“I,Too”: Celebrating Black History Month

I promised back in January to publish a link to a project I have poured much love and devotion into- an experiential learning guide I created that focuses on African American literature and local places of interest that students (or anyone!) can explore with their families. The goal of this project as it relates to my personal field (education) is to foster the school-family-community nexxus that supports learning outcomes for students. The goal as it relates to this blog- to guide you toward some excellent resources for Black History in the DC area in conjunction with a month in which we celebrate this important contribution to our national identity.

I’m an English teacher, and I have a theory that all English teachers have one particular area of literature they love the most. Mine happens to be African American literature, a particularly vibrant yet often overlooked subset of American literature. African American literature provides valuable contribution to what it means to “be American,” and it’s often underutilized in school curriculums. My goal for this project, and in posting it here, is to introduce readers to some of my favorite African American writers and try to bring their voices to life. In the still-relevant words of Langston Hughes, “I, too, am America.”

If you’re interested in exploring this area of literature a bit more, here is the link to the Google slides version of my project: “”I,Too”: Bringing to Life the Voices of African American Writers.” I very much would have liked to include many, many more writers from many, many more eras, but at some point the project became unwieldy and needed to be capped. I have included some of my absolute favorites, including Frederick Douglass (who, contrary to our president’s comments, is NOT alive and has been getting attention for… over 100 years already), Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, and my absolute favorite favorite favorite, Zora Neale Hurston. I hope you find something useful in this guide and that it in some small way serves its purpose of honoring these incredible voices.

 

Advertisements

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Washington, DC

If your kids are like mine, they likely came home this week telling you that in the days leading up to MLK Jr. Day on January 16 they’ll be learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a parent, I’m thrilled that my first-grade daughter will be learning about Dr. King in school. As a teacher, I’m looking for more opportunities to help her make a connection with Dr. King and the historical events he was pivotal in achieving.

As an English teacher (one semester away from finishing my Masters in Education), I have this theory that all English teachers have one particular area of literature they love more than others. For me, that is African American literature. In honor of Black History Month coming up in February, I’m going to be posting an experiential learning guide I have created that honors the voices of some of my favorite African American writers and then offers suggestions of places to visit in the DC/Northern Virginia region that directly tie to those authors. This project was initially done for a course in my Masters program but the work was so interesting and fulfilling to me that I’m going to build upon it and publish it here to share it with as many people as possible.

That being said, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my favorite writers featured in this publication, and as the only one who has his own national holiday, he earns a bump-out feature of his own. I’d like to share with you some ways to get your kids involved in actively learning about and celebrating the life of this great man on January 16. We are particularly lucky living in this area to have access to so many places that directly relate to Dr. King and can really bring his voice to life for ourselves and our kids. I plan to do this with my own kids as I attempt to introduce them to one of our greatest American figures.

Featured writings:

Everyone knows King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech- or, at least, they know of the snippet in which he declares he has a dream. Try reading the piece in full with your kids, out loud, and then watch a video of King himself delivering this speech at the March on Washington. When I teach my students rhetorical analysis, I love including audio/visual clips when at all possible. So much is conveyed in tone, facial expression, and mannerisms that doesn’t always carry through in writing (or gets distorted or lost during read-alouds because of the different mannerisms or speech patterns of whoever is reading). There is something very powerful about hearing a writer read their own writing as they intended it to be heard and received. King in particular is a gifted orator whose words on the page are powerful but become epic when heard in his own voice.

Although “I Have a Dream” is perhaps King’s best-known piece of writing, he is the author of others that (if I’m being honest) I actually prefer. One of my favorite pieces of writing of all time is King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which was written when he was jailed in Birmingham following the 1963 Birmingham protests. In Bearing the Cross, a Pulitzer-Prize winning account of King’s Civil Rights career, it’s revealed how personally stressful King found his stints in jail. Being jailed was a not-uncommon occurrence for King in the mid-60s as protests cropped up across the South in which he would either lead or take part. As often as he was jailed, King found each instance emotionally fraught and mentally taxing. During his five-day stint in Birmingham, he released  nervous energy by penning “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” To read his moving words and measured and rational rhetoric, one would never know the great duress he was under at the time. It bears one of the most elegant and haunting closing paragraphs of all time:

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.; Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

It is no secret that we are currently living in a world and society which is troubled and bears the silent rumblings of discord and misunderstanding across groups. I read King’s words from time to time to remind myself of his optimism and vision. I ask my students to consider our present day circumstances and to ruminate on whether we have yet reached the “not too distant tomorrow” in which King envisioned love and brotherhood. Their responses are often surprising in their depth and intellect and sensitivity. I love to hear what they think. Ask your kids the same question. (Ask yourself the same question.)

The final piece of King literature I’d like you to read is King’s haunting and eerily prescient “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. One again, King’s delivery of this speech is mandatory viewing, as his emotional state really comes through via spoken word. If you don’t have 43 minutes to spare, please do at least spend two minutes to watch the final words of his speech, when he really ramps up and appears to be on the verge of tears.

It really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight, I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

He would be shot dead the following day at his Memphis hotel. I promise you, it is impossible to watch him deliver these words and not feel the impact. What thoughts lie behind them? What fears were he nurturing?

Where to visit:

Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the man and his words, you have the option of visiting many places in this area to deepen the connection. Here are my suggestions:

Starting with the most obvious, a stop at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Monument is a must. As it’s part of the National Park Service system, it’s free and open to the public 24 hours a day, year-round. Kids can get a Junior Ranger Booklet to complete for a badge (I’ve written here about the wonderful Junior Ranger program and highly recommend it for kids).

mlk-portraitimage via NPS

From there, visit the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech as part of the March on Washington, a coordinated protest aimed at pressuring government to pursue legislation that would ensure equality in the workforce for African Americans, creating more/better job opportunities for them and securing the right to equal pay.

be_march-on-washington-mlk

image via

Of note is exactly why the march culminated with King’s speech being delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The March on Washington took place in 1963- the centennial of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The location was a specific rebuke against the fact that much of what the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence promised had not been delivered to African Americans- or as King put it, “it is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.””

And just where did King write this era-defining speech? Right here in Washington, DC at The Willard Intercontinental, where he was staying as a guest. In the lobby of The Willard, King and his advisers made the final revisions and edits to this speech just before he delivered it at the March. Pop into the hotel and show your kids where history was made.

intercontinental-washington-2532396389-2x1image via

The Civil Rights display at Library of Congress

Before entering the room where Thomas Jefferson’s book collection is housed and displayed, the Library of Congress has erected a wonderfully informative walk-through presentation about the Civil Rights movement and its pinnacle in 1964 of achieving the passing of the Civil Rights Act, which guaranteed equal treatment of African Americans under the law and prohibited discrimination, voter suppression, and other forms of injustice faced by African Americans through the period following the Emancipation Proclamation and Jim Crow.

libcon3

The display shows the work of many of King’s contemporaries in the movement and the work that led to getting the legislation signed and passed by President Johnson. King’s speech is featured as well as a picture of he and other Civil Right leaders with President Kennedy at the White House following the March on Washington. For anyone who’d like a deeper look into the movement and the Civil Rights Act, this display is a must-see.

libcon

libcon2

note: the Library of Congress website says this exhibition was only on display until January 2, 2016- however, I was just there in mid December, when I took these pictures, and it was up.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Access to this new museum is still mostly limited to highly coveted timed passes (which will go up soon for April) but there are a limited number of same-day passes available each morning at the museum. If you’re able to grab those, do! If you can’t manage a visit in time for MLK, Jr. day, try your best to get in at a later date and make the visit nonetheless. I was lucky enough to get timed passes last September just weeks after the opening date and it was one of my favorite experiences of the year. I consider this museum to be a work of genius- never has the design of any building so informed the experience within.

