Wednesday, September 29, 2010

D.C. Pictures

One of the benefits of homeschooling, I've always thought, is that we have much more flexibility for traveling in "off" seasons. Theoretically, making plans for the Fall season should mean better weather, fewer crowds, etc. Well, it is turning out that I have a knack for picking the HOTTEST weekends of the Fall for our big events. (Our Disney trip was blazing hot in October, our wedding was on the hottest day of the Fall that year, etc.) This trip was no exception -- high of 97 the first day, and mid-90's the second day... At least it wasn't too crowded!

Nevertheless, we walked a ton and saw a lot. Of course that first day I had to use my 5-picture allotment sparingly. Here are some of the things we did...

Arlington Cemetery. We walked through it all to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (which was having a special wreath-laying ceremony by a Jordanian minister). Then we went to my grandfather's gravesite:

We happened to be there the day before his birthday. Strider and I are both proud of the legacy of sacrifice and patriotism in our family.

Then, once we got situated down by the Mall in D.C., we took a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. (And watched some of the $900 MILLION being printed that day!) Very interesting.
We spent a couple of hours at the American History Smithsonian. Here is Strider watching a scientist do some experiments,
...and attempting to windsurf.

We had gotten advanced tickets for the Washington Monument, so we went there to meet John and Keiko. Then we went WAY, WAY up to the top. I tried not to think about how windy it was that day. I was sure we were swaying too much. Strider thought it was awesome, though.

Some of the views from the top:

We also visited the Pentagon, where Uncle John works a lot!
Doesn't he look like a natural? Maybe we'll see him on TV like this in the not-too-distant future. :)

And maybe this guy, too-- in the very-distant future. Uncle John explaining how to navigate the 5-rings, 5-sides, 5-floors system in the building (They sure take the #5 seriously there):

This shot was taken while we were driving around at night, trying to re-locate L'Enfant Plaza and my car.

Visiting the Library of Congress, which was hosting a Bookfest that weekend: See Strider's head way upstairs in the picture below:
We stopped by the Botanical Gardens, which was having a festival of its own.... It ended up being pretty cool, with a lot of crafts and things to bring home. This was a cooking-with-herbs demonstration there:

We had a great time visiting Washington, and are thankful that John and Keiko could host us, come with us, and take pictures for us!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Capitol tour that was, then wasn't, then was, then wasn't...

So about six weeks sago, when Strider and I were first planning our DC trip, I dutifully wrote to my representative to ask for tour tickets. Someone from her office quickly responded, and told us we were scheduled for a personal tour of the Capitol! I quickly scanned the email and told Strider we would be going at 2:00 pm Saturday. This became the attraction Strider was most excited about -- it would be the culmination and pinnacle of our trip.

Saturday finally arrived and we planned our day around this tour, giving ourselves plenty of time to be in the area ahead of time, scoping out the location of the building our representative's office was in (which is where we were to meet our tour guide). As 2:00 neared, John, Keiko, Sammy, Strider and I headed over to that building only to find the front door locked.

I had read in the email that sometimes various doors are locked, so to just try another one. John and Strider headed one way around the block, and I went the other, trying all the doors, all the way around the very large building. None of them worked. We did see a sign, however, that said we should try a door at a neighboring building, on the next block over. Thinking we would probably go in an underground tunnel to get back to the apppropriate building, we headed over there. (By this point we were very hot and sticky, after walking many blocks in the heat).

We finally found a guard and a semi-open door, but were told no employees were in the building, so we could not go on our tour. Just as we were about to make some serious phone calls with some serious outrage, I re-checked my confirmation email.... and discovered it said, "2:00 pm on September 24." As it turns out September 24 was not Saturday!

We had missed our big tour! We were all experiencing something on the spectrum of despair, anger, frustration, or, at least, mild disappointment. Plus it was so dang hot. Strider turned to me, and started the question, "Moooooom.... Does this mean we can't see the Capitol, the one thing I really wanted --" Thankfully, he stopped himself from finishing that thought, because I don't think I could have handled it at that moment.

Trying to be optimistic and pleasant, instead of sitting down on the curb weeping as some of us probably wanted to, we decided to head over to the Capitol Visitor's Center to see if there was any chance we could jump in on a public tour. We weren't sure what the chances were of this, since the area was very crowded that day. But we trudged over anyway.

When we got to the door, we discovered we weren't able to bring any type of container in the building, so rather than throw away our $15 water bottle and the rest of our snacks, we decided our group would take turns staying outside with the stroller. John and Keiko graciously let Strider and I go in first. We made it through security, and entered a large room which was very crowded with people standing in a long, winding line. Strider told me he would rather not go on the tour at all than stand in that line! (And he also very sweetly told me that he wouldn't be mad if we couldn't go at all -- that he didn't hold it against me. I was thankful for his forgiveness!)

