown and Alexandria because they were the only two parts that had anyone living in them before DC happened.  I'm sure we'll go back to these two places because there is plenty of later history in them, but we were focusing on 18th-century buildings and the boundary markers today.

We walked into Georgetown from the Foggy Bottom Metro and went by the Old Stone House first, 3001 M Street, and 1204 30th Street.  I was counting on reading historical markers along the way and that worked nicely.  The Old Stone House is only open Wednesday-Saturday after 11 so I hadn't planned on actually going inside since that isn't a good time for us to be there, but walking by worked for us.

We saw the Matthew Hyde house at 1319 30th Street, the Thomas Beall house at 3017 N Street, the Laird-Dunlop at 3014 N Street, and the George Beall house at 3033 N Street.  We also went by the Yellow House on 1430 33rd Street, the Yellow Tavern on 1524 33rd Street, Quality Hill on 3425 Prospect, and Prospect House on 3508 Prospect.  We saw City Tavern on the corner of Wisconsin and M Street and the old Dodge Warehouse at the end of Wisconsin.  And last of all was the Forrest-Marbury House where the Ukraine Embassy is today.  We walked over Key Bridge to the Rosslyn Metro to go to Alexandria.

We walked into Old Town Alexandria from the metro and stopped at Gadsby's Tavern on 134 North Royal Street, the Bank of Alexandria on 133 North Fairfax, the Carlyle House on 121 North Fairfax, and the Ramsey House on 221 King Street.  And we got lunch before trekking out to Jones Point Park to see the south boundary marker.

We were going to stop at the marker in the Benjamin Banneker park on the way home but had run out of steam.  We can easily go there another time.

I'd never had much chance to wander around Georgetown and Alexandria so I loved it and we saw a lot of interesting places.  The whole thing took about 6 hours.

11 September 2015

Refugee Crisis and the Math

I haven't been online much the last week or two while the Syrian refugee crisis has finally been getting the media it attention it deserves. It makes me happy that it is getting that attention, but angry that it took this long.

People have been dying in Syria, fleeing into neighboring countries, drowning in the Mediterranean, suffocating in trucks in Europe, and we finally found one little boy's death that is galvanizing people to do something about this.  It is appalling that it took this long for the world to pay attention to this catastrophe.  That little boy wouldn't have died if we had done something sooner, and we should have paid attention years ago.

I also hate the fact that the only reason why this has become news is because it's affecting Europe and that people keep saying that Muslim countries should do more.*  So let's talk about what Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey have been doing to help.

Turkey's population is around 75 million and it has taken in 2 million refugees over the last several years.  2,000,000.  If the US took in a similar number of refugees in relation to its population, the number would be 8.5 million.  Can you imagine the US taking in 8.5 million people from Central America who were in desperate condition?  The US has just announced it will take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.  Pathetic.

The EU would need to take in 13.5 million refugees to match Turkey's rate.  There have been about half a million refugees going to Europe.

Now Jordan.  Jordan already had a lot of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees and now it has a lot of Syrian refugees- 1 million are expected to be there by the end of the year** and there have been hundreds of thousands there for years.  Jordan has a tiny population- only 6.5 million people.  The US would have to take in 40 million refugees and Europe 63.5 million refugees to match what Jordan has done.  Those numbers are mind-boggling.  Again, the US has agreed to accept 10,000 Syrians.

Lebanon doesn't have camps but its ratios are similar to Jordan's.

I completely understand that it's hard for Europe to deal with so many people arriving who desperately need help, but we have ignored the problem for too long and it must spill over into other parts of the world because Jordan and Turkey cannot do this on their own. Yes, Europe is having its own financial problems, but it's certainly not worse off than Jordan and Turkey, even Greece and Italy.  People won't sit in desperate conditions forever waiting for conflict to end and they have the right to find a better place to live.  We must do better at helping them find that place.

*The Gulf states could and should be doing more.  But countries like Saudi Arabia have very specific reasons why they don't allow many Arabs in and those reasons aren't targeted at Syrians specifically.  It is extremely unlikely that Saudi will change its policy (and honestly, most Syrians would choose to go to almost any other country than have to live in Saudi Arabia).  It would be more useful to pressure the Gulf states to work out a political solution because that would do more to help end the crisis than anything else.

**Some estimates have this number as high as 2.5 million in Jordan.  The US would need to take in over 100,000,000 refugees and Europe over 150,000,000.

10 September 2015

Homeschooling 2015

Last year was not our best homeschooling year ever, but we got through all the things and are ready for this year.

The youngest is in public school.  It's the first time I've ever sent a child to public school in the US and so far, if you can tell anything from a couple of days of school, he's delighted with it, as expected.  He hasn't gotten through any evenings without tears yet and we're working hard to help him get enough sleep and get used to being gone for 8 hours a day, but I think he'll be okay.