Starting in the bottom floor of the museum, one begins in the dark days of slavery. Appropriately, this part of the museum is dark, light-less and feels stifling and hot. Moving up through the second and third floors you pass through the Civil War, Emancipation, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era, and finally you burst into the light-filled center atrium feeling as though you’re gasping for air. The fourth, fifth and sixth floors (the above ground corona) are paeans to achievement in culture. Reaching the top, one feels the heights that have been reached, made all the more poignant when considering the depths in which progress began. The museum’s tagline is “A People’s Journey.” Never has a journey felt so personally rewarding.

nmaahc2

In this far back corner of the top-most floor of the NMAAHC I looked out through the bronze lattice-work that ensconces the building and stood face to face with the Capitol building. How I wished all those who had gone before could stand in that same spot to see the view. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that he had been to the mountaintop. He undoubtedly had. But I wish he had been there for this mountaintop as well.

Other events and activities:

Washington, DC

Dr. King preschool storytime at the MLK branch of the DC Library.
King mural discussion at the MLK branch of the DC Library
Martin Luther King, Jr. parade, Anacostia (January 16, 2017, 11 am)

Northern Virginia

25th Annual Martin Luther King March and Celebration– beginning with prayer at 10:15 at the Leesburg Courthouse, the march honoring King will then proceed to the former Douglass School.
Loudoun Chorale presents “Lift Every Voice” a festival of choirs and inspirational speakers in honor of Dr. King. Leesburg Community Church (January 15, 2017, 4-6 pm)

The Ultimate Guide to Virginia Summer, 2016

How amazing was that Memorial Day weekend!? If that didn’t get you pumped for summer, nothing will. In fact, getting through the school routine for the next 15 days is going to be a battle royale because as far as my mind is concerned, it’s summer right now. It’s hot, the pools are open, fresh corn is back in the grocery store- this is happening. We have achieved summer.

I first started this blog last summer and really, summer is when this blog thrives, because it’s the time of year when we have the most time to devote to doing fun things. Like most of you, the school year has its way with us, and school, activities, and general life responsibilities get in the way of doing what we want all day long. Summer is when we take back our time! I refuse to sign my kids up for any scheduled activities and aside from a stray week of half-day camp or a planned vacation, we wake up in the mornings, check with friends or take a look at our summer to-do list, and make our plan for the day that way. I just think this is the way summer should be. There’s something so invigorating about this freedom- maybe it’s because I was born right after the summer solstice and am the most Cancerian of Cancers to ever live, but I come alive in summer. It can’t be true but sometimes I think every good and wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me happened in summer.

To get ready for Summer 2016, I’ve started a running list in my Notes app (it’s called SUMMER, because I’m such a writer) to keep track of things that I have seen or heard of and want to do. I did this last summer as well; some of the things on the Summer 2015 list didn’t get crossed off so I’ve just punted them to the Summer 2016 list. We’ve lived here five years this summer and there are still things right around us that we have yet to get to- how great is that? You can’t find a better place to do summer than Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland.

If you, too, are looking for some summer ideas, I am here to help. The following list is Your Ultimate Guide to Summer in Northern Virginia (and surrounding environs), and included are things we’ve done and enjoyed and planned to do again, and a bunch of new things we’ve yet to try but hope to get to this summer. Join us in ushering in the greatest 3 months of any calendar year: bright, happy, ephemeral SUMMER. We’re all beautiful here.


History

Visit Mount Vernon– we did this years ago when we first moved here, but now that my oldest is moving on to first grade and has learned about presidents, I think this bears a repeat visit. The home of George Washington is situated right on the banks of the Potomac and one of the finest examples of presidential homes here in Virginia.

Boundary Stones tour (FREE)– When Congress gave Washington permission to select a 100 square mile area to serve as the national capital, the spot he chose, what is now Washington, D.C., was marked off with stones at one-mile intervals. Many of these original boundary stones, placed in the 1700s, still exist around DC, and we plan to get out and scout a few of them.

Frederick Douglass house (FREE)– I’m taking a course in African-American literature this summer, the conclusion of which is going to dovetail nicely with the September opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In the spirit of this course of study, I’ll be seeking out local points of African-American history this summer- including the home of Frederick Douglass in Anacostia.

Harpers Ferry, WV– visit this historical town for stunning views of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers (Jefferson declared the view worth a voyage across the Atlantic to see) and to visit the site of John Brown’s Raid, one of the precipitating events leading to the Civil War.

2616A3E0-DD2A-474E-BE99-683236F4E70D_zpsvejgk1xq

Morven Park, Leesburg (FREE unless you do a home tour)- The magnificent home of former Virginia governer Westmoreland Davis. The home is now open for tours- in addition to the home itself, there’s a Carriage Museum and two presidentially-pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys, named Mac and Cheese and Caramel.

C61778F2-3B60-4116-8ABD-94267BD036C0_zpsxstemlyw

Oatlands Plantation, Leesburg- This plantation home once housed 133 slaves, the largest slave population in Loudoun County. Today the home still stands and is available for tours; the gardens are a visual treat worth exploring even if you aren’t interested in a house tour. Afternoon tea is offered on a monthly basis as well as various special events such as yoga and summer camps.

oatlands1

Gunston Hall, home of George Mason. June 11th is George Mason day and admission will be free!

Woodlawn-Pope- Leighey– a double-hitter! Woodlawn is the home that Washington gave to his wife, Martha’s, grand-daughter Nelly and Pope-Leighey, located right next door, is a home designed by architectural legend Frank Lloyd-Wright.

Manassas National Battlefield (FREE)– the site where Stonewall Jackson got his enduring nickname. Bring your National Parks Passport and get four stamps in the gift shop.

db039ddc-9b4e-47bb-a51d-55f8c1b73619_zpsrbercxdb.jpg

Colvin Run Mill Park, Fairfax (FREE)– A gristmill with working waterwheel is open to visitors- visit the Miller’s house and the General Store which served those who came to the mill as grocery store, post office, and general watercooler gossip trading post.

