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.