The oldest is doing his online high school and starting college classes this year.  He's also working as a referee for kids' sports and waiting to be allowed to get his driver license.  And he's enjoying being around his extended family.

So my middle son is again my only real homeschooler.  He's continuing with the Well-Trained Mind Academy by taking writing, literature, biology, and creative writing, along with doing Singapore Math and Life of Fred Geometry, Spanish at the local high school, hockey with the high school, and our Washington DC history class.  I think it'll be a good year.

As for me, I decided not to take Arabic with my husband this year.  It was just doable, but it would have sucked up my life and I just couldn't give up everything else to work full-time on a language I can easily get back to a decent level on my own.  It will be a challenge to find opportunities to use Arabic in Saudi, but I think it can be done.  It is SO WONDERFUL to return to Arabic.  I'm going to spend 2-3 hours a day studying on my own.

07 September 2015

So, we're in the US.  I obviously don't like that fact, but the move back this time hasn't been quite as bad for me because it's not even for a full year and I get to be in Washington DC.  Also, we're living in the same apartment building we lived in before so I know how to deal with everyday life here. It was nice to go to a football party with people we knew before and to be invited to a barbecue today.   And we are not living on the financial edge like our previous moves to the US so we could do things like rent a car for the first few days, eat out a few times, and get the groceries and clothes everyone needs.  We're lucky we had nice families to help us with the transition when we came back from Kyrgyzstan both times.

The best part about this move is getting my middle son back.  He's been in the US for the summer.  He is happy to be home with us and happy to be in this part of the country and back with kids he knows.  It is so good to have him home.

The worst part about this move is that my youngest son is having a hard time with it.  If you know him, send him a hug.  He needs it.  I think he'll be fine very soon, but he was so amazingly happy in Guadalajara and he has had a lot of big changes in the last few days so he's feeling sad and is going a bit loopy.

It is nice to return to the US after being in Mexico because there are so many more reminders here of Mexico than there are of Kyrgyzstan.  Mexican products in the grocery store, Spanish on all the signs, Latinos everywhere, Mexico just has a much bigger influence here and that's wonderful.  It's like Kyrgyzstan is just an illusion when I'm not there.

There is a new Asian store near us.  I love it.  I barely got out of there because I broke my number one rule of going shopping on foot which is to never get a cart (because you will buy too much stuff and then have to get it home without a car) and I bought too much stuff and had to get it home without a car.  But I got it home somehow, including the case of coconut milk.  We had boy choy for dinner last night and there are long beans and jusay in the fridge.  I didn't even have fish sauce in Guadalajara for the last few months so I've been feeling seriously deprived of some of my favorite things to eat.

Also, I have been eating extra sharp cheddar cheese.  I missed that in Mexico.

School starts tomorrow and I think we are actually ready for it.  I think I should get an award or something for starting school less than a week after an international move.

03 September 2015

Dear Mexico

Almost two years ago I wrote you a letter apologizing for not wanting to move here.  I was so wrong for hesitating to come.  I have had the most amazing two years here and now it's ending.

I'm getting on an airplane today that takes me away from you and even though I hope I'll get to come back someday, at least for a visit, I don't know if I'll actually be able to.  It wasn't all perfect here, but the things I didn't love weren't your fault (the only exception would be the mosquito and jejene bites). And, just like I predicted in that letter, I am going to miss you forever.

I am going to miss everything about you.  I will miss the thunderstorms in the summer that light up the sky and turn the roads outside to rivers and pounded on the skylights.  I will miss buying tamales on the street corner.  I will miss climbing pyramids. I will miss people who are endlessly patient with my Spanish and who are always willing stop to help complete strangers get out of really big messes.  I will miss your street art and fine art.  I will miss your mariachis and Zeta gas jingles.  I will miss your fiestas and danzas, your pilgrimages and pinatas.  I will miss Mexico DF and Morelia, Guanajuato and San Blas, Campeche and Santa Elena.  I will miss exploring everywhere we could.  I will miss meeting members of the church in five different states and hearing their stories.  I will miss your food forever.

There is so much here that I ran out time for.  Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, El Tajin, Oaxaca, so many interviews, hot air balloon festivals, bird watching, whale sighting and more.  I could live here forever and never get bored. But I also saw and did so much while we were here and I know that when another plane takes me to Riyadh in a few months, I'll dig in deeply there too.  Even though I always have to keep leaving, I'm always arriving and discovering a new place.

Thank you for letting me visit, dear Mexico, and hasta luego.

01 September 2015

La Luz del Mundo

My husband had been wanting to see this church the entire time we've been here since it's a big building and he likes big buildings so we finally stopped on the way out to Tepa.  It was a big day there since it was the Sunday after the biggest holy day of the year for the church.