E728AB4A-9344-486C-A56B-96110C81BBEE_zpshvcyhosl

Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, Sterling- This fun little hands-on museum tells the story of Loudoun County and showcases its rural beginnings. Hard to believe now that there’s eight thousand restaurants and a Top Golf, but Loudoun County once (and in some parts, still) was a land of farms and agriculture. Stop in on a rainy day to let the kids play in the general store and the pretend farm.

bd811a7d-6d03-49f7-a940-45686f654acf-png_zpsd4lhcf9u1

U-Pick

Currently in season: STRAWBERRIES. Wegmeyer Farms operates two locations in Northern Virginia- their main farm in Hamilton and a patch at Oatlands Plantation. We went the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and picked a couple pounds of the most juicy, red, gloriously sweet strawberries you’ve ever tasted. No white-centered mutantly huge Driscoll’s berries here. We enjoyed ours with a whipped ricotta drizzled with honey and sprinkled with some sea salt- heaven on a plate.

bb6214ef-a4d1-4fb0-817c-644a34354c81_zpszizqj5m9

Blueberry picking at Eagletree Farm– The very brief blueberry season begins sometime in June and can end as early as the first week of July, so keep your eyes peeled for when blueberries are ripe for picking at the farm.

Peaches and more at Great Country Farms– my deep and abiding love for Great Country Farms is well-documented, and high up on the list of reasons why GCF is the best place ever is their U-pick setup. A wagon picks you up at the store and drives you across the street to the fields where you pick to your heart’s content. The peaches are especially wonderful in mid-late summer (you should plan to attend their Peach Fuzztival and enjoy peach pancakes at the Roosteraunt) and in June we’ll get a brief window of time to harvest black raspberries. Come to play and pick.

Flowers at Fields of Flowers, Purcellville, Burnside Farms, Haymarket, and Ridgefield Farms in Harpers Ferry, WV– is anything more satisfying than wandering a field of flowers and carefully selecting only the most beautiful specimens that catch your eye to bring home with you? There’s something so incredibly pleasing about roaming a field full of flowers and walking away with a beautiful bouquet.

71225d0a-6928-48a6-b69e-83102ed995a4_zpsq7str6jg

25C834F2-E445-4F60-8986-39266B8524AC_zps8xbdctl8

C7E0C9B7-D0E1-4B00-B03C-2763043783FC_zps7gnytiij

Lavender at Seven Oaks Lavender Farm, Catlett, VA- Starting June 3rd, Seven Oaks will be open to visitor who are welcome to come pick fresh lavender at this Virginia farm.

Paw-Paws at Mackintosh Farm, Berryville– technically this will not be a “summer” activity since paw-paws aren’t in season until late September or so, but you don’t want to miss this special fruit, which was beloved by George Washington for its sweet, custardy flavor. Reminiscent of banana, mango, and coconut, it’s a rare and delicious treat.

You won’t be doing the picking yourself since Rachel Roberts takes care of that, but if you stop by her house on Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg this summer, you can purchase freshly picked and trimmed flowers from her garden. All money collected goes to the Loudoun Interfaith Relief food pantry, where Rachel has volunteered for years, and last summer she was able to donate a whopping $11,648 to LIR thanks all to the flowers in her garden. My children and I stop by “the flower lady’s house” several times each summer to purchase some of her beautiful arrangements.

12360408_931145450297854_2460617793757931891_n

Water Fun

30d8c86c-edde-4e66-b358-6ca86fb10b3c_zpsbwfym9tk

Many neighborhoods have their own HOA pool(s), but if you’re looking for something new to try, there’s tons of places nearby.

NVRPA is one of the best things about where we live- so many parks and attractions and they just do everything so well. Their water parks are awesome- our favorite is Volcano Island inside Algonkian Park but this summer, now that my youngest is 2.5, we’ll be visiting others as well, like Atlantis inside of Bull Run park.

Franklin Park Pool in Purcellville- this mini-waterpark and pool combo was a big hit with our kids last summer and we’ll back again this year. Small waterslides, dump buckets, and ride-on toys make this pool perfect for breaking up the neighborhood pool trip and making swimming a little more special.

DC7410E1-0E08-4EDD-8EFD-488213583430_zps4wzdxt45

A.V. Symington Aquatic Center, Leesburg- located in Ida Lee Park,the outdoor water park at Symington Aquatic Center is HUGELY popular on hot summer days. Get there early; we never made it there before it reached capacity last summer and will have to try again this year!

Splash Fountains at Village at Leesburg and One Loudoun and Our Special Harbor in Franconia

Explore Nature

Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD and Meadowlark Gardens, Vienna– two botanical gardens that are full of lush summer flora. Pick whichever is closest to you (or both!)- they’re both great. Brookside Gardens is currently hosting its Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit which is well worth the visit. Meadlowark Gardens holds a Summer Solstice Picnic event on June 21- on this one day each year, families are allowed to bring picnics into the park and enjoy the longest day of the year by watching sunset in the Korean Bell garden.

1E088681-55DF-4E1C-8C3C-D0628B36189D_zpsrrlejq36

Cunningham Falls, Thurmont, MD-  We’ve seen the signs for Cunningham Falls countless times, and this summer, I’m making a point to go.

Bears Den Overlook, Bluemont, VA (FREE)– One of my favorite hikes to take with my kids and visiting friends. The views are stunning and there’s nothing quite so pleasant as sitting on the rocks, eating a snack, and looking down at the beautiful Shenandoah Valley below. Just down the road in the town of Bluemont you can grab snacks and sandwiches at Bluemont General Store, a glass of wine at Bluemont Vineyards, or a beer and soft pretzels at Dirt Farm Brewing.

340844BC-7FBD-46C0-BF56-40C37575BE34_zps3nin6jac

Theodore Roosevelt Island, DC (FREE)– Walk the trails of Roosevelt Island, the “living memorial” to president Teddy Roosevelt.

Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington (FREE)– This little park is crammed full of fun stuff to do- a Planet Walk, playgrounds, a growing garden, a birds of prey exhibit, and an absorbing little nature center. This one was one of my kids’ favorite places to visit last year and we’ll back again this summer when we can walk the nature trails. Grab lunch at the famous Italian Store and make it a picnic.

81fa78f8-01b0-41b6-af7c-6fe0a78475db_zps5dfsvdca

Rust Nature Sanctuary, Leesburg (FREE) – Visit Rust Manor House and walk over 68 miles of nature trails at this preserve in Leesburg.

Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria (FREE)– Nearly 200 species of animals can be viewed from the wetlands boardwalk and observation deck.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, DC (FREE)– Tucked into the Kenilworth neighborhood in NE DC is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a living garden of blooming lotus, lily pads, water plates, and other water-dwelling plants. A boardwalk extends into the Anacostia river so that visitors can take a walk through wetlands and see the various animals that live in this environment.

4ABE39CC-4C1F-4A58-B35A-616B266AC32B_zpsmi0lgxem

Great Falls Park, McLean, VA- Great Falls is a favorite destination for many families in the area. You can also see the falls on the Maryland side of the river (and walk the Billy Goat Trail) but as Virginians, we are partial to the Virginia side of things. Show up early to avoid long lines from Leesburg Pike up to the entrance!

