Sunday, March 29, 2009

Falling Mist

That describes the weather on Saturday.  Chilly and damp, but still busy.  

But first, this somebody I've been talking about actually wants to be named and said it was ok to put our picture up from the embassy.  As I think many of you have looked it up, I'll wait until the next photo op.

I thought it would have been fun to give him a nickname, that favored blogger thing to do.  Zigzag because he doesn't walk in a straight line?  Freckles because he has some (and they're cute)?  Bonsai boy because we're small?  But he says I can use his real name, so everyone, meet Jeff.


Second, I've just realized many of you are wondering how the interview went on Friday for the position of translation quality control specialist.  I feel really good about it.  I think I answered their questions succinctly, and to the best of my ability.  I even got to use the word "circumspect" :)  

The two tests they gave me were fun and easy (though I am sure many would be bored to death by such work), so I hope that shows.

The first one was comparing a source English user's manual to the target German user's manual.  If I saw anything at all that needed changing or correcting, I had to make marks and was also allowed to mark the source to aid the next person.    Layout, formatting, spelling, etc.  After I go through it, a native speaker would recheck my work.

The second test was formatting a target body of text in Word, dotted with notes to the editor, to resemble as closely as possible the finished source document in my hand.  It was a translated first page of a Russian nuclear contract.

I really had fun doing those.


On to the Saturday adventure.  J. picked me up in the falling mist and we went downtown to see some kites.  Since it wasn't technically raining, the 2009 Kite Festival went on by the Washington Memorial.

Walking through the courtyard of the Ronald Reagan Building of International Trade and Commerce.  I took this photo because it reminds me of the gate of the Royal Academy where it exits to Piccadilly in London.

Passing by the Warner Theater, we saw all these signatures in the sidewalk:  Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Eric Idle, Englebert Humperdinck, Tommy Tune, Liza Minnelli, Twyla Tharp, and many others.

Kites in the gloom - can you spot the Lincoln Memorial in the misty distance?

In the Smithsonian Castle gardens:

There are many different types of sakura - these are in the Magnolia family

Gate of Heaven - entry into a small tribute to the Garden of Heaven in China

Standing under a weeping cherry tree

Leaving the garden

At the US Botanic Garden:

A baseball cactus in the Desert section, and a stella type plant in the Bromeliad family (of which pineapple is a member.)  OH!  I forgot to take a pic of a pineapple plant!!

L:  Looking down from the second level in the Jungle section.
R top: Pink Powder Puff - yes, it was called that and J. is certain it is my favorite.
R bottom:  Orchids are his favorites.

We went to the neighborhood of Adams Morgan for dinner, and chose a Himalayan restaurant.  The weather demanded spicy food and a warm atmosphere, so we chose well.  I forgot to take pictures of the food, so he reminded me to take this one of the gulab jamun we had for dessert.
Starters were crispy puri with seasoned aloo (potato), chickpeas, and tamarind sauce.
For mains I had some spicy Himalayan dumplings with chutney, and he had lamb rogan josh.

Afterwards, we went to a bar called The Reef, which was filled with aquaria.  We had chocolate martinis and watched an iridescent fish and a yellow fish.  I claimed the iridescent one because it fascinated me - J. named him Walter, and his yellow one was called Sunshine.  Sunshine was well-behaved and polite, but Walter was a rabble-rouser.

I also had a nuts and berries drink that I likened to drinking cake.  Then we had a second dessert (!) of lavender cake.  Lavender, I tell you!  All in all it was a wonderful day, sun or no sun.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Papou Panos

I know I posted a rather frustrated entry yesterday.  Today I shall try to remedy this.

It's very rainy and English outside, so much so that the White House has turned grey!
However, tomorrow promises to be glorious and warm and sunny.

Now, on to the meat of this post.  It's kind of especially for Tea N Crumpets because she's Eastern Orthodox, and my Cypriot Papou (grandpa) was a Greek Orthodox priest for a while, so it is in my blood even though I was brought up Anglican.

Here is Panayiotis (or Panos for short).  Love the bow tie.  On the right, he looks very young (the other fellow is his cousin Nick). 

