Monthly Archives: July 2011

Day 35: The Tea Party Solution?

Liberty Tree

At the Museum of American History, a representation of the Liberty Tree, a gathering spot for the Sons of Liberty in Boston (the original Tea Party) where they tarred and feathered tax collectors, hung tax collectors in effigy, and held protests and demonstrations against the ruling British government.

Dear Reader:

Here’s some good news. A couple savvy freshman “Tea Party” Republicans have a solution to the debt crisis they have unleashed on our stymied country. Prayer.

From this morning’s WASHINGTON POST: “Outside the House chamber, Boehner summoned members of the holdout GOP South Carolina delegation to his second-floor office just off the Capitol Rotunda. But he appeared to make little headway and, within minutes, freshman Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan left the meeting, saying they were heading to a nearby chapel to pray for their leaders.”

Boy, I feel better, don’t you?

Outside the History Museum

The ‘Rents and I spent the better part of yesterday at the Museum of American History where we saw a demonstration of how people washed their clothes prior to the invention of washing machines, participated in an interactive, theatrical performance about the abolitionist martyr, John Brown, and browsed the Revolutionary and Civil War exhibits.

"John Brown"

John Brown was an abolitionist so convinced of the immorality of slavery that he resorted to violence and extremism, planning a raid on the Harper’s Ferry, Virginia arsenal in order to arm a slave uprising. Such an uprising would have led to the death of both slave and slaveholder. Slavery was a heinous institution in a country which supposedly valued personal freedom above all things. John Brown was, of course, morally right. He was courageous, taking bold action while others went about the business of trying to end slavery using less violent means. But what about his methods? Is violence justified? Do we believe throwing society into chaos is the one and only way to make things better?

The uprising failed, John Brown was captured, and then he was hung, a martyr of the abolitionist cause. The South refused to yield to Northern pressure, and in the end, massive and tragic violence ensued in the struggle to abolish slavery once and for all in the United States of America. The Civil War claimed 620,000 American lives. The South was ravaged. Resources were wasted. If we had it to do all over again, would we not try to find a peaceful way to bring about the end of slavery? Better yet, wouldn’t we sit down with our Founding Fathers and insist on freedom for ALL right from the very beginning?

Washboard In Tub

The temperature is rising back into the 100’s today in D.C., and I imagine tempers are heating up to dangerous levels on Capitol Hill as some lawmakers seem unwilling to put aside extreme positions in order to prevent possible financial chaos in a country already struggling with unemployment, rising prices, and uncertainty about the future. If we aren’t careful, those Depression Era washboards and tubs might be our future.

Our founding fathers built this country on compromise. In fact, when the Constitutional Convention came together in Philadelphia in 1787, a conflict between large and small states almost derailed the entire process. The “Great Compromise” was adopted, saving the Constitution.

So why is compromise suddenly a dirty word?

Don’t all sides have a point here? If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, if we don’t get our debt under control, and if we don’t begin the difficult process of moving over to a sustainable way of life, we might have nothing left to do but pray.

Day 32-34: Nationals Anthem

At the Ballpark

Dear Reader:

Last night we took in a ballgame at Nationals Park where we cheered for the home team as they played against the Florida Marlins.

Sun-drenched Ballpark

My parents (a.k.a. The ‘Rents) flew in from Portland yesterday afternoon, and since the temperature outside had finally dipped and drier air was finally cooling our sweaty brows, we figured a night out at the ballgame would be the perfect start to their D.C. vacation.

Cool Cap

Hubby bought me and the Teen hats for $5 from one of the many vendors selling gear and tickets on the walkway between the Navy Yard Metro stop and the official ticket booth. The ‘Rents were happy to see another BoSox fan standing in line for a ticket. (This year’s Boston-Hat-Du-Jour is brown. What’s up with that?)

Ticket Office

I was glad for my bright red Nationals cap when we got to our $10 nosebleed seats high above the right field line. The setting sun blazed into our faces, but a nice breeze was blowing off the Potomac behind us so we weren’t too sweltery.


We saw a couple of home run hits–two for the Marlins (unfortunately) and one for the Nationals in the fifth inning which raised hopes for a comeback.

