Spring Break 2022 – National Zoo

We wanted an outdoor venue for our meetup with friends and elected to visit the National Zoo as that would suit the wide span of ages. We had last visited the National Zoo as part of a road trip all the way back in 2016 – which feels somewhat like a bygone era now. This was also our first experience with a very crowded tourist attraction during the pandemic. I don’t like crowds even at the best of times and areas of the zoo were definitely too densely populated for my liking but otherwise visitors were dispersed throughout the zoo in a way that was manageable.

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We had much more success with viewing animals during our previous visit to this zoo. As one of the first properly hot days of the year, perhaps it was too much to ask the animals to be out of their shaded shelters and be out on show for us, but it was a bit disappointing to be seeing so many empty enclosures. The sloth bear offered a fair compromise as he was relaxing in a hammock.

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Although we only saw them at a distance, the pandas put on an entertaining show. One of the juveniles was being a complete derp. As it tried to clamber over some branches to reach a platform, its coordination kept failing and it would wobble off the branches. It almost fell several times – to great gasps from the human onlookers – and even managed to fall off the platform once it had reached it. We can add lack of gymnastic aptitude and no sense of balance to the reasons why pandas are so endangered.

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Our 15 year old is obsessed with the movie ‘Kung Fu Panda’ (it’s his third favourite after the 1977 Soviet movie ‘The Ascent’ and the 1997 Iranian movie ‘Taste of Cherry’). He had a mission to find as many of the animals who make up the animated cast of ‘Kung Fu Panda’ as he possibly could. He especially wanted to see the red panda (Master Shifu) and we had almost given up when it appeared in the window of its indoor enclosure. That quick glimpse was all he got but the mission was accomplished. I am sure he will attempt this challenge in the future during visits to other zoos.

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Spring Break 2022 – Monuments at night

It seems to have become a family tradition for us to visit Washington DC’s monuments and memorials at night. While we have taken the kids to see the sites three times, the most recent two trips have been at night.

We started with the Washington Monument and then moved on to see the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, which is one of my absolute favourites. I think the sculpture of King is wonderful in and of itself but I also love the symbolism of passing through the “mountain of despair” to see the “stone of hope” from which the figure of MLK is emerging. I would love to see it in cherry blossom season some time.

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From there, we circled back to see Mr Pict’s favourite memorial: the Korean War Veterans Memorial. It proved a little tricky to locate and access in the dark because much of that area is hoarded of for construction of horse stables and an expansion of the memorial itself. It is a very evocative memorial, with the expressive faces on the slightly larger than life figures and the way they are placed within the juniper bushes.

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Of course, no trip to the National Mall is complete without a pop in to see Abraham Lincoln. I cannot help but think of that scene from ‘The Simpsons’ where the statue of Thomas Jefferson complains to Lisa that nobody ever thinks to visit him as they all head to see Lincoln instead. We actually had planned to trek out to the Jefferson Memorial on this trip but it was too dark by the time we arrived in the city centre to walk all the way out to the other end of the tidal basin so, yes, we neglected Jefferson yet again. It is definitely better to visit the Lincoln Memorial at night because it can feel a bit too like being a herring in a barrel during the day.

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Incidentally, this Spring break trip was the first time the boys and I had used mass transit since before the pandemic. It, therefore, felt like part of the vacation to them to be travelling on the metro. They especially loved how steep the escalators were and enjoyed challenging themselves to run up the steps as fast as possible.

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Spring Break 2022 – University of Maryland

While my kids get a week long Spring break, I only get a few days off work. We, therefore, opted to have a little mini-break in Washington DC, a location not too far from home and that would enable us to catch up with good friends we have not seen since before the pandemic.

We have also been thinking about introducing our middle two sons – currently a high school sophomore and freshman – to different types of universities so that they can begin to percolate their thoughts about where they would like to land up should they choose to continue into tertiary education. They have already visited a campus that is on the outskirts of a smaller city as we visited my oldest son at RIT. We thought, therefore, that we would make the University of Maryland a waypoint on our journey so that they could experience a campus that is more of a suburb with easy access to a major city.

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The University of Maryland’s mascot is a terrapin so there were terrapin statues, images, and references all over the place. Forget the reptiles, however, because I was more excited by the amphibian on campus. Jim Henson is a University alumnus so there is a statue of him and Kermit outside the student union building. As a lifelong Muppet fan, that was the highlight of the trip for me.

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It’s a lovely campus with appealing buildings and green spaces. You could not pay me to relive the first 13 years of my school education but I did enjoy my undergraduate and postgraduate years. Part of me wishes I could justify the resources to pursue a PhD because I just love learning and that academic atmosphere. I am, therefore, happy to be creating this program of college excursions. The 15 and 16 year olds decided they liked this type of campus. The 12 year old liked the fact they have their own ice cream producing dairy.