Panos was a little man, fiesty and affectionate - he stood only up to my father's shoulder, and my Dad is not much taller than me (I'm 5'3" / 63 cm).  He had olive skin and blue eyes.  I have just noticed, he looks like a dreamer.

I never met him, for he died of a heart attack following a house fire, the year before I was born.  I would have loved to hear his accent, and maybe hear him sing.  

He trained to be a priest in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus in the early 1900s, and his pure voice was famous in the area.  However, he did not stay.  As Cyprus was a British protectorate, he immigrated and found a new life in London running two restaurants.  He was a good cook at home and could whip up a feast from nothing, all the while singing his sacred music and chasing everyone out of the kitchen.

When I was a toddler, I scared my mother when I would sit under the dining table and sing my heart out, something sounding very much like Papou.

This video is from 2006, but I still talk like this - because Tea N Crumpets rightfully imagines me with an English accent.  (There is sometimes a slight mix of Texan in there though.)

Today I can still sing my heart out, in both Greek and English and a couple of other languages, but it took many many years for me to discover Greek Orthodox chants for myself.  I too have a pure voice, like a choirboy, with no vibrato - I know this from singing Handel's Messiah every year at home.  

Panos Kavarnos is Greece's current angelic voice.  If you can wear headphones while listening to this, or listen in HD, even better. It gives me goosebumps all over.  Surely this must be what heaven sounds like.  Or if not, I hope one day Kavarnos is appointed God's Choir Director!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I'm 94% better now, but it was "one of those days" including lady blahs.

But also, I was feeling trapped in my bubble of silence with the remaining congestion in my head.

I went grocery shopping and caught up with all the things on my list.  I do like watching the total plummet as soon as they scan the store card at Safeway.  It's like a game:  "How far will it drop today?"

I bought Drano for my bathtub, but afterwards shone a light down the drain and was shocked as I extracted a bundle of long blond hair about the size of a small cat.  *gak*

It's going to rain on Thursday, so I guess I will stay in and do my NY State and Federal tax returns.  Wooooooooo.

Mostly, though, I am just waiting for the interview on Friday.  Monday to Friday is a long wait.

I've been studying the company website, which is ridiculously informative and as a result I don't have enough questions.  What's really cool is that I must be able to obtain security clearance.  That's a valuable commodity in this town.

The interview is at 11am.  I may wear my brown pinstripe trousers from London.  Possibly not a jacket, as it's a casual environment.  The QA director sounded very amiable on the phone and his emails are the politest I've ever received from a potential employer.  I hope this is an indicator.  I have to say, the company values are very much like my own, so that's good.

Come on Friday morning...*sigh*

Monday, March 23, 2009

Good Things

"Good things come to those who wait," said a certain someone to me at the jazz lounge on Friday.  This saying is true on many levels.

Those of you on Facebook know the rest, but anyway...I swore to myself I wasn't going to get into this on my blog, but really, it's even more exciting than my museum visits.

Upon finding out on Saturday that I was unwell, this same someone (who probably deserves a nickname at some point) promised to bring me get well treats.  And so on Sunday I received a call while he was at a rather nice gourmet store, gauging my interest in items, reading ingredients, deciding on things, and then asked my permission to come see me.

He came bearing good things:  chicken noodle soup, tomato basil parmesan soup, a chocolate tartlet, a fruit tartlet, organic OJ with pulp, and a bunch of PINK TULIPS!

(I thought this only happened in movies.)

I was so cheered up that I felt good enough to go out, so we went for a ramble round the neighborhood in the sunshine before he left to visit his folks.

(Girls are not supposed to admit this, and I didn't, but no guy apart from my father has given me flowers before.)


In other news, I had a pre-interview phone screening with a company in Arlington, and it looks like I will be getting an interview later this week.


Oh, nearly forgot - if you want to see pics of us at the Indonesian Embassy, then go to ThingstodoDC, click on the Photo Gallery link on the Right hand side menu, choose the Embassy link, and take a peek at the pics.  

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Embassy Evening

Boo.  I am fighting a cold today.  Since when does a cold start with a mildly irritated throat and take 4 days to actually get started?  So, last night was a real Cinderella event because as soon as I got home, the symptoms started.