The franchise knows how to put on a good show, encouraging fans to dance or jump around or wave hats. Of course everyone stood up during the Seventh Inning Stretch and sang a rousing version of “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” where we “root, root, root for the Nationals…”

As for food, the Teen enjoyed a “dawg” and a soda and spent most of the time texting with friends back home. At least she wasn’t in front of the computer or watching television teen dramas on cable. Hubby had a few beers with his friend from work. Later, we saw some cool outdoor seating areas with comfy couches, tables, and big-screen tv’s showing the game. I thought, “If I lived here, it would be fun to head over to the ballpark after work on a weeknight, meet up with friends, have some snacks and drinks, and watch the game.”

View of the Potomac behind the Stadium

Another highlight was the “Presidents Race.” The Nationals have a few mascots–an eagle, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt. The Presidents raced around the outfield, and it looked like Teddy was gonna win. But George tackled him from behind, falling down himself, leaving good ol’ Tom to win the race.

Click HERE to see a video of the mascots.

The home team ended up losing 11-2, but it was a fun night out. The sun went down, the air cooled still more, and everyone just seemed to relax and enjoy being outside enjoying America’s pastime. The sunset was brilliant!

Sunset Over The Stadium

A World Without Borders Bookstores

My Bookshelves

Dear Reader:

I am taking a break from Outside the Box in D.C. to comment on the news about Borders. Remember when the big-box bookstore rolled into town? Independent bookstores weakened and died. Patrons mourned, but they ended up shopping at Borders anyway because, let’s face it, Borders carried just about everything you ever wanted to read and more . . . plus you could have some great coffee and feel chic and intellectual sitting at a cafe table, sipping lattes and reading your Philip Roth, your Stephen King, or your Candace Bushnell.

Image from IMDb website.

Movies were made. Who can forget Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, in YOU’VE GOT MAIL? She tried so hard and loved her store so much, and it just about broke your heart when her authors jumped ship for bigger booksignings at the megastore “around the corner.” The movie ended with this feeling of inevitability. Little guys will lose. Big guys will win. End of story.

Image from

Image from website.

And what is bigger than a big-box brick and mortar bookstore like Borders? An internet retailer. The virtual shelves of an internet bookstore are endless. End-less. Was the closing of Borders inevitable?

Probably. First, the rising tide of online shopping ate away at the retail giant’s sunny shores. According to some analysts, Borders did not adapt quickly enough with their online platform. Annie Lowrey wrote an article for Slate magazine slamming the bookseller for outsourcing their internet sales to Amazon early on. Then the tsunami of electronic books & magazines rocked the publishing world.

Some of us (read: older) readers love our hardcovers and paperbacks and glossy print magazines. We like the smell of books. We like the feel of turning the pages. We like dust-jackets. But as time goes on, I see more and more people reading on their Kindles and Nooks, and if we haven’t already reached a tipping point there, the time is fast approaching. In fact, I’m wondering how much longer we will have any new printed materials at all.

I still have certain reservation about e-publishing, namely: what happens if the power goes out? In a low-energy world where we’ve used up all the easily-available oil, where a non-renewable resource–coal–continues to power the electric grid of large cities, where that grid infrastructure is vulnerable to decay and terrorist activities, where we haven’t yet ramped up our alternative, sustainable options such as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy technologies . . . in a world like that will electronic readers, tablets, laptops, and smartphones really be a reliable platform for information storage?

How will we make sure that the least affluent in our democratic society still have access to information? Will the rich and middle-classes be willing to buy e-readers for the poor via library programs, education initiatives, or flat-out charitable donations?

Will “somebody” be printing out at least a few hundred copies of the most important works, storing them in a secure location just in case? The thought of losing our collective knowledge gives me the willies! We will need all the information–scientific, sociological, historical, psychological, anthropological, etc–if, indeed, the fit hits the shan.

More of my library

Which is why we need to keep some of this (see pic above) even as we move into a new bookselling era.

The role of independent, brick and mortar bookstores will become increasingly important, I believe, in the coming years. For those of us who love “real” books, these stores will be suppliers for our fixes. They will also be micro-conservators of information, as will those of us who keep home libraries. Locally-owned bookstores will continue to provide spaces for book-lovers to meet, to talk about literature and the issues that literature explores.

Will we survive in a world without Borders? Sure thing. Click on the Indie Store Finder and check out a local, independent bookstore near you. Shop there. Buy something. Build a family library. Be picky. Go to a used book store and find some unusual books on subjects most interesting to you. Become an "information saver." If your bookshelves are already full, go through your collection and weed out the books you'll never want to read again and make room for some classics. Donate your old books to library book sales, swap groups at a community center or transfer station, or bring the best of them in to used bookstores to trade for some credit.

