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Posts Tagged ‘Smithsonian’

Keeping it simple today

Keeping it simple today

We’re flying home this afternoon, but there’s time for one last outing before heading to the airport! But first, here’s the outfit du jour. (Well, I’ll pair it with jeans, but you guessed that, right?) I’m keeping it simple today; unlike here, there will be no one to schlep my luggage when I get home. This grey tee will be perfect. It’s a little nippy out there this morning, but a Caramel Apple Cider ought to keep me warm and I’ll walk briskly. I’m going to miss my virtual wardrobe—my real one isn’t nearly as attractive—but I’d like to thank Coldwater Creek for making me look good this last week, even if it was just virtually.

Jill and Paula are ditching me for Mount Vernon this morning. I can’t blame them, I’d love to see it myself. But today I have a different priority . . . and I know all my writing buddies will totally understand when I explain that today is the National Book Festival.
VV Sat - Book Fest Poster

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until I went to the Library of Congress on Wednesday. They’re setting up tents (aka “pavilions”) on the National Mall today and scores of authors are coming to talk and sign books. And it’s FREE—or paid for by the Library of Congress, I suppose. If that’s the case, I’m quite happy to see my tax dollars at work today.

First up on my personal agenda is John Grisham at the Fiction & Fantasy Pavilion. Next I’ll pop over to the History & Biography Pavilion to see Sue Monk Kidd. (On the way I pass the Teens & Children Pavilion where Paula Deen is holding forth. I can’t see her through the crowd, but I can make out the faint strains of “Butter” floating through the morning air.)

National Book Festival

National Book Festival

Naturally, the very sound of Paula’s voice makes me hungry, but the line at the concession stand is a bit daunting. It’s not my first day in DC, though, and I happen to know the Smithsonian Castle, just behind the History & Biography Pavilion, has a nice little café where I can get a Panini and warm up a bit. Next I’m off to the Mysteries & Thrillers Pavilion for a little chat with Lisa Scottoline. I had to change my return flight to catch her presentation, but I love her books so it was so worth it. Before I know it, it’s time to dash back to the hotel to cram my newly signed volumes into my carry-on (oof!), meet up with the girls, and head home.

Thus ends the virtual vacation. I’ve been keeping a running tally of my virtual expenses, and I think it’s safe to say I won’t be taking this exact trip anytime soon. I had to estimate and do some rounding up—and numbers are not my strong point, ever. But in case you’re curious, here’s how it came out:

Wardrobe: $1,400
Airfare & Hotel: $4,250 (I told you it was a nice hotel)
Tours, Souvenirs, Spa, and Incidentals (cab rides, Metro tickets, tips, etc.): $1,400
Food: $500
TOTAL $7,300

I’m sure I can visit DC for much less in real life—which is a good thing. Otherwise I’d probably abandon hope of ever seeing my nation’s capitol in this life. It’s been grand fun to go there virtually; I hope you enjoyed it! Now I’m going to catch up on all the things I should have been doing this last week instead of researching and writing about my pretend life.

But don’t be a stranger . . . next Friday I’m leaving on a real-life trip. More on that later!

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Back at the Museum of Natural History, we head upstairs to the exhibit called “Written in Bone.” It’s fascinating! It’s a forensic investigation of human skeletons from the 17th century, some of Jamestown colonists and some from Maryland.

See? Just like on TV

See? Just like on TV

But even more exciting, today is Forensic Friday! We get to go to the super-cool Forensic Anthropology Lab for a special demonstration. Today they’re taking a skull and doing a facial reconstruction—that thing where model a face. (You can read about it here.) It’s like being in the middle of an episode of Bones (minus the cute FBI guy, unfortunately). Mind you, the real forensic people aren’t too impressed with the TV forensic people…but that might be because they feel the lack of cute FBI guys, too. (Although it probably has more to do with the science.)

Facial Reconstruction

Facial Reconstruction


We’re all fascinated by the demonstration; I tried hard to keep my natural tendency to interview people at bay and not ask too many questions, but everyone is intrigued by the process. It’s amazing to watch.