Lake Anne, Reston, VA (FREE)– Lake Anne is a community surrounding a lake, and it so fun to visit and walk around. You can rent paddle boats and kayaks to piddle around the lake, stop into the Used Book Store, grab a drink at Lake Anne Brew House, and walk around the Lake Anne trail to see the Van Gogh Bridge, a bridge inspired by Van Gogh’s painting of the Langlois Bridge at Arles, France:

0d2cf6b5-a353-463c-856e-0875b05a6b0f_zpsdytjmlxm

On June 11th and 12th Lake Anne will be hosting their 3rd Annual Chalk on the Water festival where artists purchase plots of sidewalk space to decorate with chalk and paint.

Rock Creek Planetarium, Rock Creek Park, DC (FREE)– On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Rock Creek Planetarium puts on the night sky.

Walk the WOD! (FREE) The Washington & Old Dominion Trail is a 45 mile long walking and biking trail that follows the old W&OD railroad line. The trail stops in many towns in Northern Virginia, including Ashburn, where the trail runs right beside Carolina Brothers BBQ. We like to stop sometimes and grab an ice cream and a cold drink on our walk.

68ccb8b4-4fda-4d67-89ba-068491066137.jpg

Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, Washington DC- Check to see what’s in bloom and plan a visit to this mansion to tours its manicured gardens.

My friend, Kate, let me know about River Farm in Alexandria (FREE), which is the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and is open to visitors M-F, 9-5. The farm includes gardens, gates formerly used at the White House, an orchard, a children’s garden, and a small wildlife pond. This one is going right to the top of our Must Do list for the first week school is out!

Find public art in your area! Alexis at Capitol Momma has written a great guide to 7 murals scattered around DC, and Leesburg Public Arts commission is working hard to bring public art to Leesburg- the Thomas Balch library displays a mural that tells the story of Loudoun County, and off Rt. 15 in Purcellville is the Western Loudoun palm.

Visit the Barbie Pond on Avenue Q. In Logan Circle, Barbie and her pals are always up to something. Stop in and see what wacky adventures they get into all summer long.

At Workhouse Art Center in Lorton (FREE), exhibitions from local artists are on display in this former prison. One that I am particularly interested in is the Prison (Re)Form display, beginning June 11th, which will use sculpture to reflect on the history of the prison. Workhouse Prison was opened in the early 1900s as a prison that sought to reform suffragists and petty criminals through labor.

Complete a Junior Ranger booklet at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, VA. June is Get Outdoors month (!!) and this park that’s about an hour’s drive from DC and NoVa is a great place to hit the trails and explore.

Play!

Clemyjontri Park, McLean (FREE)– an all-inclusive playground that caters to children of all abilities, Clemyjontri is a wonderland of a playground. Come early because there’s no shade in the afternoon! Bring a lunch and money for a ride on the carousel.

Wizard of Oz Playground (Watkins Regional Park), Upper Marlboro, MD (FREE)– this whimsical Wizard of Oz themed playground was one of the things we never got to last summer and we won’t be making that mistake this year. Follow the yellow brick road and make your way to the Emerald City at this imaginative play area.

Grange Playground, Great Falls, VA (FREE)– my kids love this sweet little playground tucked into the woods at Great Falls. We love to stop and play for awhile and then grab ice cream across the street at Great Falls Creamery in the Village.

Tubing the Shenandoah at Watermelon Park, Berryville, VA- Rent a tube and a cooler for $10.50 and float down the Shenandoah for 2-3 hours. (Please note, this is an ADULT version of “play” as all tube riders must be 18 or older.)

Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, MD (FREE)– A hands-on aquarium complete with outdoor sand pit and pirate ship, playground area, and a summer calendar chock-full of special events and activities make this the perfect place to visit this summer. We went in the winter and it was still charming and perfectly nostalgic. The Dentzel carousel will be open for rides as well- this is a must for old-fashioned summer fun. Don’t miss the Clara Barton House, right across the parking lot!

d03982d4-43dd-4dac-8353-6a403ab39e29

Cabin John Park, Rockville, MD- Cabin John is well-known and loved for it miniature train that kids can take a ride around the park on.

Palisades Playground, Washington, DC (FREE)– We love Palisdes Playground, which is located in NW DC at Palisades Rec Center. An imaginative and interesting playground, it also has a small splash pad and right around the corner hidden in the woods is the Glass Forest– an ethereal, slightly-spooky but very cool art installation you must check out.

Leesburg Animal Park is a favorite of ours, a small, well-kept zoo with a wide variety of animals, play areas for the kids, and indoor activity spaces. I mean, there is an island full of lemurs. It’s called Lemur Island. And it’s awesome. Leesburg Animal Park frequently offers deals through Certifikid so keep your eyes peeled. As a bonus, there are two wineries within 3 or so miles of the park- Willowcroft Farm Vineyards and Stone Tower Winery. Just saying.

08B2BF30-ADC3-482C-A4E0-686C1729E85E_zpszilbupjv

Ride the Capital Wheel down at National Harbor, MD. My oldest daughter loves Ferris Wheels, so two summers ago we took her for a spin on the 180 foot Capital Wheel overlooking the harbor- she loved it! As a bonus, this summer marks the arrival of Savannah’s Candy Kitchen at National Harbor and as a native Georgia girl who feasts on their pralines whenever return home for a visit, I feel it’s my duty to inform you you need to go there and get a praline. I’m not saying it will for sure change your life, but if it’s warm and fresh, it might.

def51a7e-1cc2-41e0-8c6f-70339c3eb8c7

 

Roam if You Want To:

My family loves a good day/weekend trip. We’ve got quite a few on our list this year:

Solomons, Maryland– We’re planning to make the 100 mile or so trip to Solomons one day this summer and visit Calvert Cliffs to hunt for shark teeth, AnnMarie Sculpture Gardens to play in the Fairy Lolly, and Calvert Marine Museum.

Richmond, Virginia– The wonderful Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens is hosting Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks this summer, with life-sized Lego sculptures set up throughout the gardens. Richmond is FULL of family-friendly sites and activities, such as Science Museum of Virginia, Children’s Museum of Richmond, Maymont, Virginia Holocaust Museum, the Canal Walk, Flying Squirrels Baseball at the Diamond, and Belle Isle at James River.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania– One of our most favorite places we’ve visited, Pittsburgh was a highlight of our summer last year. We didn’t come close to seeing all that Pittsburgh has to offer so we’re planning a return trip this summer. The Paris of Appalachia makes the perfect weekend getaway from NoVa.

982617EA-F343-47AE-9820-08874E83AC07_zpsivo08w5t.jpg

Charlottesville, Virginia– just about two hours away from Northern Virginia, Charlottesville is a gorgeous little town you’ll love visiting. We’ve gone several times and always have it in our back pocket as a quick getaway option.

Lexington, Virginia– our most recent weekend trip was to Lexington, my current favorite Virginia small town. Visit the Natural Bridge, Foamhenge, Washington and Lee University, Lee Chapel, Stonewall Jackson’s house, and indulge in southern small town splendor.

79faf4f2-efe5-48cf-8704-37cd7daa5dc3_zpsen3eapit

Good old small town USA: Virginia is full of small towns I want to pop into and explore this summer- Culpeper, Front Royal, Winchester, Clifton, Occoquan– sometimes wandering around a new little town is the perfect way to spend a day.

