Monday, December 18, 2023

Washington DC, Day 3

On day 3 of our DC wanderings, the National Zoo was an absolute must for our panda obessed girl.  If you didn't know, pandas are only found in a few zoos in the US, the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC being one of them.  Of course, Emma's obsession of pandas was started by our friend's daughter, Keira, who was an enormous panda lover herself.  When she passed from rhabdomyosarcoma at the very young age of 10, Keira was gifted a beautiful set of small pandas to pass on to those she loved.  Over 6 years later, Addie (Emma's panda) is so very loved and can be found in much of our daily lives, as can Keira's love of pandas.

As we went into the city, I loved this cover we saw on the Metro train, reminding everyone that the cherry blossoms are a huge piece of the city.  As a side note - I also loved often having only a handful of people riding with us during off peak hours, as well as upgraded air filters running in the trains the entire time.

Emma may have been the most excited about being at the zoo and seeing the pandas, but as any parent can tell you, her excitement was exciting to us.  While the pandas didn't want to cooperate for picture taking (they do prefer a more solitary way of life), it was still fun to see them.  They aren't terribly active animals for the most part, but we love them nonetheless.

After our morning visit to the zoo, we moved onto the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for some natural wonders.  The size of these displays was so massive.  It's sometimes difficult to wrap your head around how creatures this large just freely roamed the earth.

Attending a hybrid school has allowed me to be more knowledgeable about all the things Emma is learning in school.  In second grade, she learned a lot about dinosaurs and trees.  We made a science journal that year and learned to observe and draw nature more intently.  We still find ourselves looking closely at trees when we go on walks, as well as our bird learning days from first grade.  In third grade, she learned about rocks and geodes, which were a huge excitement that year.  It was neat to see both of those interests present in this space.  Of course, anything teal, purple, and shiny will catch the eye of our girl, but it was still cool to see her excitement and knowledge applied.

One of the last things on our list for the day was taking a trip to the top of the Washington Monument.  Being one of the last rides to the top for day gave us extra alone time with the amazing view.  When we visit different cities, we try to get high above the city; it definitely gives you a different perspective and helps you see the magnitutude of the city you are visiting.

On the way down, the history of how the states pulled together to complete the building of the monument is played.  It was neat to see the inside of the monument and some of the stones that cities and states had sculpted with their names.  And then on our way out, one of the security officers saw my camera and told me that I should get a picture of the door.  The officer informed us that the door, with multiple splintered bulletproof glass panes, was damaged on the morning of January 6th by the rioters who later attacked the Capitol that day.  In my searching, I found these recordings from US Park officials and this transcript that says close to 20 officers barricaded themselves inside the Washington Monument to protect themselves against the mob of people.  It was a sight to be held.

We left there and decided to make a return visit to the Tidal Basin for more cherry blossom views, especially since the weather was still lovely and rain was in the forecast for the next day.  I was grateful to get the chance at some new perspectives, and watch my girl do some of her own creative work.  It makes me smile to think about the impact my photography journey has had on my family.

We closed out the day with a walk through the tulip garden, then hopped on some electric scooters to grab dinner with an outdoor picnic before heading back.  If you missed Day One or Day Two, make sure to check them out!!  I'm excited to share our final days with you and wrap up our spring visit to D.C.

Until next time,

Monday, December 11, 2023

Washington DC, Day 2

If you missed our 1st day of exploring in DC and the back story of our travels, I encourage you to go there first and check it out!  For day 2, we had a long list of places we still wanted to explore.  We started at Arlington National Cemetery, where our first stop was the Marine Corps War Memorial, a statue that depicts the iconic photo taken by Joe Rosenthal from the second flag-raising on Iwo Jima during World War II.  The statue is enormous and is a beautiful tribute to the Marines lost in the wars our country has battled.  This image is so iconic that not only was it made into a memorial, but on 9/11, as firefighters lifted a flag over the debris of the World Trade Towers, many thought of it.

From there, we headed to the Eternal Flame, the final resting place of John F. Kennedy & his wife, Jackie.  On the hillside behind the flame, you can see the Arlington House, which overlooks the Potomac River and was the home of Robert E. Lee.  Today it stands as a memorial, allowing visitors a beautiful view of both the cemetery and some of the city below.  Visitors are also able to walk the grounds and go through some of the rooms in the home to see how it looked during its occupancy.  JFK visited the home before being assassinated and commented that he "could stay here forever", so his final resting spot is a beautiful nod to that.