I decided to try my chances at the near-empty desk where ticket-holders could go without standing in line. I explained to the man there that I had mistakenly read my tour reservation, and asked if there was any chance we could still get in. He immediately said that if we could go right now, we could be tacked on to another group's tour, which was leaving in 4 seconds. Strider and I decided to go for it. The man pointed out across the large room and said, "See that group heading that way? Follow them into the theater. Go, go, go!" He handed us stickers to put on, and we rushed across the room.

We followed the group of people up an escalator, and out the door of the visitor's center. As we headed outside, I spotted John and Keiko and urged them to jump in with us. We all scrambled to keep up with the mostly white-haired group that was following a lady (our tour-guide, presumably) with an umbrella.

We commented to one another a few times about how it was strange we weren't actually headed for the Capitol building. Well, we must be touring one of the neighboring office buildings first, we thought. Then we thought it was strange that everyone else in the group had stickers that said 1:00 tour time, while ours said 2:10. Oh well, we thought. But after we had walked several blocks, past all of the congressional buildings and far, far away from the Capitol, we finally had the intelligence to ask one of the white-hairs about the tour. And, wouldn't you know, they had already toured the Capitol, and apparently were headed now back to their bus for their next destination! We had somehow followed the wrong group of people.

Since we did not feel like we should just board the seniors' tourbus, we turned around. Once again we found ourselves dejectedly and overheadedly walking back the several blocks to the Capitol Visitor's Center.

By the time we finally arrived back, and had gone back again to the nice men behind the "tickets only" counter, we were, with great relief, able to join one of very last tours of the day.

The tour begins with a short movie in a theater at the visitor's center, and as the 4 of us sat down, I think we all collectively said we hoped the movie would be very, very long. It felt so good to just sit down. In air conditioning, And, of course, to finally be beginning an actual tour.

Anyway, the long and not-so-short of it is: we did finally get a tour. And it was very good. And informative.
(We all got to wear those fancy headphones so we could hear our tourguide)

And even though it wasn't the tour we were expecting, we did have the special bonus of getting to see the original room used for the Supreme Court in the 1800's (which is not always open for tours).
And, overall, Strider was happy. So, Mom didn't completely blow it. :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Washington, D.C. Trip

(Isn't he strong? He kept the whole thing from falling over and crushing us all!)

I highly recommend taking an eager, enthusiastic, energetic 10-year old boy on a weekend trip to Washington, D.C. Strider proved to be a fantastic travel companion, and a fun co-explorer for me. He was intrigued and excited about so much -- even the Wawa gas stations, and the hitch-hiker we saw by the side of the road.

We spent 3 nights with John, Keiko, and Sammy (who is in the most adorable stage -- a 4-month old who smiles at everything), and enjoyed spending a lot of time with them. And we spent 2 days in the D.C. area, touring many of the big attractions: Arlington Cemetery, the Washington Monument, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Pentagon, the Library of Congress, the Botanical Gardens, and the Capitol. Once I get some pictures sorted out, I'll say more about that.

We did have 3 mishaps though... all of them were my fault. The first one we discovered Friday morning, at our first big sight: Arlington Cemetery. I pulled out my camera to take the first picture of the trip.... and realized I had left my SD card in the computer at home! I could not believe I had done that. Here we were in the cemetery, heading towards my grandfather's grave, of which I really wanted to take a picture, and I had NO MEMORY CARD! Thankfully I realized the camera could hold 5 pictures without a card, so I took those precious 5 that day... and that had to suffice until we met up with John and Keiko and their camera in the late afternoon. Keiko graciously agreed to be the group photographer for the rest of the time. :) So that disaster was mostly averted.

Our second mishap started with me driving Friday morning in downtown D.C. --- not a good situation. Of course my GPS failed and tried to lead me far, far from where I wanted to be. So I suddenly found myself on my own on those crazy, non-perpendicular streets with names that are not helpful, having no idea where I wanted to go, or how to park when I got there. After awhile, Strider yelled out that he saw a public parking sign, so we quickly followed it. We ended up in a dark, crowded, intimidating parking garage under some hotel, and even had a hard time finding our pedestrian way out. When we finally surfaced at street-level, we were in a courtyard. I tried to take note of what the awning said above the doorway we exited, but there were no street signs visible anywhere. All I knew was we were in L'Enfant Plaza, and I figured that should be enough to return later.

I was very wrong.

At 7:50 pm that night, Strider and I found ourselves running down random streets in the dark, trying to find any hotel that might have a garage under it (turns out there are several). Nothing looked familiar, and I could not figure out where the courtyard might be. Then I remembered that the garage said it closed at 8 pm. We tried not to panic, and finally found ourselves in a doorway that said "Hotel, retail, restaurant" so we tried it. I'm still not sure how we ended up in the right garage, and am quite certain I could not find it again if I had to, but God mercifully led us to the car just in time. He was for us, just like in 2 Sam. 5:20, "the Lord who bursts through."

And the third mishap concerned our Capitol tour... but that is a story of its own. Maybe I'll write that down in the next day or two.