Annapolis makes for a great day trip- we’re planning to head over on a weekend day and visit the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market, and Thomas Point Lighthouse. You can’t go to Annapolis without getting seafood and Cantler’s is an Annapolis landmark. Walking around the harbor in historic downtown Annapolis and up to the Maryland State House is a fun, cheap way to visit Annapolis. You can grab fudge at Kilwin’s and visit the Alex Haley Memorial Statue and tour the US Naval Academy all in that area.

Summer treats:

In summer, and only in summer, I love to eat ice cream. We’ve got quite the collection of places around here to grab a sweet treat when you’re out and about:

Clayboys Shave Ice in Bethesda, MD- famous Hawaiian shave-ice is sold at this Bethesda cart. Tigerblood has my name written all over it.

Gruto’s Soft Serve, Purcellville, VA- bring cash for this sweet little soft serve shop on Main Street in Purcellville. Try the Bellywrecker IF YOU DARE.

D09D60DD-02AA-4754-BF56-8635478B1C8D_zpsrrnevahw

Woody’s Ice Cream, Fairfax- Hand-dipped cones and old-fashioned sundaes are just some of Woody’s Goodies.

Rocky Point Creamery, Point of Rocks, MD- on Sundays, we love to take a drive up Highway 15 to Point of Rocks and grab ice cream at Rocky Point Creamery. Delicious flavors and a play area for kids makes this a favorite of ours. Pop into the C&O Canal Trail just down the road and hit Farmer Rick’s farm stand near Lucketts for fresh produce on your way home.

d8fffe6d-d201-405d-92d9-13e6597dedf2

Great Falls Creamery, Great Falls, VA- Take a hike at Great Falls Park and stop for ice cream afterward! This sweet little creamery in Great Falls Village has great flavors and can make you a cookie ice cream sandwich using cookies from famous Heidelberg Bakery.

06BEC4DB-77B0-4922-97FE-A8CA1408F5FD_zpshudrmot0.jpg

South Mountain Creamery, Middletown, MD- The main allure of South Mountain Creamery, aside from the fresh ice cream, is that if you’re there at 4 pm, you can feed the baby calves their milk bottle!

Korean Bingsoo (“Wicked Snow”) at Siroo Juk Story, Annandale, VA- This Korean version of shaved-ice is refreshing, delicious, and fun! Flaky shaved ice is topped with mochi and a variety of toppings from red bean paste to strawberries and mango and cornflakes. Kind of like a massive snow cone sundae.

e22182f4-c1c4-4095-904d-be196885bef2

Pickle Bob’s Ice Cream, Haymarket, VA- We like to stop here after we’re done picking sunflowers at Burnside Farms. Walk-up window service and a small seating area and a pickle in an ice cream cone make up Pickle Bob’s.

2C40DC5A-53E4-425C-8E5C-D56D3498B106_zpsbvm96j40

Everybody, say hi to Pickle Bob.

Hi Pickle Bob.

Try a new cuisine using the Washingtonian Cheap Eats list as your guide. With 100 restaurants in the metro area with entrees under $25, the cheap eats list is your map of the culinary world. I’ve marked off several of these restaurants as “must try”s and we’ll be making our way to the Bosnian Cosmopolitan Grill this Friday night to try cevpcici. Take the chance on introducing your kids to something new- Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Indian, Korean and  Pakistani cuisine are all represented on this list.

Wineries

Now y’all know I love to go to wineries, so this section should come as no surprise. But really, is there anything better than meeting up with friends at a winery and spending the afternoon? Don’t even answer, we know there isn’t. Here’s just a few of my favorites:

Quattro Goombas, Aldie, VA- Sicilian style pizza and RED WINE SLUSHIES. I’m confident I need say no more.

f75affbd-c968-4e7e-b1ed-c4ae994ccbef.jpg

Stone Tower Winery, Leesburg, VA- One of my all-time favorite wineries. The view is great, the grounds are beautiful, and this is the tasting room:

11B0F6DC-0125-44A0-9AB0-F5F54434BEFF_zpsxqajqxpn

Tarara Winery, Leesburg, VA- Tarara is known for their Summer Concert Series, a summer-long schedule of outdoor concerts on the winery grounds. Here’s the lineup for this year.

There are over 40 wineries and vineyards in the Loudoun County area, so pick one and go- it’s bound to be good.

Special Events

Two of our favorite summer events each year are the Loudoun County Fair and the Lucketts Fair. The Loudoun County Fair is your traditional summer fair with carnival rides, barnyard animals and 4H competitions, a rodeo, and fried Oreos. The Lucketts Fair is a bit more low-key with a focus on arts and crafts and local talent competitions, but it is just as fun in its own way. We make sure to do both every summer- my kids are already asking about the LoCo Fair. In May.

859D8A67-E543-4C7C-B8D2-FFA88F3806BE_zpssudzqea0

DC Jazzfest at The Yards Park, June 18th- a three-day blowout featuring a ton of jazz musicians at DC’s wonderful Yards Park.

ICEBERGS at National Building Museum– Last summer’s hot National Building Museum display was BEACH and this year the main atrium of the museum will be taken over by icebergs. Tickets go on sale to the general public starting June 22 and the display will be open from July 2- September 5.

NGA Stories in Art is a (FREE) program designed for kids aged 4-7 to teach them to interact with art. This year the kids will be “traveling to the Netherlands” by studying pieces of Dutch art, reading a book, and making a souvenir. The program runs through the month of July; check calendar for dates and times. The rest of NGA is worth visiting while you’re there- don’t miss Leo Villareal’s Multiverse and the NGA sculpture garden. (My personal favorite display in NGA is The Veiled Nun.)

Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea at National Zoo (FREE)– An art installation of 17 life-sized sea creatures made from plastic found in the oceans is on display through September 5 to help raise awareness of ocean pollution and the danger it creates for sea creatures. These whimsical and intricate statues are a beautiful way to illustrate the devastation plastic pollution can cause to our oceans.

Also, there’s now a grilled cheese truck at the zoo. Um, yum.

Obviously I’ll be updating the blog plenty with things we get into and see and do this summer, but this should give us a nice start, yeah? This is it, people. Summer is happening!

Flower Mart at National Cathedral + Passport DC 2016

When: May 6th and 7th, 2016 (first week of May every year)
Where: 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC

Every May, Cultural Tourism DC launches its Passport DC program, which is a series of events designed to help you travel the world without ever leaving Washington DC. DC Passports are provided at various information spots throughout the city at key events and visiting the activities that are part of Passport DC will earn you a stamp at each spot, just like a real passport.

One of these events is Flower Mart, an annual spring festival held at the National Cathedral by All Hallows Guild every year since 1939. At Flower Mart, embassies from all over the world contribute a floral arrangement that represents their country, which is then displayed in the nave of the Cathedral for viewing. Outside, various vendors sell not only flowers and plants, but handmade crafts and goods (we saw soap, clothing, tote bags, and wind chimes) as well as food- we snacked on choreg from an Armenian pastry stand before grabbing a half smoke from the Ben’s Chili Bowl tent for lunch. There’s carnival rides and games for kids, puppet shows, and special tours that allow visitors to climb the Cathedral towers.