And, yeah. Go ahead and buy a Kindle or Nook or other e-reader if you want to. It's the wave of the future . . . the near future, anyway.

Day 31: Chillaxing At the Kogod Courtyard

Canopy over the Kogod Courtyard

Dear Reader:

With temperatures reaching 100F and humidity that made it feel more like 115F, what better way to escape the heat than take the yellow line downtown to the Kogod Courtyard for some funky jazz, board games, coffee and biscotti, and prime people-watching?

The Robert and Arlene Kogard Courtyard is a 28,000 square foot space canopied by a multi-paned atrium ceiling floating above the gorgeous Greek Revival building that houses the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Built in 1836 as the U.S. Patent Office, the building is one of Washington D.C.’s oldest. The Teen and I escaped our apartment and the oppressive heat to wander around the museum corridors, soaking in the art (me) and texting (the Teen), and trying not to get on each other’s last nerve (a challenge).

"The Chief's Canoe" by Belmore Brown, about 1927

This landscape painting looked cool and inviting.

"Cape Cod Morning" by Edward Hopper, 1950

So did this Edward Hopper. Later, I noticed similarities between the two paintings. The girl’s posture in the window is like the man’s posture in the canoe. The trees are like mountains. The field, like the river.

"Looking For The Mountain" by Pat Steir, 1971

I was intrigued by the use of graph-type lines and grids on this modern painting. Math art. The Teen wasn’t impressed.

detail from "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millenium General Assembly"

We took a turn through the folk art exhibit, an impressive collection of primitive paintings, whirligigs, log carvings, bottlecap art, and an amazing installation of one man’s aluminum foil representation of heaven. James Hampton secretly filled his garage with this piece created between 1950 and 1964.

We then scooted over to the first floor of the Portrait Gallery where we saw paintings ranging from an Abraham Lincoln miniature to a large painting of Bill and Melinda Gates.

Pretty In Pink--Juliette Lowe

Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of Girl Scouts.

Walt Whitman

The Teen thought Walt Whitman was a dead ringer for Dumbledore. LEAVES OF GRASS meets HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS.

Light and Cool in the Courtyard

We strolled out to the courtyard where the jazz band, Funk Ark, was setting up for their five o-clock performance, part of the museum’s Take 5! summer series.

Board Game Cart

I love this concept! The museum makes board games available, offers wine and coffee and food from the Courtyard Cafe, introduces awesome bands like Funk Ark, and everyone just hangs out . . . chillaxing.

Take a virtual turn with me around the courtyard where some people were reading, some people were texting, some people were sleeping, some people were jammin’, some people were talking, and some lucky people were even painting!

"Oh, what move is she making now?"


Cute Couple!

ArtJamz was there with canvas, paints, and enthusiasm. Participants sign up ahead of time and get a chance to mingle and create while listening to the band. If you live in D.C., check out their website. Sounds like a great alternative to the more usual night-out options.

ArtJamz Supplies

I settled for a cup of coffee, my notebook, and pen.

We hung out listening to the funk jazz for about an hour before diving back into the sea of humidity outside.

G Street

We hopped on the train at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop. Hmmm, Chinatown. It will just have to wait for another day . . . Outside the Box in D.C.

Days 27-30: Now About This Heat . . .

High Noon At The Capitol

Dear Reader:

Wouldn’t you know it! Just when the Teen and I are finally recuperated enough to resume our touristing, the weatherman says the temps are going to be in the 100’s and everyone is encouraged to stay indoors.

I thought yesterday was hot–90’s and humid. I spent the bulk of the day whipping out a short story which ended up being “I Never Was That Fond of Kafka” and cracking myself up reading it aloud to the Teen who cracked up right along with me, so I knew it was funny.

Or maybe she was merely humoring me because she wanted the laptop.

“Are you almost done with the computer?”

“Yup. Just a minute. I need to fix this one . . . sentence.”

“You’ve had it all morning!”

“I know. But I wrote a STORY (said with great emphasis) in FIVE HOURS. That never happens.”