31 August 2015


This was another quick visit for an interview to a town about an hour outside Guadalajara.  I liked and I think it would make a pleasant day trip.  There's a lot of history here surrounding the Cristero War.

There was a little market in the plaza where they were selling stuff that was more like what you see on Chapultepec than in a tianguis and the church was doing a fundraiser so we got tamales and enchiladas and there.

30 August 2015


We did a quick trip to Autlan a few weeks ago.  It's not a place that you must visit, but I liked the town and we had a nice stay.  We didn't get a lot photos.

The brakes started to sound awful on the way home so we stopped in Cocula to get them fixed.  It's supposed to be the birthplace of mariachi.  We ate lunch while we were waiting and it was awful.  I have now eaten exactly three awful meals in Mexico- this one in Cocula and two at Chichen Itza.


We had no car, but we had the time and inclination to go to Tonala once more, so we took a taxi there today and had a suprisingly successful time shopping.  We forgot the camera, unfortunately, but at least no one had to carry it around.  I finally got some dishes and some more papal picado.  And we went to two more mask makers and got two more masks.  I'll have to post photos later.

And we stopped for birria and I had my last coconut ice cream cone in Mexico.

26 August 2015

The Language of the Heart

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

I really love this quote by Nelson Mandela, and I think it goes in two different directions.  First, if you want to communicate most effectively with others, learn their language of the heart.  I'm not saying you can do to this all the time (I fizzled out with Spanish after doing Arabic and Russian), but it makes a difference.  Learn the language if you can but be realistic.

Second, second languages can never replace native languages.  I think this is especially important in teaching the gospel and even though we can hope people learn new languages and are able communicate in non-native languages, people need to be able to pray, read the scriptures, and teach in the language of their heart.

Sometimes people's language of the heart changes.  But not very often.  We need to respect that language more.

25 August 2015

Finishing with the House

So we've packed up our stuff and I'm cleaning the house now and we're wrapping things up here.  I'm behind on blogging since I haven't done some trips we took or any books for a long time but I don't know if I'll fix that anytime soon.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about the awfulness of leaving Mexico, but there is exactly one good thing about leaving Mexico.  I will never, ever live in this house again.  Every single room I finish cleaning forever feels wonderful.  I hated this house with every fiber of my being at worst and we had an uneasy truce at best.

For the record, I did like all the windows and I liked the kitchen. Also, I came to terms with the tile.  There's still way too much of it, but it doesn't bother me now like it did at first.  That's probably because I decided that dust mopping was the best it was going to get most of the time.  Just like my mother always says, it takes as long to vacuum (or mop) if it's been one day since you did it last or 1 month.  I don't let it get sticky or dusty, but I can live with most everything else.

Anyway.  It really was three things that came together to drive me nuts.  First, six bathrooms all with glass showers.  Second, I can't stand to have someone in the house with me for 20 hours a week and this house was much too big to keep clean without someone spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning it (and I was in no way willing to be that person).  Third, it honestly feels immoral for me to live in a house this large, especially in Mexico.  And I had no say in where we lived.

It was hard to live in the house in Tokmok and some days in that house were really hard.  But there were things I liked about the house and I felt lucky to have gas heat and a water heater in the bathroom and that wonderful washing machine. Also, I chose to live there and we could leave if we couldn't deal with it.  This house, for utterly opposite reasons, ground me down.  Both houses demanded far too much of my time to keep them going and that's not sustainable for me.

Sometimes I almost cry tears of joy when I think about moving into an apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  I don't need the second bathroom, but it is so much better than 6.

17 August 2015

Churros Gordos from Los Altos de Jalisco

I think I have finally solved the mystery of the delicious churros we've found in the eastern side of Guadalajara.  They're usually filled and rolled in canela which is way too sweet for me, but they're perfect when they're hot and rolled in canela.  I know they're name, where they come from, and how to make them.

Video from an Atotonilco stand with really different churros
Video from Ocotlan, which is on the north side of Chapala near the Michoacan border
Tlaquepaque article

As usual, the information I needed was online but I didn't know what to search for.  But once we'd asked enough questions in enough different places, I got what I needed.

16 August 2015

Tastoan Mask Maker

We were lucky enough to find Jesus Delgado in Tonala.  He has been making masks for decades and was happy to tell us about them.  We talked to him for more than an hour and he told us about the dance and the masks.  He showed us some older masks (one is in the second photo) too.  We also bought a mask from him that I love.  And my son loved playing with his grandson and the last photo is of the two of them.

15 August 2015

Women's Dance of the Tastoanes in Tonala

When I saw that Tonala does a women's Dance of the Tastoanes, I was intrigued.  We saw little girls participating in San Jan de Ocotan but certainly no women doing it anywhere.  We didn't stay to watch all of it, mostly because we couldn't see very well, but it was definitely worth going.