8d25c4a5-7932-4f91-b5c2-935aeca008d3_zps8heom9wj

Despite passing by National Cathedral many times (my sister used to live on Garfield St. and we’d cut through the Cathedral grounds on our way to Cactus Cantina, hey-o) our visit to Flower Mart was the first time we’d actually gone inside! Do I need to tell you it was incredible?

6a5efa64-42f8-42a6-89fe-fcd1f42f420f_zpshhlgcalk

4d479abf-a731-4646-a6aa-f8fce9e75f26_zpswhyml9vf

Tucked in the nave were over 30 individual flower arrangements representing their home countries. These were all unique – some featured flowers indigenous to that country (such as an arrangement of Birds of Paradise from Indonesia) and some were arrangements that depicted something specific to that country, like this array of pink roses from Australia meant to represent Lake Hillier, a lake in Western Australia that is PINK due to the bacteria that thrive in its highly salinated waters:

 

0dce4c5e-3f9b-4a70-b4c7-77aa70e48332_zpsl8pvs4yw

New Zealand’s contribution was a miniature Hobbit Shire!

261afced-5ce7-41c7-a9fc-6dc4678bb658_zpsjlz4saqc

Many of the Asian countries’ displays featured tall, delicate orchids. The United States was represented with this lush arrangement of native flora:

c74f3155-7893-461c-af99-7eeb07a96971_zpsbqghyn8r

We made sure to get a stamp in our Passport DC passport before heading over to the famous Beauvoir playground on our way out:

90526c9a-ae3a-4ee2-bfc2-94ff0e3b4148_zpsr4n3ifo6

The Around the World Embassy tour was also going on that day, an event in which different embassies from around the world opened their doors to visitors for cultural displays and presentations. I SO BADLY wanted to do this but alas, my oldest was suffering pretty badly from allergies and just couldn’t hang, so in the name of being a decent mother, I had to admit defeat and skip it. But next weekend is the European embassies’ turn and we will be ready and waiting with our passport when those open at 10 am.

Flower Mart 2016 has come and gone, but I encourage you to make plans to visit next May- it was such an incredible event! We managed to find street parking along a neighborhood street and had a short walk over to the Cathedral grounds, but given the limited parking in NW DC, using public transportation is highly encouraged if you can swing it.

Be sure to check out the Passport DC 2016 calendar of events to plan your trip “around the world.”

Next Level Craft at House of Sweden

Where: 2900 K St. NW, Washington DC
When: Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 pm, through April 24th, 2016. Admission is free!

Two things I like: Scandinavia and pop-up art installations. WORLDS COLLIDING! There’s something about the remoteness and austerity of Scandinavia that I find compelling. I went through a stage where I read a lot of books set in Scandinavia (Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Let the Right One In, etc.) and then I tried my hand at making real Swedish meatballs using Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe. We have very dear friends who from Sweden who lived here temporarily for work, and I’m constantly asking them what life is like in Sweden and eating the various treats they bring back when they come to visit (micro-thin chocolate wafers with tiny crispies inside, a more refined Nestle Crunch, if you will). I just think everything about that part of the world is fascinating.

The Next Level Craft exhibition currently on display at House of Sweden (the Swedish Embassy) is one of just a long line of really fantastic, whimsical installations DC has put on lately. Breezing into town after the now- legendary Wonder exhibit and the glowing bunnies at Light Yards, Next Level Craft holds its own and is charming and fun and that special kind of freaky-deaky that only Scandinavian things can manage to be (I mean this in the best way possible). Like- there’s fish on skateboards. Somehow it makes sense? Just go with it.

Next Level Craft is a collection curated by Swedish artist Aia Judes containing examples of traditional Swedish handicraft created by 40 artists. You’ve got your birch weaving, your jewelry making, your glass blowing, something to do with burls, a music video, lighting and sound that change the room from day to night and back again, a teeny tiny herd of wood-carved reindeer.

The Swedish embassy itself is located right on the Georgetown riverfront and is the perfect embodiment of Scandinavian minimalism- clean lines, open and airy, no fuss and muss. I deeply appreciate this aesthetic even though I do not personally share it. Our Swedish friends’ home was fascinating to me- even with a preschool-aged boy in the house it was always clean in that sparse, crisp way Swedes tend to have and things that were intended to be white actually stayed white. I still don’t know how that was possible. The building itself is a work of art, with elements incorporated into its design that are art pieces on their own. You enter the embassy through a glass paneled wall with water running down the insides- this is March 6 a.m. and was designed to evoke the feel of melting ice, a key feature of the Swedish landscape. There’s also a really well-done and thoughtful exhibit on the main level about gender equality which is absolutely worth taking a look at before heading into Next Level Craft.

df51971a-2895-4d48-985d-b68a855bb463_zpsqxpk1oeg

The Next Level Craft exhibit is located on the lower level of the House of Sweden and takes up just one room. But that one room is crammed with whimsy and delight:

09e6373f-e448-4f63-8209-47737710aa2d_zpsgwqtabf0

We showed up right around noon on Saturday and surprisingly, it was totally empty and we had the place to ourselves. I can’t lie, this always enhances the experience for me. I get very selfish around art; I’ll hear the clickwhirr of a DSLR camera nearby and get very possessive. “You can’t take a picture of that, I thought it was pretty first.”

bed7eea2-be51-48d3-b51a-7c3581fd7e45_zpsk2sq2o1o

The exhibit has two modes: daytime and nighttime. We entered in daytime, with bright sunshiny light and sweet little bird chirping sounds. As we walked around, the lighting dimmed and shifted to nighttime and the corresponding music video Aia Judes created for the exhibit began playing on all the walls in the exhibition room. It features pulsing music and Swedish artists displaying a variety of Swedish handicraft, plus a pair of dancers vogueing. It is intense. I loved it!

5f0f6cc4-a0d1-424d-9302-5814bcd97952_zpshikk2ch81

564d4ff3-db44-4e29-8de0-f8d9f4a2a23b_zpsconacmtb

82131af5-fd31-4eaf-b544-8f8419871427_zpskk2ohjsi

The kind people at the embassy had taken the time to set up a room with various craft stations for kids so that they could get some hands-on instruction in the art of crafting, which I appreciated because look, crafting is just not my thing. It makes a mess, it takes so much patience- it’s not for me one bit. Of course, somehow, crafting at the Swedish embassy was not at all messy and was a tidy little endeavor thanks to that very unique ability Swedes have to not be a disastrous mess like Americans.

215418ab-4104-4c97-be7b-1534bc52fab9_zpslusgavvn

Don’t you agree kids who are growing up in this area are just the luckiest? They surely don’t appreciate this yet but they are so fortunate to just wake up on a Saturday morning and then go spend some time painting at the Swedish embassy. This is a blog about loving where you live and appreciating what makes this area so special, and I’m counting this experience as an example of that premise.