But all in all, it was a wonderful trip. I enjoyed time with my son, soon to be a man. I enjoyed not doing dishes after every meal, and not cooking every meal! I enjoyed not having to take a diaper bag, stroller, and nap constraints with me everywhere I went. It was the closest thing I've had to a vacation in a long, long time.

Yes, I definitely recommend taking a happy 10-year old on such a trip. And I also recommend listening to a book-on-CD version of "The Phantom Tollbooth" in the car on the way there and back -- especially if you want to hear the 10-year old repeatedly burst into uncontrolled peals of laughter.

"Man"-ning the fort

(Post written by a guest author)

This weekend Amy spent her first night away in years (from most of the kids) as she and Strider were in D.C., so I (Pete) was home with the three younger kids for three full days.

One of our fun adventures was going to the zoo. The highlights were the gorilla- and penguin-feedings, and the kangaroos and the giraffes. Colsen, especially, was thrilled and talked for the next 2 days at every opportunity about the animals he saw. (Phone calls to Amy were very enthusiastic.) Unfortunately, our one camera was in Washington with Amy, so I have no pictorial memories of our field trip.

We also did some building projects in the garage. I worked on replacing the front screen door, and Colsen built a wooden "house" of his own -- specifically a "roof that I'm building a house with" he says. Rayna was my personal shadow everywhere I went.

The weekend was not without its unexpected adventures as well. For example, at one point Miles climbed up and got into the spice drawer in the kitchen. He opened up a bottle of curry powder and spilled it all over himself and the floor. For the next 10 minutes, his nose ran curry. I vacuumed up the mess, and now anytime we run the vacuum, the house smells like curry. This morning as I was vacuuming the muffin crumbs up off the floor, Colsen said, "Hey, it smells like that stuff Mommy puts in chicken salad!"

The most challenging parts of this weekend all centered around mealtimes. There were lots of tears, tantrums, and messes. Thursday night I got so distracted, I ended up leaving the grill on outside. It ran until the tank ran out of gas.

All in all a fun weekend with the kids....but life at home is much brighter and much smoother with Amy's presence and calming influence.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The softer side of Mr. Independent

Even though he's wanting to do more and more on his own, little Milo still loves many, many hugs a day. So we spend a lot of time doing this:

But sometimes he still wants more... so he takes them as he can get them. As long as he can reach Pete's or my shirt, that apparently works as a "hug." Thumb goes in, and he's happy as a clam.
Sometimes he holds on like this and follows me as I walk around. The other kids all laugh when I say "I have a tail!" I love my little "tail." I'll be sad when he doesn't want to do this anymore!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Special days

Last night Rayna went on her first date -- with Daddy. :)

Chick Fil-A hosted a "Daddy-daughter date night" so that sounded pretty much perfect for these two. Rayna told everyone she met all day that she was going to go on a DATE -- she couldn't wait!

The restaurant looks transformed! They had a lot of special things going for everyone - even seated the customers, took their orders, brought them complimentary desserts, had a harpist playing, etc.

These were their placemats: Pretty sweet.

Meanwhile, Strider had his own fun time Sunday, with the Clark family. Katie and Graham offered to take him on a farm tour they were doing this past weekend, so he came along to a couple places nearby.

He loved the hay ride, corn maze, lasso-ing experience, seeing a "really cool" rooster in a chicken coop, going down a giant slide on a sack and landing in bunch of hay, and watching fresh apple cider get made, and then tasting it. (He keeps telling me that it was "so cool that it wasn't pasteurized or homogenized or anything!")

Sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon!
Thank you, Uncle Graham, Aunt Katie and little Titus!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Family Hair Edition

[For being in a family in which 33% of the members are basically bald, I still seem to write a lot about hair. (See here, here, and here). I have no real explanation for that.]

Thursday was a long-awaited day for me: the day of Strider's first scheduled haircut since April. He's greatly enjoyed growing his hair long for the first time ever... but it had reached a point that he was just too shaggy for my liking. Plus all his roots were growing in. :)

And, to join in the haircut fun, Colsen also got his rather messy mane cut, we trimmed Miles' hair, and Pete even cut his goatee for a new look, so that all the Frank men have a new look.

I did take some good "before" shots, but all of them were erased accidentally, so I went back through the regular archives for some pictures of how they all looked recently.

So here's Strider, BEFORE (doing a Taekwondo move, I believe):

And here's his AFTER (He was trying hard not to smile, and then got mad because I made him laugh):How I had missed those eyebrows! I'm glad they're back.

Here's Colsen's BEFORE (hard to see under the goggles...)
...And his AFTER

Here's Pete's BEFORE (with his long, wizardly/professorial/Harley-ish look):
...And his trimmed-up AFTER look:
And now Miles's BEFORE:

And his AFTER:
Or wait, maybe I have those backwards. Kind of hard to tell.
Honestly, though, we did give him his first real cut -- see?

And don't tell him he doesn't have a lot of hair. He thinks he has plenty, thank you very much.
So much, in fact, that sometimes he needs to use my headband to keep the long locks out of his face.

Such handsome men I get to live with!