(It doesn’t. This is supersonic speed for me. I wonder if all this blogging is making me faster? Or maybe the story just sucks. Who knows. Who cares? It was fun and I had nothing better to do all morning, stuck inside in the heat with a bad foot.)

Five minutes later:

“Mo-o-o-m . . . I need that laptop. It’s two o’clock! When did you get up?” All suspicious.

“Seven. You know, I let you have this thing all the time. I just want to post it up on my Faceook wall and then you can have it.”

“Hurry up!”

When I finally relinquished the machine (which has become our lifeline to the outside world and especially our friends at home who we miss like crazy!), I decided I’d better get to the gym and work off some calories. Just outside the gym windows, I could see a few kids splashing in the pool. The skinny lifeguard looked wilted beneath her umbrella, her face nothing more than a giant pair of sunglasses and a down-turned mouth, poor thing.

I did the whole weight-lifting routine and then pedaled for an hour on the recumbent bike machine (still trying to baby my stupid foot), working up a decent sweat but only burning off a couple-hundred calories. With dread, I stepped onto the doctor-type scale “helpfully” planted in the gym. I slid the top weight thingy over . . . and over.

Yup. I’ve gained another two pounds this week for a total of four since I’ve been here. Time to cut out the tortilla chips and nightly glass(es!) of chardonnay. I think biking and walking were helping to keep things in check, but now there’s this heat.

Both the Teen and I are getting fat and stir-crazy. I tried to talk her into doing a test-walk over in the air-conditioned mall next door, but she’s like, “Noooo-way. Too embarrassing.” Apparently walking with your mom in a museum is okay but not in the mall.

“What? Moms and daughter shop together all the time.”

“No they don’t.”

“Of course they do.”

Of course, you know I couldn’t win that argument. We settled for walking to Starbucks instead. Over a couple venti iced mocha lattes over in the square (we went out at 6:30 when the temps still felt to be hovering in the mid-eighties) we vowed to get out of the apartment and do something today no matter what. Museums, once you get into them, are kept at ice-cold air-conditioned temperatures, and we are itching to hit the National Museum of American Art. We should be okay . . .

Check in tomorrow and see if we melted!


Is the earth getting warmer? NASA says yes. Click HERE.

Or is it? FoxNews says something different. Click HERE.

Either way, it’s pretty darn hot out right now. Keep hydrated, everyone!

Day 26: Urban Hobo

My Travelon Bag

Dear Reader:

Still babying my foot, I pretty much stuck around Arlington today. It was Tuesday, though. Which makes it allergist day and a trip to the village of Ballston.

Arlington is an “urban county,” and at twenty-six square miles is the smallest county in the U.S. Rather than towns and cities within the county, Arlington is composed of neighborhoods or “urban villages.” Ballston is a business area with high-rise apartments, office buildings, some government offices (the Nature Conservancy has its headquarters here, for example), and Marymount University. And, of course, the hospital.

Virginia Hospital Center

Finding my doctor’s office was easy two weeks ago. Today I took a longer look around the grounds. The neighborhood around the hospital is composed of single-family homes–mostly cute, brick cottages–some with wooden shutters, some with window boxes, most with pretty, cottage garden landscaping. The bus route goes down 16th street, onto Glebe Rd, and in three minutes you can be in the downtown area where you can find shops and restaurants, including an IHOP next to the Ballston-MU metro station.

Sightseeing Essentials

No matter where I go, I take my baby-blue Travelon bag. Here are the essentials for “urban hobo-ing.” A bottle of water. A great bag. A city map. A metro map. A hat and sunscreen in case you want to walk around anytime after 11 a.m. A book. Books come in handy when you waiting the metro and there’s not much of interest to look at. A good book is a welcome distraction when you are waiting twenty minutes for the bus to arrive. Books are a great place to put your eyes when you are snuggled into a crowded metro car and everyone is working really hard not to look at each other. Or at least get caught looking at each other.

Puts the Pocket in Pocketbook

I picked up this bag at Mardens right before our trip to Hawaii a few years ago. After the trip, I stuck the poor thing in the back of my closet and forgot about it. When planning what to bring on this trip, knowing I would be using a Smartrip card, I remembered this gem of a bag and dragged it out into the light of day. Voila! It’s been perfect! The back pocket is large enough for my city map, my Frommer’s guide to D.C. and a novel.

Flapper Chic

The front flap is magnetized to keep it shut and protected even in close quarters like subway stations and crowded museums.