So here I sit, with my 1,000 mg Vitamin C booster drink from Nikki (perfect timing - I'm taking the second one tomorrow), a carafe of home blend spicy masala tea, a bowl of grapefruit, and a box of tissues, so that I can tell you about my lovely evening in very nice company.

There are many embassies around Dupont Circle, and on Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues.  The Indonesian Embassy is on Mass Ave.

The Walsh Mansion was built in the Beaux-Arts style at the turn of the 20th century by an Irish-American gold mining tycoon and was the center of society functions during the Teddy Roosevelt administration.  Over the years, it has housed various government offices, including the Rural Electrification Commission in the 1930s and the Red Cross in WWII.  At a state dinner there in 1919, Queen Elizabeth of Belgium presented Mrs Walsh with the Order of Queen Elizabeth for opening her home to Belgian relief volunteers during the Great War.

Their daughter, Evalyn Walsh McLean, was the last private owner of the Indian blue 44.5 carat Hope Diamond which I saw last week at the Museum of Natural History.

The government of Indonesia bought the mansion in 1951 for less than half the construction price and spent a great deal of money restoring it to its former glory, which judging from the ornate detail and plasterwork, must have been painstaking.  It is now on the National Register of Historical Places.

I wish I had taken a picture of the staircase and the giant stained glass skylight above it!

After receiving our glasses of wine, we entered the grand Louis XIV ballroom, stopped for a chat with one of the diplomatic staff, and wandered around the other public areas.  The buffet was laid out beside the ballroom in the organ room where, yes, there was a pretty impressive pipe organ.  The light fixtures were fantastic - not chandeliers, but something more unique.  There were glass cases displaying the varied national costumes of Indonesia, building models, jewelry, and traditional objects.  In the hall with the staircase there was a huge ornate masked dragon made of real animal hair and a fearsome wooden gargoyle that had been presented to the embassy by the Bank of Indonesia.

We enjoyed starters of traditional potato croquettes with a spicy peanut sauce, followed by a history of the mansion from a member of staff, a speech from the Ambassador which of course mentioned Obama's Indonesian roots, and then some entertainment.  We were treated to some gamelan music, 3 pieces.  One was called the dragonfly.  

Then a man in a googly-eyed masked did a dance that left me feeling unsettled, so I think he was supposed to chase away demons.  Thankfully he did not give me nightmares.

Then there was a buffet of rice, goat (?) curry, noodles, vegetables, chicken satay, and the most spicy chicken wings EVER.  Brain buzz hot.  It was yummy.  We ate at a table with two couples who were pleasant to talk to.

Then we got to try playing the gamelan.  I couldn't get the hang of it, but my companion evinced a clear ear for music.

We left around 9.30pm and walked to the Eighteenth Street Lounge, which is a large townhouse with a selection of rooms in eclectic and ornate styles of decor and music.  Every light fixture was different.  Every landing had a console table with mirror, lamp, and plant, and there were candles everywhere.

Of course we chose the jazz room with big antique sofas and settles, baroque picture frames, and the deepest red ceiling.  I think we chose a quaint Queen Anne sofa.  The music was great, but then a live band arrived.  They took ages to set up, but it was worth it and we were treated to some random scat-style jazz with a keyboard, trumpet, flute, conga drums.

My Cosmo

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Surpriseday

Today was like my birthday and Christmas all rolled into one.

A surprise parcel arrived today from the lovely Nikkipolani!  I found it inside the front door when I went downstairs for breakfast, and ended up running upstairs to open it and ooh and aah over each item as I pulled them out of the box!

She had filled it with samples from a trade show and Trader Joe's.  I love smorgasbords.

Looks as though I was too excited to focus properly, but there are tasty snacks, teabags, chocolate bars, chocolate covered blueberries and pumpkin seeds, all sorts of natural lotion and soap samples, and lip balms...goodness me!