By the time that’s over and the face is complete, it’s pert near 5 pm. We have just enough time to run down to the Fossil Café (in Dinosaur Hall) for a quick sandwich before our next event, one more floor down in the Baird Auditorium. Is it a scholarly lecture on global warming? A film about the life and times of gorillas? No! It’s The Second City! Kind of appropriate to end an afternoon looking at bones with an event designed to tickle our funny bones, isn’t it?

second-city

I saw Second City in Dallas years ago and I’m still laughing over some of their improvs. Tonight’s show features some of the best sketches, songs, and improvisations from their 50-year history plus the past year’s most delectable political scandal, cultural milestones, and public disgraces. (LOTS of material there!) It’s Jill and Paula’s first time to see them; I’m sure we’ll be replaying tonight’s show all the way home tomorrow.

It’s still early enough after the show that we have time to enjoy the Empress Lounge at our hotel, the Mandarin Oriental. They have live jazz tonight, so we plop down to enjoy The Sharón Clark Quartet and a snack. For Jill and me, that would be the CityZen Candy Bar (yes, I had this Tuesday, but it’s so worth repeating). Paula, who does not care for chocolate (though we love her despite this unfortunate disability), ends up with Grand Marnier bread pudding.

Tomorrow, we go home . . . but there’s still time for one more adventure. Meanwhile, I’m going up to enjoy my last night in this beautiful room.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

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Not-too-casual Friday

Not-too-casual Fri

It’s our last full day in DC. While my virtual self will be sad to leave this fascinating city, my real self is getting mighty tired. Being in two places at once is exhausting! But never mind, there is yet more to see before we head home.

Today’s outfit is a little dressier, just because. It occurs to me that perhaps I should visit my local
Coldwater Creek and try on my virtual vacation wardrobe in person . . . nah. I can’t keep up with Jill & Paula’s outfits, too, so you’ll just have to take it on faith that they’re clothed and in their right minds. (And if you know them, that last part requires a lot of faith.)

When you walk in the door, here’s what you see. Impressive, no? And that’s just the beginning. There are creatures of all sorts, from dinosaurs to butterflies, on all sides and overhead.

African Elephant In the Rotunda

African Elephant In the Rotunda

The FossiLab, where you can watch paleontologists and trained volunteers extract fossils from rock and construct fossil casts and molds, makes me miss my nephew Josh, who had a brief but sparkling career as an archeologist (he was about 6 at the time).

But come on . . . we’re girls. I don’t care how cool the animals are—and they are—you know what I want to see: 45.52 carats of sparkling blue gorgeousness. Yep, I’m talking about the Hope Diamond. Who knew diamonds could be blue? Yellow, yes. Pink, yes. But blue? SO gorgeous. I think I need one; it would match my eyes. I’m reminded of the Sherlock Holmes’ tale of the Blue Carbuncle, another precious gem of a different color.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond

But back to the Hope Diamond: Did you know its one-time owner, Evalyn Walsh McLean, once hocked it? She was trying to raise money to pay ransom for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby. I can only imagine the look on the pawn shop owner’s face.

This little red number is rather nice, as well. Not so little, actually, the Carmen Lúcia Ruby is a 23.1-carat Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring with diamonds. Since the Hope Diamond is blue, the Carmen Lúcia Ruby is red, and they’re both set with white diamonds, one could wear them both at the same time and be in patriotic red, white, & blue. Though perhaps that would be just a touch gaudy?

Carmen Lúcia Ruby

Carmen Lúcia Ruby

We’re not done here, but we’re thinking seafood for lunch. Maybe we’re influenced by The Sant Ocean Hall? There’s a whale suspended from the ceiling (it’s a model; no whales were harmed in the making of…) and fishies galore. Whatever the reason, we decide to repair to Johnny’s Half Shell for a little riparian refreshment.