Inside the Flap

Lift up the flap, and you have access to a zippered, see-through pocket where I stash my entry key card, apartment key, and mailbox key. There is an easily-accessed pocket for my Smartrip card. It’s a cinch to lift the top flap, reach in, slide the card out, swipe it, and then slide it back in. Slick! There’s also a cell-phone pocket. Zippers on either side of the cell phone/card area . . .

Safe Room

. . . can be zipped-down to open up a safe pocket for credit cards and cash.

Roomy Storage

Between the leather handles (this thing sports handles AND a strap so you have carrying options) is another large zippered pocket big enough to hold water bottles, a spare book, a folded-up hat and/or small umbrella, maybe even a snack.

I cannot praise this bag too much. I take it everywhere. I sling it across me like a messenger bag when I bike into the city. I slide my arm through the handles and clasp it against my body when I’m at the mall or a crowded area. I let it flap against my hip when I walk down to the grocery store and come back loaded with three canvas bags of food-stuffs.

The Healing Garden next to the hospital

Most apropos to this blog, the bag carries my camera through which I have been viewing this new world. I worry a bit that the camera is becoming a crutch, easing the pain of finding just the right word to describe places like the “Healing Garden” outside the hospital, a place of circular walkways and curving flower beds, a round fountain, colorful annuals, and soothing greenery.

Waiting here for the bus is no chore. Especially since I have a book tucked in my bag to keep me occupied.

Days 24 & 25: Not So Happy Feet

Beside The Pool

Dear Reader:

A most important word about travel and sightseeing. Moderation.

Since I was in pretty good shape before embarking on this D.C. adventure, I really didn’t give my physical condition much thought. In the spring, I’d overdone it a bit with some running and had a bout of heel spur pain, but a few weeks of rest and bicycling took care of it. I also started wearing those special kind of sneakers with the curved bottoms. Very cushiony. Very good for the heels.

Shelley's Eye-View from Her Chaise

Apparently, not so good for the ankles. After three weeks of almost daily walking, the outer edge of my right foot began to ache whenever I stepped down. Just a little ache, but I’m not going to risk greater injury. So for the next few days I will be sitting beside the pool, reading Candace Bushnell novels, and working on my tan (I use an SPF 45 lotion which allows me to turn a nice golden color without burning.)

The day before my self-imposed house-arrest, Hubby and I biked over to the Museum of the American Indian. The Teen and I had explored the “Our Universes” exhibit thoroughly, but Hubby had yet to visit. We arrived in time to take one of the guided tours, led by a really nice young woman from the Lakota tribe. After the tour, we took our time in the “Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities” exhibit and also spent some more time in the “Our Universes” exhibit where I was able to revisit some of my favorite stories and philosophies and ponder how our country might have been shaped if we had embraced some of these native peoples’ teachings and interwoven them with our own instead of conquering and trying to eradicate these important, vibrant cultures.

(Contact with Europeans and disease led to an upwards of 90% fatality rate among the native peoples. That was BEFORE guns and Christianity came along! Sad.)

"Sacred Circle" by Susan Point, 2003-2004

Taking the time to look more closely at some of the exhibits on the first floor, I was thrilled to find these spindle whorls used by North Pacific Coast women to spin mountain goat wool into thread or yarn. Susan Point’s spindle represents “women’s power, creativity, and contributions to society.”


Here are some more shoes for my D.C. Shoe Scavenger Hunt. Embroidered and beaded moccasins were often designed to show the status or family group of the individual. Okay, I’m a little shoe and foot obsessed right now, but do you see how gorgeous these are? I’d love to see a return to handmade shoes made by skilled craftspeople. Wouldn’t it be great to go down to the local cobbler–or to be precise, cordwainer or cordonnier–for a pair of shoes rather than to the shopping mall? We don’t even manufacture shoes here in America anymore. I hope there are craftspeople from various backgrounds and communities holding onto and passing down the knowledge and skills as we move toward an uncertain future.


In the Mohawk tradition, the leaders were men and wore headdresses like this one. Yes, the leaders were men, but guess who chose the leaders or got rid of them when they weren’t doing a good job of it? The women. Now that seems like a system that makes sense. Balance. Something our leaders should be looking at right now just over the river from where I’m sitting.

