February 1, 2009
President George Washington, age 57 from a forensic reconstruction
My fascination with old houses probably began one day when I was 9 and wandered through a wooded area at the end of my street. The trail led into a clearing where I discovered the remains of an abandoned old mansion. Pretty cool find! Ever since, I’ve been hooked on the challenge of what could be pieced together about a life from the clues people leave behind.
Over the years I’ve gone out of my way to check out the former dwellings of the likes of Elvis Presley, William Shakespeare, President Franklin Roosevelt, Russian Czar Peter the Great, and Anne Frank.
That’s why, on our last day in DC, I was eager to visit Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. Turns out the Father of our Country never spent a whole lot of time at home. OK, so he didn’t much help Martha around the house, but let’s give the man his due respect. He was very busy serving his country, pretty much continuously from 1752-1797, without a lot of down time. He fought with the British in the French and Indian War (1754–1763). Then he fought against the British as Commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution (1775-1783).
With American independence won, Washington figured he’d retire to his working farm on the Potomac River. But in less than four years, he was off to Philadelphia to preside over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution. And two years after that, in 1789, he was inaugurated as our first President. He served excellently for 2 terms – refusing to extend it to a third and thus setting a very wise precedent that two consecutive terms is all any US President gets. By all accounts, Washington was one of the top three of all times.
Done with public service in 1797, GW happily returned to Martha at Mount Vernon with the idea that he’d finally get to enjoy his home, his family, and his gardens. Unfortunately, just 2 years later, he died of pneumonia at the age of 67.
Inside the slave quarters at Mt. Vernon
Yes, Washington was a great man and as a nation we are incredibly fortunate to have had him as our first leader. But he wasn’t perfect. It might surprise you to know that Washington owned slaves. Probably not the way you want to think about him, but it’s true. And facts need to be remembered and factored into the mix for history to create a complete picture of the way things really were.
Here are some of the other sights from the wonderful and highly recommended Mount Vernon…
Mt. Vernon, as it is today
Not a bad view of the Potomac from the back porch of Mt. Vernon.
Annie gets needlepoint lessons from Lady Martha Washington, Oscar-worthy reenactor.
Recreation of General Washington at age 45
45 year old General Washington from a forensic reconstruction
George Washington, taking the Oath of Office, New York, 1789
Ella from San Francisco
While we waited in line to get inside the house, we met a 9 year old girl and her mom. They were from San Francisco and pretty much like everyone else we’d talked to all week, they’d come for the Inauguration. I asked the girl why Obama’s election was important to her. Here’s what she told me:
Ella (age 9, San Francisco): I think it will be part of the future. If there is a first black American President… who knows? We could be president too one day.
Annie: You mean women too?
Ella (smiling broadly): Yeah!
Yes we can.
January 27, 2009
A warm place to stretch out!
A memory is a mental video clip that changes with time. And while you might recall a physical detail of an event, such as: “I remember my stomach hurt during that party,” those are just words. Fortunately you won’t be able to re-experience the belly ache in the same way that you can bring to mind a visual memory of the party. So yes, it’s a video clip, but it’s not completely accurate and it can change.
I mention all this because I’m back home in California now where today’s high was a sunny 60 degrees. But the event I’m remembering (from last Tuesday’s Inauguration) took place in 30 degree temperature. In my mind’s eye, I can picture my freezing self, but, thankfully, I can’t actually remember how cold I was.
When David and I exited the National Mall after President Obama’s Inaugural Address we headed for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Why go there? Because we’d done our homework and knew that a) it was going to be open b) it was free to get in and c) they were expecting lots of visitors who needed shelter from the cold.
The Air and Space Museum is amazing. Large, warm, light filled, with beautiful old airplanes hanging from the ceiling, space race artifacts and so much more. On first arriving, we were particularly impressed with the clean warm bathrooms, the warm food court serving warm food, the expanse of nice warm carpeted floor to stretch out and warm up on. Did I mention that the Air and Space Museum is warm inside?
After we rested, picnicked on energy bars, cranberry juice, pretzels, and apples… checked email on our iPhone and basically thawed out and recovered our senses… we wandered around a bit and took in some of the exhibits. Here’s what we saw…
Hanging out in front of the Lunar Lander
Douglas DC-3 (top-center)
Nice place to rest
Full-scale reproduction of the Jupiter-C launch vehicle with models of the Explorer I and other satellites
Skylab Orbital Workshop, backup flight unit
Too tired to raise the flag
German V2 Rocket
I’d like to go back and visit the Air and Space Museum the next time I’m in DC and really check out the exhibits. Obviously it’s a unique place with a lot more going for it than a good heating system. I’m also guessing that next time it won’t be quite so crowded.