Today as it was drizzly out (spring got cold feet), I stayed home cleaning up my poor overworked hard drive, downloading software for a printer that my landlady has given me, AND I may soon (hopefully tomorrow) receive a phone call to discuss a job with a translation company.  *holding breath*

Tomorrow evening, somebody is taking me to a swanky do at the Indonesian Embassy including traditional food, music and dance, and a tour of the mansion, so stay tuned for a review.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slow Day

Shot myself in the foot by posting today's photo as the banner pic - so here it is again.

Do any of you gardeners know what it is?  (I don't.)

Thanks to all the unfamiliar pollen, I'm fighting non-sneezy allergies (headache and sore throat) BUT...still excited because:

Spring is here!

Birds were broadcasting their joy like maniacs in trees, and squirrels were busy chattering at each other over mistaken nut stashes.

Crocuses purple, white, and yellow, are still around.  

A few stubborn wilting snowdrops persist.

Daffodils are turning up their bright faces to the sun.

Yellow and purple pansies have been planted in front gardens.

Most trees are still biding their time, but some are smothered in white blossoms.

And blooms in varying shades of pink inhabit different kinds of bushes.

But most importantly, the stars of the city - the sakura cherry blossoms - are coming out!

They have nothing to do with real cherries, but are actually magnolias indigenous to Asia and a mainstay of the annual spring celebration across Japan.  Most of the sakura in the US were gifts from Japan at different times in history for different reasons.  More on this after I've been to the festival sometime in the next month.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Algerian Evening

The sun has been hiding behind clouds and mist for the past few days - very English, which is a novelty for the locals but I'm drumming my fingers waiting for it to go.  Fortunately, the sun wil return on Tuesday.  

I was heading towards hibernation after going out on Friday, but I was taken out on Sunday too.
We went to the Kennedy Center - a cavernous 1960s style venue not far from the infamous Watergate Hotel.

Pic taken nearly halfway down the endless length of the hall - a stage at either end and a giant bronze bust of JFK in the center

For approximately a week, there were free concerts on the Millennium Stage, and art, jewelry and costume exhibits as part of the Center's Arabesque:  Arts of the Arab World series.

Unbelievably, it was announced that there is a free concert on the Millennium Stage 360 days of the year!!!  I should live there then!  And, you can watch the webcasts!

Anyway, Sunday's treat was Djamel Laroussi, an Algerian musician with his band of four playing for the first time in America (probably the first time for most of the other bands/ensembles this week).  Very lively, enriching, and fun.  Alors, c'etait super!

They kept us clapping in time, middle eastern women ululated, and there was a small knot of people at the front who wouldn't stop dancing, which annoyed the elderly ushers but on the last number, everyone got up so it was a lost cause.

Afterwards, in the mood for mideastern cuisine we drove into Maryland to eat a hearty Greek and Turkish dinner.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


On we go to the National Museum of Natural History!

But first, I had a great evening on Friday.  I was taken out to U Street, the home of Washington's jazz scene.  We checked out a couple of places, but ended up at Cafe Nema, a cozy, relaxed little place with friendly staff.  There was a good selection of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Somali food.  Most importantly, the band was ablaze - so much energy - they played from the heart.  They're called the Young Lions and have played with Branford Marsalis.  It turns out we were sitting next to the previous mayor (Williams) and his friend, and they dedicated a song to him.

On Sunday, we're going to a desert music concert, so I'll tell you about that too.

Also, I now have my DC driver's license, and was able to use it mere hours later to get into a bar.  They shredded my NYC license in front of me and I said bye bye.  Back home, my roommate said, "Great, now you can drive the car you don't have!"

Actually, I plan to join Zipcars eventually.  Every neighborhood has a fair selection of cars, pickups, SUVs, cabriolets, or station wagons which you can find on a map.  You pay a small yearly fee ($50), receive a proximity card which opens the car you have booked online, and then pay a low hourly ($9-11) fee and can extend your booking via SMS text if needed.  Sounds awesome.  You can rent a Mini Cooper or even a BMW.


OK, are y'all ready to go to the museum now?  I think we can do this in one post.

The National Museum of Natural History

Ooh look, another rotunda!

There was the usual T rex skeleton in the great hall, and so on.  This little bird fossil was captivating.