Johnny's Half Shell

Johnny's Half Shell

Chef Ann Cashion is another James Beard Winner and the weather is nice enough we can eat on the patio—a combination made in gastronomic heaven. After dealing with the weighty matter of appetizers: spicy grilled chicken wings, easy on the spice (Jill), mixed green salad (Paula), and shrimp cocktail (me), we can sit and ponder life until our main courses arrive. Jill and Paula both choose the grilled halibut with Carolina black rice salad and red pepper oil. I decide on Chesapeake bouillabaisse (fish, shellfish, and a mini-crabcake in a rich lobster broth—yum). It’s a lovely lunch and well worth the cab ride over here…and back, because there is more to see this afternoon. And don’t worry, Vacation Rule #1 will definitely be enforced.

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Another Coldwater Creek option

Another Coldwater Creek option

They’re predicting scattered thunderstorms again today, so I’ll keep my outfit simple. This rich brown wrap top is similar to the one I wore in real life on Monday (except newer and nicer), so I know it’ll be comfortable when dashing through the raindrops. I’ll add a pair of brown slacks (they’ll dry faster than jeans if I get splashed) to my ensemble and be good to go.

We shop @ the same place

We shop @ the same place

Jill wanted you to know she was wearing this. (She shops at the same place I do.) Paula was late for breakfast, so her outfit didn’t make the deadline. You snooze, you lose.

I’m told the National Air and Space Museum is the most popular of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums. Really? I mean, it’s interesting and all, but I wouldn’t classify it as number one on my list. My father would have loved it, but it strikes me as a little too technical for my taste.

I must admit, we did enjoy watching “Cosmic Collisions” at the Albert Einstein Planetarium. Described as an “immersive theater experience” you feel the sensation of zooming through the cosmos on a thrilling trip through space and time. It was fun and no one got…spacesick? What’s the intergalactic equivalent of carsickness? Whatever, we all survived.

Smithsonian Institution Photo SI2003-35575, Eric Long/NASM

Smithsonian Institution Photo SI2003-35575, Eric Long/NASM

I’ll grant you, the Wright brothers’ plane is fun. I visited Kitty Hawk several years ago and can recommend The Bishop’s Boys, an excellent biography of Orville and Wilbur (I’m sure those names were all the rage back in the day). They were definitely the right people in the right place at the right time. (Or would that be the “Wright” people…sorry.)

The space stuff is really cool, too. (They’re protective of those images so I can’t show you any.) But much as I hate to admit it, my favorite thing at this museum was the talking Albert Einstein bobblehead. How can you not love a cute little genius who says things like, “Let me help you vit dat.” and “You seem smarter than you actually are!”

Isn't he darling?

Isn't he darling?

On the whole, none of us is that thrilled with this place. Maybe it’s because the three of us recently visited the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, where we got to talk to a real, live, NASA rocket scientist who worked on the early space flights. This place is a lot like that, only bigger. (Much, MUCH bigger.) But never mind, we can cross it off our list of places we’ve been and move on to our next adventure, which will take us across the Potomac to Alexandria.

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I’ve shown you all I can from the National Gallery of Art, but before we go, I have one last piece of advice from Luci Swindoll to share: “Before leaving the museum, buy a little something in the gift shop to commemorate the day, and your time there. Doesn’t have to be expensive…just noteworthy, or meaningful to YOU. You’ll know it when you see it…and why you want to buy it.”

Found it! This collection of note cards featuring details of the iconic painting “Cakes” by Wayne Thiebaud, which is in the Gallery’s collection. Each note card has one of four cake recipes on the back. They’re perfect for me, and at only $8.95, reasonable, too.

The perfect souvenir

The perfect souvenir

Still in the spirit of Art Day, I’m heading north to the National Portrait Gallery, which I see is located across the street from MCI Center, home of our Women of Faith events. It (the Gallery, not the arena) is home to the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House. Since an invitation to visit the First Family has been conspicuously absent, this is my best shot at seeing our former Commanders in Chief. (That’s if you don’t count the time I chatted with former President George H.W. Bush in the basement of the Meyerson one night before chorus rehearsal. He was charming.)

John Adams by John Trumbull. Image Courtesy Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

John Adams by John Trumbull. Image Courtesy Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

This is John Adams. I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since I first saw the musical 1776 in junior high. I think I’d have enjoyed having dinner with John and Abigail; they were lively conversationalists and nice people, besides.