If you have little ones who get antsy or bored in the craft exhibit, the embassy has thoughtfully provided a small quiet room just for kids with books, games, and quiet little reading nooks where they are free to play and explore.

a67cbbd2-c44a-4a6c-975d-a16394762a69_zpsdaymzgof

Mine stayed awhile in here with dad to play while I explored the exhibit without distraction, but they did enjoy the exhibit a great deal and came back in for a second tour through when they were done in the rumpus room. While not kid-friendly in the sense that it is absolutely not interactive and visitors are prohibited from touching the crafts, Next Level Craft does appeal to kids and feel accessible to them because it’s so fantastical and creative- so ultimately, I’m calling it kid-friendly with the caveat that you watch them like hawks to make sure they don’t climb up on platforms or touch anything.

This exhibit is temporary, so today and then next weekend will be your last opportunities to visit, and I encourage you to do so!

Other sources: 

Follow House of Sweden on Instagram at @swedeninusa for updates and announcements on what they’ve got going on.

Make a day of it:

You’re already down on the Georgetown waterfront! Take a stroll and enjoy watching boats trundle up the Potomac. There were a ton of people out and about enjoying the sunshine when we were down there- it was a perfect spring day in DC.

Light Yards at The Yards Park

Where: 355 Water St SE, Washington, DC
When: February 27-28 and March 5-6

Hi friends! Winter is so close to being over- we’ve got less than a month until we are at least, according to the calendar, if not strictly the weather, in the realm of spring. Daylight Saving Spring Forward is coming and basically, it’s only up from here. We’re in spitting distance of warm weather, evening light, and the opportunity to GET BACK OUTSIDE and break free of this mole-like existence we’ve been living the last little while.

This weekend we headed down to The Yards Park in southwest DC to take a peek at the current Light Yards pop-up art installation. Light Yards is a temporary display of light-up installations that will be at The Yards Park for just two weeks this month. Already up are Point Cloud and Cube, which are constructions made up of white illuminated cubes, but last night was the first night that artist Amanda Parer’s giant bunnies would be up and glowing. I offhandedly mentioned to my kids in the morning that that night we would go see some giant bunnies and then every 3.7 minutes for the rest of the day my 2 year old told me, “I’m going to see the giant bunnies. Where are the giant bunnies? I want to see the giant bunnies.”

We arrived just after dark and came upon what is going to be the next most-Instagrammed art installation in DC now that everybody’s been to the Renwick Gallery- a field full of glowing blow-up bunnies. There were many people there with real cameras hanging around their necks and one guy even had a mini tripod set up with a camera on the ground at the entrance to the bridge so there’s definitely going to be some highly curated shots going around, but because I’m me, you’re getting iPhone snaps edited in Afterlight on my phone. Lots of “IRL Instagram” shenanigans were going on- adults climbing on a glowing cube structure trying to look playful and artsy, striking just the right post for their silhouette shot, people jumping in front of giant bunnies 10x in a row for that perfect picture. Very entertaining. Got to see exactly how the sausage is made.

4c040f38-5abb-424a-8c3d-5a9522a8d635_zpswvsxxmw9

The name of this installation is Intrude and the message behind the piece is an interesting one. Amanda Parer describes rabbits as “fairytale animals from our childhood- a furry innocence frolicking through idyllic fields.” Yet they also represent ecological destruction as they are pests who wreak havoc on natural habitats and environments in Parer’s native Australia. According to Parer, their size (5×7 m) represents the scale of the mess they create and the “elephant in the room” nature of their existence.

977eeb94-7673-46c7-b285-8265dd48b57a_zps3shrvniv

But awwwwww. They’re so cute!

c452e901-39d6-4b54-b4a7-182d7de68f79_zps56i9fqy1

And only from certain angles do they look like our new bunny overlords who promise a peaceful but firm domination of our world. “The time of man has come and gone. Now comes the age of Bunny.”

1ca6bbe7-cbca-4799-9e61-7b0ed3c56226_zpsf8uw0ovm

My kids loved everything about Intrudeand the Light Yards set-up as a whole. The canal and bridge are lit up and there’s an artificial waterfall with a walkway behind it so you can stand behind the water and feel like you’re in a grotto.

3ac809c5-f493-4717-9918-fd381359f064_zpsomenztxr

447eaf52-a4e3-48f3-9a9e-f1e976fab49a_zpskjxiuc54

 

Light Yards also has a giant Lite-Brite display, and live music/DJs for entertainment. Many kids had glow-in-the-dark sticks and necklaces and combined with a wide riverside walkway and a DJ, they pretty much acted like they were at MTV Spring Break circa 1997. Mine were dancing their faces off. Today’s 65 degree weather will make for a perfect trip down to check it out. If you can’t make it on a Sunday night, don’t miss it next Saturday and Sunday because after that the bunnies move on to assert their new dominion over the people of Portugal and Hong Kong.

Handy tips:

The Yards Park is accessible by Metro; the closest stop is Navy Yards. There’s limited on-site parking at The Yards Park if you’re driving. Light Yards is free, but there is food for sale and several nearby restaurants if you get hungry while you’re down there.

Bonus:

Just a mile or so away is Blind Whino’s “graffiti church” – the former Friendship Baptist Church which now serves as a space for artist workshops and exhibitions. It’s fully painted (the work of artist Hense) and pretty glorious in daylight, but its darkened facade at nighttime lends it a completely different aspect- a little more sinister and foreboding. Scoot over to 700 Delaware Ave SW and check it out while you’re nearby:

f783d36a-9588-4b3f-b4de-3180f1435a4c_zps3yz1div8

 

National Postal Museum + Union Station

Where: 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, DC
When: Open daily, 10 am- 5:30 pm

It’s winter, which means it’s museum season. When the weather is cold and wet and we can’t take a weekend of sitting inside the house, we head to a museum. Or we watch bad tv, but when we want to feel like good parents, we head to a museum. In fact, winter is pretty much the only time we visit DC’s museums, preferring to spend our time outdoors in the summer months. The winter of 2014 when we were blasted by the Polar Vortex was a bonanza museum season for us.

Now that we’re in our fifth year as Virginians, we’ve made our way to most of the major museums several times over. But somehow, one museum has escaped my attention all this time- the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. For whatever reason (I’m guessing because it is not located on the National Mall/Independence/Constitution Ave and is instead situated next to Union Station), it flies well under the radar compared to its more well-known brethren. This is very good for you. This means when you visit, the museum will be darn near empty, and you will have as much time as you like to pore over displays and linger at interactive exhibits. My selfish inner-preschooler, my id, appreciates this. I want the computers and touch screens all to myself.

4ab24791-6b81-4655-900d-463b17558622_zpsj03xvugt

The Postal Museum is crazy easy to get to. If you’re driving, parking is available right next door at Union Station. If you’re using Metro, ride and get off at Union Station. Using the station as a cut through, you pop out right on First St. directly in front of the museum entrance. Unlike many other facets of anything to do with the U.S. Postal Service, this is completely painless. No offense to the USPS. Love you guys, don’t stop my mail.

There are two levels to the museum- the second floor level, where you will enter, and the lower level. I will conservatively guess that if you were free to explore to your heart’s content with no time constraints, you could easily spend a full 3 hours poking around the museum. It is stuffed to the gills with neat stuff, hands- on things to do, and every exhibit is interesting in its own right.