There was a temporary exhibition on Africa.  Here two things from Ghana:  a front door, and a fancy coffin, which is like a status symbol.  This one is a KLM jumbo jet.

A plesiosaur and a giant turtle from the Pleistocene Era

Which natural history museum does not have a whale hall?  Here is an ugly bugger, called the Right Whale - because it really is the one that the Inuit whalers meant to catch.

Also, which whale hall does not have an outstanding feature?  This one was that all the wall friezes were video screens of underwater footage.

An amazing show, like that touchable flag display at the American History museum, here is the Story of Earth - projected onto a rotating globe.
Clockwise:  intro > earth's fiery gaseous volcanic birth > the names of the continental plates > following the minor ocean currents using rubber duckies, which as they continued became as tumultuous and water-swept as a van Gogh painting.  The narrator told the story of the development of life on earth, the effect of the water on climate, earthquakes and tsunamis, lightning strikes, hurricanes, volcanoes, the underwater canyons currently being mapped, Pangaea and Panthalassa...

Did you know it takes some of the deepest slowest currents nearly 1,000 years to circle the globe?

Emperor penguins sort of have fur
And a sealion gives a cheeky glance
The stuffed animals at the museum, not being 100 years old, all looked alive to me because their fur and feathers were so fresh.

In the Exploration and Discovery hall, a new species discovered at the Geothermal Vents in the deep sea:  the Yeti Crab, named after the abominable snowman.
The benches lining one wall were inset with nautical knots, a neat detail.

A special exhibition of hundreds of FRESH ORCHIDS detailing Darwin's study of orchid evolution.

North American Plains - a hare, a bison, and by the bison's back foot, a screaming rodent

I have always thought the South African Dik Dik was adorable.  It's hardly bigger than a jack russell terrier and it's teeny weeny hoofs are unreal.
The giraffe becomes one of the most graceless animals when drinking water.

A nectar sipping bat

The gorgeous Arctic Fox in camouflage

It's a good thing my phonecam battery ran out before the Gems and Minerals hall because I would have tried to show you those too.  Had a look at the Hope Diamond and lots of touchable rocks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Stroll

We are taking a small break from the museum overload I've instigated.  If you were just getting into it, though, the next in the series will be the Museum of Natural History.

Yesterday before this cool front blew in, it was overcast, slightly humid, and warm (about 63F/17C).  The birds were singing everywhere, tiny buds had made a show on the branches, and a couple of sheltered trees were already sporting nascent blossoms.

So because I'd stayed in all day I thought I'd go for a walk before the weather changed, run a couple of tiny errands, and explore some side streets off the Avenue.  I am still falling in love with this area.

Seriously, can houses get any cuter than this??

Monday, March 09, 2009


Today was very English - grey and overcast, breezy, mild enough to go out with a scarf and gloves but take them off after a few minutes walking.

I walked about 3/4 mile down to Tenleytown to go shopping at Whole Foods, and as I exited the store just the right bus came along.  It's possibly my first bus ride since last time I was here (I tend to avoid buses, unfortunately) but as you know from before, they're easy here because the next intersection is usually announced AND they stop every block and a half so you can't really get lost.

Anyway, I've come to realize I need to re-learn a few southern courtesies.  I've been working on remembering to smile at people, or how to respond to a neighborly exchange.  Well, when I got off the bus, the person in front of me thanked the bus driver, and the person behind me bid her a good evening.  As I walked home, I felt as though I'd been remiss, and am now resolved to fix this.  I'm trying to remember if people say hello when they get on too.
I am no longer in either London or NYC, that's for sure.


Continuing on from the first part, let us move on to two permanent star exhibitions at the NMAH:

First Ladies at the Smithsonian

The ever-popular and changing First Ladies exhibition at the Smithsonian which holds most of the inaugural gowns.

L, top: Mary Lincoln, 1861
L, bottom: Mrs Warren Harding, 1921
Center: Mamie Eisenhower, 1953
R, top: Martha Washington, 1789
R, bottom: Dolly Madison, 1809 (or maybe Mrs James Monroe, 1817?)