January 23, 2009
Everything you need to enjoy the Inauguration... souvenir hat, visitor's map, and a chocolate bar
Of course we came for the main event: To witness the Swearing In Ceremony of Barack Obama and to hear his Inaugural Address (part 1 and part 2). But if that was all, we could have stayed home, had a much better view, and a great bathroom right down the hall. But we were after something more.
I’m not sure I can even describe what I mean except to say that I wanted to feel the love. Sounds cheesy, I know. Maybe I should delete those last two words and not risk damaging my hard earned tough-guy image. But nope, I’m letting them stand because it’s the truth. I wanted to be with all those people who also came to feel the tsunami of love that washed over the National Mall on January 21, 2009. Just having that one thing in common transformed 1.8 million strangers into old friends.
In the 12 foot radius around us people from South Carolina joked with people from Indiana. People from Maryland sang and boogied with people from Minnesota. People from everywhere grinned knowingly at one another as if to say, “How cool is this?!” During our three and a half hours packed together like ice cubes in a tray, we cheerfully shared the basics of human survival– food, space, and chemical warmth. (The ones for our hands worked way better than the ones we stuffed in our shoes.)
When the ceremony was over, I trudged away thinking, if we could so easily create an instant sense of community out of a bunch of strangers (with the bonding and the trust that goes with it), what’s keeping us from being more cooperative all the time, especially with people we know really well? What could you do to get along better with your own family? With your friends? With the kids in your class? This is what “Out of many, one” really means.
Maybe you’re thinking… “Yeah, sure. I’d like to feel closer to the people I live with and the people I hang out with.” Everyone would. But we don’t often take the first step in that direction. When I hold back it’s usually because I’m afraid I might get laughed at, or ignored or rejected in some other way. That’s my excuse for not putting my friendliest self forward. What’s yours? C’mon… let’s be honest. Post your comments.
This image provided by GeoEye Satellite Image shows Washington D.C.'s National Mall and the United States Capitol (top), in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 taken at 11:19AM EDT during the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The image, taken through high, wispy white clouds, shows the masses of people between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. (AP Photo/GeoEye Satellite Image). Click photo for a larger version (and so you can see where we were).
11:30 AM, Michelle Obama arrives at the Inauguration
Photographing Michelle's arrival
Patiently waiting for the big event
Shaking a chemical hand warmer to activate it
11:39 AM Photographing more arrivals
11:43 AM Washington Monument in the background
Finally, the Oath of Office, "So help me God"
Lots of cheering and picture taking!
Hugs, tears, smiles
P.S. Adventures in DC continue next week with blogs about: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, and our car accident! Stay tuned.
January 21, 2009
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." --Obama's Inaugural speech
The sun shines across my laptop as I type, though this Californian isn’t so easily fooled. I’ve discovered that the January sun in DC doesn’t mean t-shirt weather. (Who knew?) At this moment… 9:59 AM, January 21, 2009, it’s 21 degrees in Fairfax, VA but due to the wind chill factor it “feels like” 10! I did my “Freezin’ for a reason” yesterday so I’m grateful not to be out in it today. Come to think of it, this morning I’m feeling grateful for many things.
I’m grateful for a good night’s sleep and as promised, I’m now ready to start writing about my experiences at the Inauguration. To get me in the mood to ruminate, I’ve spent the past hour reading other blogs and looking through online images of Malia and Sasha from yesterday’s events and video of the President and First Lady dancing at an Inaugural ball.
I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve still got tears in my eyes. What’s that about? I look at the Obamas and think: Yes! This family now represents America, to us and to the world. Barack and Michelle Obama… good-hearted people who have worked hard as individuals and as a couple. They obviously love and support each other. They are obviously terrific parents. Their daughters are obviously open-hearted girls — friendly, polite, respectful, full of joy.
The First Family reflects the best of America. We haven’t had that for a long time. And from the many people I’ve talked with over the past 8 years, we have longed for it, prayed for it like people in a drought praying for rain. It feels like it’s been dry and dark and fearful and strange in America for a long time. That’s why I’m extremely grateful that this day has come. That America finally has a leader who reflects our values and can take us in the direction we need to go. The rain has begun and it feels just fine.
Here’s the full text of President Obama’s Inaugural Address. Read or watch the video and tell me what you think.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." --Obama's Inaugural speech
One paragraph that jumped out at me: “Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”
We all have faced “a difficult task” from time to time. Maybe, right now, in your life you are facing one. Or you know someone who is. What do you tell yourself at those times to keep you moving forward and doing what needs to be done? I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say.
On the flip side, everyone has experienced the pride and satisfaction that comes with “giving our all” and being part of the solution to a problem. Tell me about what you’ve done and how it helped.
More about the Inauguration in my next blog.
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