My favorite exhibit was the Connect With U.S. Stamps exhibit, part of the larger William H. Gross Stamp Gallery. Maybe you don’t find stamps particularly interesting, but I beg to differ. They’re like little pieces of art. Though I am not technically a philatelist (look it up) I sometimes steal a stamp from a book I like particularly much and stick in my day planner as a keepsake. I did that just recently with the Gift of Friendship stamps commemorating the relationship between Japan and Washington, DC and the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of dogwood trees to DC in 1915. (The famous Cherry Blossom trees were gifted in 1912.)

GiftsOfFriendshipSource: USPS

I also like to think that by using a certain stamp, I am sending a coded message to my mail recipients. Fun people and cool mail get pretty stamps that I take time to pick out at the counter at the post office. The bank who holds my mortgage gets flag Forever stamps. Take that.

d42bb195-b1fd-46c9-9473-c1ea0daea61a_zpsc4jkowng

The stamp gallery tells the story of some of the most famous and collectible stamps in history- most notably the Inverted Jenny, a 1918 stamp featuring a picture of an upside down plane, one of which sold at auction in 2007 for $977,500. It was originally worth 24 cents of postage. The rarest and most famous stamp in the world, the Guiana One Cent Magenta, is also on display through 2017.

Among the interactive exhibits in this gallery is a computer station where you can flip through different categories of stamps and “collect” 10 to begin your digital stamp collection, which you then email yourself right from the machine.

b0464255-1dd9-46c1-9727-d41a5047fdf9_zpscgqomaqa

Here’s a screenshot of our collection, which includes a wide variety of stamps that are relevant to our interests:

b109ed4b-8f6d-41d2-893d-ac353f29e21f_zpspfrljdpp

Flowers and Robert E. Lee for me, birds for my bird-loving 6 year old, and TV/movie characters for my toddler. A very well rounded group.

The next station is a bit more tactile, with baskets full of discarded stamps that you are welcome to sift through, picking out the six you like best and sticking them in an envelope to take home for your “real” stamp collection.

363f60bd-30a2-4de5-a6b3-bcb1bff76c11_zpsjbq9x09f

I’m a fan of neat coincidences so I’ll share this with you: during the break I read a book about India’s Partition and the creation of Pakistan (Midnight’s Furies by Nisid Hajari- it was great, you should probably read it). The key player in many of these events was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. I had just finished this book right before our trip to the Postal Museum and guess what was on top of the pile in the basket of stamps I went through? A stamp featuring the face of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, “Father of Pakistan.” WEIRD, RIGHT. (Naturally, I stuck it in my envelope.)

After awhile I came to notice that I had no clue what my children were doing so I stopped digging through stamp baskets and walked over to where they were, which was a machine that allowed you to create your own stamp. Manipulating the computer via touchscreen buttons, my 2 year old, all on her own, snapped a picture of herself and then added her preferred embellishments to it, the result of which was a stamp born of her very own imagination and whims. In the magical world in which her toddler mind resides, she is the ruler, and this is the stamp that commemorates her:

c9e8e5b7-4b9a-44ca-9225-695636cfed70_zpsdp5lzyqx

I literally burst out laughing when I saw it, and then I emailed it to myself from the computer. For the rest of the day I would check my email and open it just to laugh at it again. The elephants get me every time.

At this point in the museum you have already started a digital stamp collection, started a real stamp collection, made your own stamp, learned the history of famous stamps, seen a piece of mail sent from the Titanic before it sank and a mailbox from Ground Zero. And you’re still in the first room. (If you’d like to plan your visit a bit better, check out this link on the Postal Museum’s website of “Awesome Things to See” to make sure you hit everything- we didn’t do this and I never saw, for instance, Amelia Earhart’s flight suit.)

Making your way across the second floor to the bank of escalators that go down to the first level, there’s a table where you can write and send a postcard.

Downstairs on the first level this is going on:

5b5e2618-5ca8-47f7-868e-c161115badff_zpstgwrw9as

There’s displays about the history of the Pony Express and Stagecoach mail, the role of the U.S. Postal Inspectors, a semi truck and a train (both used to transport mail) and a gallery of secret-containing postcards from the well-known website PostSecret. And as you can plainly see from this photo, there’s almost nobody there and you’ve got plenty of room to spread out and take it all in.

6c221185-f2aa-483e-a245-8fe9f9ab316c_zpso2712dim

As if the displays and exhibits themselves weren’t so well-curated and engrossing, the museum itself is gorgeous. Decorated in the same Beaux-Arts style as Union Station next door (both Union Station and the City Post Office Building, the building that is now the Postal Museum, were designed by the same person), the museum has soaring ceilings, arched windows, gently curving marble staircases, elaborate ceilings, old fashioned metal and glass P.O. Boxes. It is interesting enough on its own as an architectural subject even before you factor in all the cool postal stuff. It is a seriously well done museum (par for the course for Smithsonian) that manages to appeal to adults and children in equal measure.

e86ec9e1-b47a-4e39-aa05-ab261e08ae40_zpswomrmprs

The post office building opened in 1914 and was used as a post office until 1986. It underwent several different renovations during that time (including an absolutely abominable redesign in the 1950s that included FLUORESCENT LIGHTING and paneled ceilings- it’s awful, you must look for yourself) but has since been restored to its former glory. I could have spent a good hour alone simply staring at the architecture and design of the building itself.

As a bonus, the museum website is stuffed with goodies that enhance your visit. Was your child inspired to learn more about stamp collecting and beginning their own stamp collection after your visit? The website has an entire page that contains resources you can use to point your child in the right direction. The activities page has mail-related games and activities you can use to reinforce what you saw and learned about while at the museum.

Make a day of it:

When you’re done at the Postal Museum, head back over to Union Station and wander around for awhile. We were there at the tail-end of Christmas break and many of the Christmas decorations were still up, including the model train display (awesome) and the gigantic 32-foot tall Norwegian Christmas tree outside:

3660c8b2-841c-4e2b-ac68-ba0684f81fbb_zps8dixagra

c02e0f4e-c7fb-44cc-95c4-3d379e00e5a5_zpsko6z5qex

Take in some more of that glorious Beaux-Arts architecture:

f1d69107-c3ad-493e-8264-e020169887c2_zpsqytama1u

e040595d-8797-4c33-9341-cc09fc65047a_zpsgjseoozc

The arches at Union Station, designed in 1903 by Daniel H. Burnham, represent the train station’s fundamental function of being a gateway to other places. (Also, the large clock in the main atrium has a III where the IV should be; although this a mistake the first time around, the clock was faithfully restored to retain the flaw.) Union Station opened in 1907

While at Union Station there’s many different restaurants to grab lunch at (we chose relative newcomer Shake Shack) before you head back to the garage to grab your car or make your way to the Metro.

If you’re looking to spend a few meaningful and enriching hours on a drab, cold, wet winter day, there’s almost no better place to go than the National Postal Museum, which will most likely be blissfully empty and will keep you and your kids entertained for as long as you can stay. I think you’ll find a post office was never so fun.