Of course, I’ll have to visit the BRAVO! exhibition, which showcases individuals who have brought the performing arts to life. (Sorry, couldn’t find any images to share.)

The National Portrait Gallery shares a building (the former Patent Office) with the American Art Museum. They also share the Lunder Conservation Center, where you can see behind-the-scenes views of the preservation work done by the museums. Another fabulous feature of the building is the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, recently named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of seven architectural wonders. Trees, plantings, a water feature, and free Wi-Fi…and all under an elegant glass canopy. Since there’s a chance of rain today, that’s a real plus.

Kogod Courtyard by M.V. Janzten (by way of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's flickr photostream)

Kogod Courtyard by M.V. Janzten (by way of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's flickr photostream)

We looked at a lot of pictures this morning, so I’ll just show one more.

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning. Image Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning. Image Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

Look at the suppressed emotion in the woman in the window. Is she waiting for her lover? Praying she’ll see her missing child run up the drive? Wondering where the heck the milkman is? Who knows?

The spa

The spa

Sad to say, my virtual feet are tired. I think it’s time to head back to the Mandarin Oriental Spa for another decadent treatment. (It’s a vacation, after all.) This time, I’m going for the Cherry Blossom Ritual, 1 hour 50 minutes of pure bliss. It begins with a foot ritual followed by a cherry scrub which is high in antioxidants to help strengthen the immune system and also removes dead skin cells and stimulates circulation. The ritual is then followed by an Aromatherapy Massage where the therapist will incorporate hot stones on the back. The use of stones aids the therapist to work deeper, giving relief to deep-seated muscle tension. A delightful cup of Cherry Tea concludes this Ritual.

It'll be dressier w/black slacks

It'll be dressier w/black slacks

The only proper way to follow a decadent spa treatment is with a decadent dinner. Fortunately, my hotel is home to CityZen, “one of the ‘Hottest Restaurants in the World’” per Food & Wine Magazine. The Chef, Eric Ziebold, is a James Beard Award winner. I’ll need to change for dinner (no denim allowed) so I’ll pair Sunday’s black trousers with this silk top which I found, not at you-know-where, but at Zappo’s.

CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, DC

CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, DC

I’m not feeling decadent enough to choose the six-course tasting menu (six courses. Mercy.) so I’ll opt for the three-course version.

Let’s see… Asparagus Thermidor (Warm Spring Asparagus with Mustard Cream and Maine Lobster Emulsion) to start, then Millefuille Of Prime Midwestern Beef (Bone Marrow Bread Pudding, Scorzonera Butter, Spring Asparagus and Béarnaise Gastrique), and finally, who can resist the Cityzen Candy Bar (Soft Chocolate Nougat, Caramel Peanuts and Chocolate Crunch with Port Reduction Sauce).

Sigh. I’m too contented to write any more. Nighty-night.

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One might think a morning at the National Museum of American History would be enough. One would be wrong. There’s still so much to see here! Like this: Abraham Lincoln’s hat. (He would’ve been 200 this year, you know.) People looked up to ol’ Honest Abe. Literally. He was 6 foot 4. And when he added tall hats like this one, he must have seriously towered over people. I imagine that was all by design, don’t you? A President needs to have presence. This particular hat is the one he was wearing the night he died; I daresay it looked better at the time.

Lincoln's Hat (image courtesy National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

Lincoln's Hat (image courtesy National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

Check this out (it’s SO cool!): the Smithsonian has Lincoln’s watch. They’ve had it for, I dunno, a hundred years or more. But just this last spring, a man contacted the Museum and said, “There’s this legend in my family that my great-great-grandfather, who was a watchmaker, was repairing Lincoln’s watch when the Civil War broke out and he engraved a message behind the dial. What do you think?”

So on March 10, 2009, they looked—and sure enough, it says, “Jonathan Dillon April 13, 1861 Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon April 13, 1861 Washington” and “thank God we have a government Jonth Dillon.” (There’s a video of them taking the watch apart here.) But here’s the thing: Lincoln never knew he was carrying around this message. And neither did anybody else (apart from family legend) until a few months ago. Kind of makes those National Treasure movies seem a little more realistic, doesn’t it?