Diablada Mask, ca. 1975

The Bolivian “Diablada Mask” shown here represents the struggle between angels & demons, good & evil. As John McCain recently quipped, “It’s hard to do the Lord’s work in the Devil’s City.”

Oasis In The City

As for me, I’m going to try to stop worrying. After all, there is a chaise longue with my name on it downstairs beside the pool. Now, where did I leave my sunglasses . . .

Days 22 & 23: Scenes from the (National) Mall

Rose in Late Afternoon

Dear Reader:

I never promised you a rose garden, but here you go anyway!

Hubby, the Teen, and I went over to the National Mall area late Friday afternoon when Hubby finished work. The weather was perfect–sunny, warm, breezy, and dry–and everyone was out enjoying the gardens and sculptures and memorials. We passed the renovations going on at the Arts & Industries building and came across part of the Folger Rose Garden.

White Roses

Some of the security guards from the museum were chatting and laughing near the garden. Tourists like us drifted along the sidewalk. People pushed baby strollers. Joggers, enjoying the dry air, trotted along the pathways beneath the trees along the Mall.

More Roses

I had to snap a picture of the Smithsonian Castle against that bright, blue sky. The strong stone and linear lines were such a contrast to the soft flowers of the rose garden.

The Castle

The one thorn on this rosy scene? A group of nasty, male tourists taunting a couple teenage girls. Here’s a hint: if you can’t be polite while traveling . . . stay home!

We hurried on toward the Washington Monument, ever present in the city, thrusting up into the sky like a giant arrow.

Arrow Toward the Sky

When I first walked around the National Mall, it simply seemed a tourist attraction with all the groups milling around, taking pictures of the monuments and buildings. The next time I went through it, I had the impression of a space more like a fair ground with all the tents set up for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that took place around the Fourth of July weekend.

Softball Teams on the National Mall

Now, I think the National Mall is really, at heart, a big city park. Yes, there are lots of statues and monuments and whatnot, but it is also where softball teams get together and play (see photo above), groups of lithe athletes play Ultimate Frisbee , joggers run their regular favorite routes, families hang out on picnic blankets, couples share a bench and an ice-cream cone.

World War II Memorial

The Teen, Hubby, and I were still playing tourist, so we went looking for some more monuments and memorials in the early evening sunlight.

Women At Work In the Factory

We took our time at the World War II Memorial, a fantastic circular space with columns, pools, fountains, and some really gorgeous bas-relief friezes along the walkway leading down toward the main pool.

The WWII Memorial is dedicated to the men and women who fought and died in the war and those who supported the effort from home. The friezes show scenes indicative of these various areas of service.

War Photography

I spent a bit of time looking at these bronze bas-reliefs, but there was so much more to see.

Each star on this wall represents one-hundred soldiers who died in the war. It is beautiful and sobering.

Wall of Stars & Reflecting Pool

We continued on to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall brought on one of my mushy-moments. All those lives, all those families impacted by a war that is still so controversial.

Low Key/ High Impact

The Korean War Memorial stunned me with its larger-than-life statues of soldiers trudging through a space planted with junipers and lined with paving stones. I thought this was a fabulous design. The statues were so lifelike!

Korean War Memorial

Detail of Statue at Korean War Memorial

After so much walking, we were ready to head home. But not before we stopped to watch the ducks and geese at the pond.


And to watch the duck-like progression of a tour group on Segways.

Segway Fun

I’m thinking I could use one of these little two-wheeled vehicles as all the walking is beginning to take its toll on my feet. As much as I love walking around the city–it really is the best way to see a new place–I may have to take a couple days off to lie around by the pool and let my strained tendons heal.

So, I have just one question: How DO these city girls run around town in five-inch heels?

Days 20 & 21: Shoe and Tell

Dorothy's Ruby Slippers

Dear Readers:

I think it would be fun to create a D.C. scavenger hunt based on shoes. I’ve heard about these scavenger hunts. Someone makes up a list of unusual places/sights/objects around the city and sends tourists off to find them. I would create a shoe-hunt. One of the places I’d put on the map would be the Museum of American History.

Most people who come to view the First Ladies exhibit focus mainly on the fabulous gowns. Granted, these are spectacular, and if you are at all interested in clothing design and fashion, you will be in heaven here. What you may not tend to notice, however, are the smaller articles displayed around the dresses. Mirrors and combs. Dinnerware. Silverware. Fans.