In a case alone, the inaugural gown worn by Helen Taft, 1909

The pale yellow Oleg Cassini gown worn by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961 did not show up so well in my photo. There was also Laura Bush's 2001 fuschia gown. Michelle Obama's has not arrived yet.

In the center of one exhibition there was a huge Colonial Massachusetts farmhouse in various stages of "undress" from the layers of wallpaper to the mortise and tenon structural joins and ceiling joists. As you walk around the exhibition viewing objects and events occurring during the house's different historical eras, the room setups change to reflect the style of the day. So, for instance, in the Abolition section opposite the Wedgwood "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" pendants, the house would show the parlor set up in mid-19th century style with the Bible and abolitionist pamphlets on the table.

In our photo above we see a Colonist's evolution into a Revolutionary. An English settler who becomes a Minuteman to fight for his new country. The ribbonlike textile attached to the sleeve is a length of homemade lace, with the bobbins hanging from it.


The Star-Spangled Banner

The right side of the above image shows the entrance to the iconic exhibition (no photos allowed), The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem - excellent online exhibition here.

Where do I start with this? It covered the War of 1812, a crucial rite of passage for the young nation seeking credibility and a place on the world political stage.

There was a charred piece of wood from the White House. Here's something I remember from history class. The White House is white because the British tried to burn it down in 1814. After refurbishment, in order to cover up the charring and fire damage it was whitewashed and so it has stayed ever since.

I won't get into the whole story of the war, that could be its own post, except I don't do politics here :)
The Star Spangled Banner, the flag itself, is made of English wool bunting and was sewn by Martha Pickersgill over seven weeks in the summer of 1813 with her daughters and a servant. They were contracted by the Fort and were specialists at making ships' colors and signal flags. At 30 x 42 ft, it was larger than the footprint of the house so the work was moved across the street to a brewery and upon completion was hung on the ramparts of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, an important seaport which was the site of the pivotal battle. The British bombarded the port for 25 hours while the Americans throughout the States held their breath.
Francis Scott Key was watching from aboard a ship a few miles distant. As morning arrived he could see the flag still flying and the British ships withdrawing, the United States having withstood the bombardment.
Inspired by the sight of the flag intact in the sunrise, he penned his famous poem.

The flag remained the property of the family for the next 90 years while the song gained in popularity across the nation, but it was displayed at local celebrations. They lent it to the Smithsonian in 1907 and a few years later officially gifted it to the nation. But the Star Spangled Banner did not become the national anthem until 1931. And before the War of 1812, the flag was not the most iconic symbol of this nation but used mostly to identify ships and forts. During the Revolution 30 years earlier, the major symbols were the eagle and lady Liberty.

The flag is now 10 feet shorter and missing one star, owing to the family giving out cuttings to keepsake collectors, and thus it remains. After a major painstaking preservation and reinforcement project in the late 1990s, it has been held in a special climate-controlled protective display chamber and tilted at a 10-degree angle for both support and visibility.

The most amazing technological feature at the exhibit is the giant interactive table onto which is projected the flag in movable sections, with point and click info boxes. Almost like the Microsoft Touch table. Another fantastic interactive flag is available here.

I was quite touched to imagine how Key must have felt seeing that flag still flying in the morning, and penning his four inspired verses.

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Onto lighter things, I bought a pin for the cherry blossom festival. Difficult to read the card, but it says: The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual two-week event that celebrates springtime in Washington, DC as well as the 1912 gift of the cherry blossom trees and the enduring friendship between the people of the United States and Japan. (Proceeds go towards the Festival to offer cultural and community-based events that are free and open to the public.)

I also bought a pin of the Great Seal of the United States of America (proceeds go towards the mission of the Smithsonian Institution, "the increase and diffusion of knowledge"). The card says:
"Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were given the task of creating a motto and seal for the Nation by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The official seal was finalized on June 20, 1782. The Great Seal features the American bald eagle as its main element, a symbol that represent the American spirit.

The Eagle breast is a shield made up of thirteen vertical stripes representing the thirteen original States. The Eagle's claws clutch thirteen arrows in one and an olive branch in the other. The banner in the Eagle's beak is inscribed with E pluribus unum, which means "out of many, one".