The Secret Message (Image courtesy National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

The Secret Message (Image courtesy National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

How can you not love a place that has exhibits like this AND Kermit the Frog? I’m not sure one day is enough…but I can’t dally here forever, it’s Monday, which means it’s $10 mussels night at Granville Moore’s!

Described as “A Gastropub with a Healthy Belgian Fetish”, Granville Moore’s is one of those European-feeling restaurants with exposed brick walls and a teeny-tiny kitchen. I saw Executive Chef Teddy Folkman kick Bobby Flay’s butt on a Mussels Throwdown and this place immediately went on my ‘must eat there’ list. Their specialty is “moules & frites” which is “mussels & fries” to us Americans.

Here they don’t have just any mussels, they have a “fromage bleu” version with applewood smoked bacon, shallots, mild creamy bleu cheese, lemon juice & chardonnay. Drool. The crispy fries come topped with herbs & sea salt and are served with European mayo. It’s so good I may have to come back here again before I leave town.

Joyce Carol OatesFinally, I’m heading to the Freer Gallery tonight to hear author Joyce Carol Oates talk about her career. Her books are not exactly my favorite reads, but she’s an amazingly talented writer and I expect her story to be fascinating. Plus, it’s always interesting to hear how writers approach writing. So ta-ta for now…see you tomorrow!

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Retro Look for History Day

Retro Look for History Day


I’m starting the day at the National Museum of American History.

I’ve chosen this little number for my outfit du jour, because the shirt has that whole prairie spinster vibe (but in a good way) and it seemed appropriate for a history museum. Besides, it’s pretty. Now if only I had Jane Seymour-esque hair to go with it, but I gave that up years ago and I left my concert hair at home. (Don’t ask.)

So. American History. If you’ll hearken back to my Vacation Rules, you may recall that I advise choosing one “must-do” thing per trip. Today I’m going to do mine. It’s on the first floor of the Museum and it’s one of the things that brought D.C. to the top of my “need to visit” list more than a year ago. Today—this morning, in fact—I’m going to visit Julia Child’s kitchen.

Julia Child's Kitchen

Julia Child's Kitchen


You have to love the scope of the Smithsonian. They didn’t just take some pots and pans, they moved the whole shebang from Julia’s Cambridge, Mass home. It’s quite appealing in a retro kind of way and the color scheme is fabulous. See for yourself here: Julia will even welcome you to the exhibit in her own words.

But there’s much more to see. For example, up on the second floor is the star-spangled banner. THE. Star. Spangled. Banner. I’ve been singing about this flag my whole life, and here it is, in the . . . in the cloth. It’s a HUGE (30-by 34-foot) flag and used to be even bigger. The poor thing is full of holes (apparently pieces were cut out over the years for souvenirs) and just about worn to shreds. But it’s majestic and touching and brings a lump to my throat. I’d serenade it, but I’m not sure the guards would appreciate my singing, no matter how round my tone may be, so I’ll just sing in my head. (Oddly enough, in my head my Star-Spangled Banner sounds suspiciously like Sandi Patty’s version.)

The actual, original Star-Spangled Banner

The actual, original Star-Spangled Banner

Also on this floor is the First Ladies at the Smithsonian exhibit. We’re talking gowns, Inaugural gowns, plus other personal memorabilia. I did not know that Eleanor Roosevelt was a tall woman until I saw this exhibit; somehow my mental image of her was kind of short and dumpy. Her dress is that pale pink one (it does strike me as slightly dumpy, but not short); it’s made of rayon, which was a new fabric at the time and probably a patriotic gesture—wasn’t silk in demand for parachutes or something during the war?

First Ladies Exhibit

First Ladies Exhibit

All this wandering and gawking and silent singing, not to mention imagining the delicacies that came from Julia’s kitchen, made me hungry. Fortunately, I don’t even have to leave the building. The Stars and Stripes Café is celebrating Hispanic Heritage month, and a bowl of tortilla soup will hit the spot nicely. So I’ll just go there now and meet up with you later, ‘K?

All images courtesy National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (more…)

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