Abigail Adams's Slippers

These pretty embroidered leather slippers were worn by Abigail Adams in the late 1700’s. Over two-hundred years later . . .

Michelle Obama's Jimmy Choo's

. . . we have the Jimmy Choo’s that Michelle Obama wore with her Inaugural Ball gown.

Michelle Obama's Inaugural Ball gown

Both the Teen and I enjoyed looking at the gowns and shoes and designer sketches. We viewed a short video of Michelle Obama’s speech at the museum when she donated the gown to the exhibit, and I was impressed once again by the First Lady’s down-to-earth demeanor, her humor, and her intelligence. I also can’t help loving her for her passion for healthy eating, starting the Let’s Move program to fight childhood obesity, and, of course, planting the Victory Garden at the White House. Click HERE to watch a video of this year’s spring planting at the White House Garden.

George Washington In A Toga

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in Washington so far. I can’t help laughing. Here is George Washington in his Colonial wig and a toga. A toga! Did you check out his feet? Sandals. I’m sure the sculptor had some grand vision for portraying our first president in this way–yes, democracy has its roots in Greece and all–but in my opinion, this is just wrong. Eh, can’t win ’em all.

The Teen shushed me. “Stop laughing, Mom.” So on we went.

Bon Appetit!

Here I am with another of my heroines, Julia Child. Why is she my heroine, you ask? Okay, I’m not really into gourmet cooking, but she inspires me because she never gave up trying different things until she discovered her true passion. Once she found that passion, she jumped into it with both feet. When she had ample reason to give up when trying to finish her cookbook, she persevered. And she continued to follow her passion the rest of her life.

The museum exhibits her famous kitchen . . . no shoes, unfortunately, but I’m sure Julia would think the cooking utensils were more important than shoes.

Julia's Kitchen

Giant History Poster Project

I loved this wall collage (is that the right word?) of all things Julia. “Wouldn’t it be fun to be the person who works here putting these exhibits together?” I said. I got a shrug in return. Okay. Guess I’m a dork.

Julia's books

Here are a couple editions of Julia’s book, MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING.

The Paper Engineering Exhibit

Speaking of books, we were delighted to discover this exhibit dedicated to the art of paper engineering. Students at our local elementary school have a wonderful librarian who teaches lessons every year on various bookish subjects, including paper engineering. I believe the Teen was more interested in this exhibit because of that early introduction. Connections between school learning and real-life learning. So important.

Soapbox moment: Library programs are important to the education of our children and foster self-directed and life-long learning skills. These programs should be retained and restored in our schools.

Leaving the pop-up books behind, we toured the American On The Move exhibit. We weren’t sure we were all that interested in transportation, but we ended up glad we decided to give it a try. We saw trains and carriages and cars and a police motorcycle and an early bicycle and a trolley car. I enjoyed the exhibit’s focus on how transportation changed commerce from mostly-local economies to our current, vast global economy.

Early Train

Trains started off rather small and plain.

Pretty Train

But they soon got much bigger, more efficient, and startlingly beautiful.

Loading boxes of produce

This scene shows how boxes of produce are loaded from the train to a horse-drawn cart and then unloaded at the local store.

Shipping Containers

Today, products are shipped all around the world in these huge metal containers. In 1960, 25 million tons of goods were shipped into West Coast ports in these containers. By 2000, 250 million tons. That’s alot of containers! There are so many laying around, in fact, that some people are building houses out of them. Click HERE!

Both the Teen and I agreed that this was an excellent exhibit. Don’t miss it if you get a chance to get to the museum.

The Original Muppets

We made our way upstairs and found the ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, and a wonderful doll house donated to the museum by Faith Bradford, a retired librarian.

Faith Bradford's Dollhouse

The house has twenty three rooms, each filled with the appropriate furnishings.

The Wash room

Hungry and getting a little tired, the Teen and I reluctantly left the museum, chosing to find lunch up in Penn Quarter rather than eat at the cafe or the larger downstairs cafeteria in the museum. We strolled around the Quarter feeling a little out of place in our tourist garb amidst all the suits and ties out on their lunch break. Unfortunately, we ended up at a Starbucks again. I’m having a hard time finding local coffee shops. Time to deliberately research instead of hoping to run across them serendipitously.