A huge vat of marbles at the museum shop, thus ending on a fun note :)

Sunday, March 08, 2009


On Thursday, I went to the National Museum of American History.

Well, first I went to a pre-interview test, but let's just say...have you ever walked into a place and wanted to walk right back out before anyone noticed you'd arrived?  Yeah, it was like that.

But it was a gorgeous day, around 10C/51F with dazzling sun and a mild breeze, so I decided that rather than going home, I'd stick around downtown.  Deciding to skip the metro, I was lost around Dupont Circle for nearly half an hour wondering which way to go and not remembering which had been the correct way to my original destination for when (if?) I go back next week for the interview.

I waited for a bus for a few minutes but I have no patience for that kind of thing, so I used my feet instead, which feels much more productive.  In fact, from leaving home to returning at night, I walked a total of 6 miles on this day.

I headed south a little too soon so ended up at the western end of the Mall, to the west of the Washington Memorial.  Needing a little rest, I sat at a bench in Constitution Gardens overlooking the water.  I felt SO HAPPY in the moment that I sent a picture message entitled "Peace" to my dear friends Diva, Pandy, and Amy.  Diva enjoyed it so much that she blogged about it, and sent me a return image of her own "Peace"!  Indeed I agree with her in that the wonder of modern technology allowing you to share special moments with your friends thousands of miles away can be quite miraculous.

As soon as I'd texted them, a couple of ducks came waddling over, female in the lead, male bringing up the rear just like a couple going shopping.  She stood there quietly pleading for some lunch while her hubby stayed in the background preening.  Craning her neck as high as she could and peering up at my lap with her big brown eyes, she'd look down from time to time to inspect the floor or nibble my toe, convinced I had a sandwich and insisting I could share it with her.  I leaned over, talking to her and showing her my empty hands, and I am sure people walking past thought I was off my rocker.

Hello there, large two-legged being.
Do you have any lunch?
I'll wait.
Hm, your toe looks tasty.

The Canada geese have been arriving over the past weeks, and are out in full force grazing on the open green spaces.

Looking West on the Mall

Looking East on the Mall

By the time I finish blogging about all these museums, you will know what's at all the Washington DC compass points!

The splendid Environmental Protection Agency sits across the road from the Museum of American History.


Soon I was at the museum learning all about American history and it brought all that book-larnin' to life for me.

The collections and exhibitions encompass so many interesting things such as:
Bomb shelters
The Pill
Nuclear power and the Manhattan Project
The 1950s middle class housing boom
Julia Child's Kitchen (she was the American Fanny Craddock/Delia Smith)
DNA splicing
The patented DuPont Oncomouse (the first patented animal developed to receive the cancer gene for research)
Oil-eating bacteria
The Texas Supercollider
CFCs and the Ozone Layer
Colonial life
Immigrant workers
Wartime homemaking

L, top:  A Renaissance automaton, the Walking Monk.  When wound up, he rolls forward turning his head from side to side, opening his mouth, rolling his eyes, and beating his hand on his chest while holding a rosary with the other.  There was a video showing a complete version in robes and church paraphernalia.
L, bottom:  An early 20th century chemical laboratory

Center:  "Stanley" won the DARPA Challenge 2005, one of many robotic cars competing to make their own driving decisions.  In case of emergency, they can be overriden to go remote control.

R:  A small cross-section of the Texas Superconducting Supercollider, a giant project which Congress closed down in 1993 but which was supposed to be the largest atom smasher in the world.  It has now been replaced by CERN underneath Switzerland/France.

Let me know if you're interested in finding out what exactly is accomplished by smashing atoms.  I could rustle up a blog post about it...
Or anything else.  Please cast a vote for what you would like to read about.

FLIGHTY, the following is especially for you, part of one of those neat little glass cases stuffed full of little accoutrements, the best snapshot of an era.

WWII Ration Book.  One coupon for meat, fats, fish, and cheeses.  Another for 5 lbs of sugar.  There were also mileage and gas coupons for motorists.

In the next installment, we will learn about the Star Spangled Banner and the First Ladies' gowns.