Next on our list was the Memorial Amphitheater, where you can find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Before going towards the Tomb, we paused to see the Space Shuttle Memorials.  Having been a young student when the Challenger exploded in mid-flight after take off, the impact of space shuttle tragedies hits me in a different way.  Seeing these memorials was a gentle reminder of the costs so many Americans have given to make our country what it is today.

We moved from there towards the Amphitheater, which was both enormous and beautiful.  So many of the monuments and memorials are beyond imagination and while they may fit in the viewfinder of my extra wide lens, in real life, they are almost too much to take in.

Another experience at DC that is larger than life is the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.  It is such a historic and time-honored tradition to be witness to.  The details of this memorial are so lengthy and beautiful that I encourage you to read them here, as I know I will not do them justice by trying to shorten them for this post.

We left Arlington and headed toward the Pentagon Memorial.  Benches represent the lives lost on 9/11 when a plane was hijacked and flown into the side of the building.  There are benches pointing both toward and away from the building, symbolizing whether a person was on the plane or in the Pentagon when the tragedy occurred.  Each bench also holds the names of people who perished that day.  They are ordered from the youngest victim at age 2, to the oldest.  It's a pretty solemn place and the enormity of it reminds you of how great a loss of hundreds of lives in a single moment can actually be.

We left the Pentagon Memorial and headed back to the National Mall for sunset.  I loved being able to watch the Washington Monument be kissed by the sun as Golden Hour hit.  And all the people who clearly call DC home just milling in the fields as it happened because this is just daily life for them.

Behind me was the U.S. Capitol.  I had decided to bring my long lens for this trip and this day I was so glad I did.  The distance between the two buildings is quite long and the extra length allowed me to take shots I would have otherwise missed.  While it was heartbreaking to see this symbol of our nation still covered with tarps after being attacked in January of 2021, it was also a historic moment to remember that attacks on our country take many forms.

We moved closer to The Capitol as the sun kept going and decided to continue exploring and check out a few more spots after official sunset.

While we never took an official tour day or night, we certainly saw value in the buildings after dark!  Seeing the other side of The Capitol lit up by sunset was quite an experience.  It reminded me that when things don't look the way we had hoped, perhaps a new view is necessary.  For photographer friends, the bottom shots SOC - straight out of camera - had settings of ISO 12800, f/3.5, & shutter 1/250 or slightly more open, with minimal editing.

We traveled just a few blocks to see the Supreme Court lit up at night.  I marveled at her beauty while I considered the role our government plays to serve and protect us all.

And then one last shot, but by FAR one of my favorites from our entire trip.  Of course, we still had much more to cover on our remaining days - like a zoo with iconic pandas for our girl to see.  I can't want to share them with you!

Until next time,

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Washington DC, Day 1

We've all heard the phrase, "Better late than never".  Well, this series is certainly going to fit that description, with all of these images dating back to March, 2023!  But before I begin, a brief note.  The combination of my medical conditions and the ongoing pandemic has forced our family to make a lot of long-term pivots.  Almost four years later, we are still assessing risks regularly, which looks different even for the people who are still actively trying to avoid Covid.  With the wide range of feelings on this topic, it is often difficult to share details of our lives openly without fear of judgement.  People that we love will say that we are being absurd trying to avoid Covid and that we have to live our lives.  While others will say that traveling is a terrible choice for us because of the high risk.  What I can say is that we love your concern for our well-being.  At my quarterly doctor appointments, I continue to gain insight and guidance from my doctors at Washington University for best practices for myself and my household.  I also spend time learning more about this disease and the impact it can have on people like me, as well as others, and I would encourage everyone to do those same things.  We appreciate your love, support, and respect for our family and our decisions to protect our long-term health.  Now, onto the good stuff.