On the way home, we zipped into the Hirshhorn so the Teen could have a look. “It looks fluffy but it is made out of pins,” was the Teen’s observation about this piece. I agree that the irony is pretty cool. What wasn’t cool was being told by a docent that I wasn’t supposed to be using flash. This was weird because I deliberately asked the docents on Monday if there were any restrictions on camera use. They told me there weren’t, and so I proceded to go around snapping beaucoup snaphots with flash all around the museum. Now I feel guilty . . . but glad I got the nice pictures.

This incident flattened my mood a bit, but when the Teen said, “We should do this every day, Mom,” my spirits lifted. I hope this experience is something that she’ll remember the rest of her life. I also hope it inspires some interests in art or history or fashion or travel or social issues or architecture . . . or all of the above!


No shoes on this guy!

Where are your travels taking you this summer? Drop us a line . . . Outside the Box.

Days 18 & 19 Part Two: Not So Secret Garden


Shade In The City

Dear Reader:

I’m giving myself exactly ONE hour to write this blog post because outside is the most perfect day of the summer, and the Teen and I are getting out early to visit the American History Museum and anything else that piques our interest. I was so happy to slide the balcony door open this morning to a bright, cool, dry day. I’ve even turned off the AC and have left the door open so that the fresh air is wafting in here along with the, okay, somewhat loud city noise–bus brakes squeaking, airplanes taking off from Reagan National Airport, the ventilation system from the roof of Nordstroms next door. I can even hear a bird or two chirping out there in the trees lining the sidewalk.

Outside the Hirshhorn

So, Part Two.

On Monday, after thoroughly enjoying my visit to the Hirshhorn Museum, I stepped outside, put on my sun-hat, and walked toward the Smithsonian “Castle.” The official name is the Smithsonian Institution Building. Built in 1855 with money left to the United States by an Englishman named James Smithson, the structure does look like a castle made of red sandstone, complete with turrets and towers and formal gardens and tall Gothic windows. Rounding the corner past the Hirshhorn, I saw a pretty raised garden bed blooming bright against a wall. The sign on the wall said, “Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.”

Nice, I thought. Maybe I’ll just pop in here for a few minutes and enjoy the shade.


The garden is actually tucked between the Hirshhorn and the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, which is right next door to the Castle and is going through a major renovation. The planting beds are bursting with flowers and greenery and shrubs and even an American Elm tree. For those true gardeners out there, identification markers have been helpfully placed next to most of the plants. I wanted to be that woman, the one who takes notes and learns the Latin names of plants, but my brain was tired after all the stimulation at the art museum. Instead, I chose to ignore the info markers and to simply enjoy the beauty of nature around me.

Bench Near Wall

I was happy to grab a bench in the shade beside a pretty water fountain. The hustle and bustle of the National Mall slipped away and was replaced by a delightful leafy, quiet calm in the midst of the city. Someone from home asked me on the phone last week, “Are you missing having nature just outside your house?” My reply was, “You mean the falling down, half-dead pine trees? Nope!”

Seriously, this?

Natural Nature Outside My House

Compared to this?

Maybe I’m being unfair, comparing former-farmland-turned-overgrown-pine-barrens-turned-emerging-mature forest with formal gardens designed by a professional horticulturist. Talk about intelligent design, though; these gardens rock! In fact, there are beautiful gardens everywhere in D.C. The Smithsonian alone has nine, including an Heirloom Garden and Victory Garden outside the National Museum of National History . . . I intend to drag the Teen into them today, if only for a brief look-around. If nothing else, seeing these gardens inspires me to work even harder at home to create my own pretty garden spaces.

Fountain in the Garden

So, I sat on the bench and rehydrated (going out on a hot D.C. day requires the same equipment as a trip to the beach), enjoying the splash of water in the fountain and the sharp, citrus smell of one of the plants behind me. I jotted some notes and thoughts in my tiny notebook and wished I’d brought my journal along. A few people wandered past. A boy and his grandmother shared a bench and a box of chicken-flavored crackers. A man in a business suit and tie ate a sandwich, probably on his lunch break.

I reluctantly left the garden after a slow walk down the brick-paved path to Independence Avenue on the other end. I felt like I’d found my own SECRET GARDEN, but this one is open to anyone interested enough to step inside. I noticed a sign saying there are garden tours at 2 pm on Tuesdays weather permitting.

Maybe for another day . . . Outside the Box in D.C.