With our kids having different spring breaks this year, we looked into doing a return trip to DC.  When our son was only 6 months old, we took a 2-day detour to see the cherry blossoms and highlights of DC after a work trip in Pennsylvania.  Of course, two days felt like it was hardly enough to see DC, so we agreed that we would like to return one day.  Our son had repeatedly said that he had no interest in going to DC, so when we realized that the cherry blossoms would be starting at the end of our daughter's spring break, we decided to take the day-long drive on Sunday and spend 5 days there.  This was our first trip without him and it hit Aaron and me harder than we thought it would.  It was a really amazing trip, but it would have been even better to have him there with us.

For day one, we decided to hit the National Mall and try to see as much as we could while walking.  Part of assessing risks for us is doing lots of things outdoors and picking less crowded times, so most days, we traveled off rush hour and saw very few people.  I loved this enormous escalator that we used regularly to take us to the subway (more of that to come).  We made our first stop at the Washington Monument.  It's truly so amazing and really stands as a beacon in the city.  For those unfamiliar with the history, the building of the monument started in 1848 but took a pause from 1854 to 1877 during the Civil War due to funding.  Because of this pause, different marble was used to complete the building and is visible in color change about a 1/4 of the way up.

After this, we headed across the street to the World War II Memorial.  When we first went with Aaron, the memorial wasn't complete, so this was a new experience for us.  My grandpa served in World War II in the Air Force (and flew over 50 combat missions!), so this memorial was a highlight for me.

The Freedom Wall of stars above symbolizes the American lives lost during the war.  Each star represents approximately 100 American service personnel who died or remained missing in the war.  The wall holds 4,048 stars, standing for the 405,399 lives lost.  It is a very solemn place to consider what our freedom cost our countrymen.

When the World War II Memorial location was being chosen, some people were frustrated with it being at the end of the Reflecting Pool, located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.  While I can understand, I found it to be a beautiful location in a city so very rich in monuments and memorials of our country's history.  I loved that I could capture both of them overlooking the new kid in town - see it in the images above. 

The Lincoln Memorial was next in the mall and is such a sight to be held.  If you look closely at the image below on the right, you can catch a glimpse of a person behind the sign, which shows you how massive it is.

Our next stop was the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, with the iconic Three Servicemen statue.  The wall, like many other things in DC, has a slow stream of people always coming and going, but I frequently wanted a clean shot, so I waited.  As we headed towards the Constitution Gardens, I loved how the Washington Monument stood as a tower of our nation's history, overlooking so much of the city.

As I mentioned, the cherry blossoms were just getting ready to hit their height.  In some areas, this meant that there were still many bare trees, but in others, signs of spring were very clear.  Emma loved getting a close look at a momma duck and her flock of ducklings as we explored the Constitution Gardens.  After some time there, we continued on and discovered the District of Columbia War Memorial, commemorating citizens from the District of Columbia who served in World War I.  I was in awe of the enormous and beautiful dome that I had never heard of before.

You can't help but notice the light coming through all the beautiful cherry blossoms, and while posed shots are not my forte', I knew something like this wouldn't happen again, so we took a few shots in the cherry trees.

We moved on to the Korean War Veteran's Memorial, another addition since our first visit almost 20 years ago.  The wall with service members' names is always a sacred space and one that reminds you of how truly high the cost of freedom is.  The "On Patrol" sculptures were also very moving to me.  They felt so real and the backdrop in which they were set was very ominous.

We moved from the National Mall to the Tidal Basin, where the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is found on the outer edge.  The memorial is so incredible and was impossible for me to get in one shot due to its closeness to the water.  The larger than life feel of the memorial is a beautiful reminder of the amazing lifelong impact this man had on our country.

Once at the Tidal Basin, it was time for some iconic shots.  We headed towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, taking in the view of the Washington Monument across the basin.  Once at the Jefferson Memorial, I had a good time finding just the right shot (and timing) for what I was looking to get.

And oh, the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin!  They were such an amazing sight.  Being back and being able to take the pictures I couldn't 20 years ago was fantastic.  I loved all the opportunities we had as a family to explore, learn, and take pictures - all on Day One!  Side note: most days, we walked between 20,000 and 25,000 steps - to which my blood sugar could testify as I consumed between 3 & 5 granola bars to stop me from passing out with lows everyday.

Day 1 was so amazing and even allowed us to watch sunset over the Tidal Basin!!  I can't wait to share more of our adventure with you in Day 2!

Until next time,