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Rainbow Art Journal – Ghost Tree

This page is the transition between the blue and purple sections in my Rainbow Art Journal. I created a background without giving it much thought. I had anticipated adding more layers, perhaps some collage, possibly some spatter. However, I decided I would work on this page while stuck in the car while my kids had dental appointments so I grabbed a white paint pen and the background layer had to stay as it was. Waiting in the car can be incredibly tedious so it was good to have all of those branches to absorb me and make the time feel less plodding. It was actually quite meditative working on the branches and twigs. I thought I might add to this page but I have decided not to labour over this art journal and to instead just use it for quick experiments. I have been working in it for so long now that I would prefer my challenge to just be completing it.

68 - Ghost Tree

Rainbow Art Journal – Cool Breeze

This is another illustration I created with the contents of an Art Snacks box. This one was way back in November 2019 but, unlike my feelings towards most of my past art, I still really like this one. I have observed that I seem to draw a lot of female figures cowering or huddling against the cold, their hair blowing in the wind. No idea why. Perhaps because I have a tendency to feel cold?

67 - Cool Breeze

Rainbow Art Journal – Frost

This illustration was created with the contents of an Art Snacks box all the way back in December 2019 – and doesn’t that feel like a different time altogether now? I believe there was a blue brush pen that I used as watercolour and a metallic ink pen – which is what I used for the disc behind the figure. I don’t particularly like this page and had thought I might return to this page and add to it but – given I have not done so in over two years – I am definitely calling this page done.

66 - Frost

Rainbow Art Journal – Among the Trees

This is another illustration in the blue section of my Rainbow Art journal. It was created so long ago now that I cannot recall what my intention was, though I suspect it was an experiment in combining the blues with a neutral, ochre in this case. Normally when I revisit past art, I only see the flaws. However, while my handling of the acrylic is very scrappy, I still quite like this as an illustration.

65 - Among the Trees

Master Bedroom Makeover

We have lived in our home for seven and a half years now (does time even have meaning anymore?) Having purchased a fixer-upper time capsule of a house, we have been working sporadically – when funds, energy, and time permits – to renovate the house. Some of that has been boring but necessary work on electrics and plumbing but I much prefer the decorative updates.

The master bedroom was arguably the worst room in the house when we moved in. Guests used to actually gasp and laugh at how horribly ugly it was. However, it was put on the back burner because it was not a public room and, of the private spaces, the boys’ bedrooms were a higher priority. Then a number of other projects jumped the queue because of disasters (the basement) or because things were starting to break down (the bathrooms and hallway). This meant that the master bedroom remained a brown box with every literally every surface being covered in thick textured wallpaper – what we disparagingly referred to as the “hairy walls”. It was so thick that one of our cats used to be able to climb the walls. We have tried every method and combination of methods to remove the wallpaper but without success. Finally, this Winter, it was time to banish the horrid décor of our bedroom and make it a more comfortable, calming, and less embarrassing space.

Before - Master Bedroom 2
Before - Master Bedroom 1

The solution to the major wallpaper issue turned out to be not removing it at all. The options were to remove the walls and start over or to place a layer of thin plasterboard / drywall on top of the existing walls. Since it was cheaper and quicker to do the latter, that was what we opted for. So, years from now, someone renovating our home will find a layer of crazy wallpaper as a hairy sandwich layer in the bedroom walls. Frankly, the room looked a hundred times better even when it was raw plasterboard but some new carpet and a fresh lick of paint made it feel like a much nicer space. The room is still a work in progress (I will, for instance, be painting the window frames this summer) and the curtains were a compromise (I wanted midcentury modern fabric but curtains of the size required were out of our budget for now) but it is wonderful to have a room we can actually relax in now and that actually feels more like “us”. The bonus is that my husband can now attend on-camera meetings without having to blur the horrible background.

After - Master Bedroom 1
After - Master Bedroom 2

Rainbow Art Journal – Moonlight

In an effort to get back into the habit of blogging more regularly, I thought I would write about some pages in my Rainbow Art Journal that were created eons ago. I am also hopeful that writing about my art might inspire me to start experimenting with art supplies in my art journal again and that these tinkerings might get me back into the habit of making time for art.

This page in the blue section of the journal was actually created all the way back in August of 2018 with supplies from that month’s Art Snacks box. It is very puddly and splodgy and full of watery blooms in the blue areas. If I was working on this illustration now, I would probably add another layer of the blue to make it darker, richer, and flatten out some that visual texture.

64 - Moonlight

Museum of Natural History

Our 14 year old had some options for a Biology assignment. I was pretty keen on a project involving writing about unusual diseases that appear in our family history but he chose to undertake one that involved a trip to a Natural History Museum. There is one close to home, in Philadelphia, which would have been more straightforward. However, he requested that we take a trip to New York to visit the museum there, which we had visited as part of the boys’ first ever trip to NYC back in February of 2014.

We had not been to NYC for years so we decided it could form the basis of a fun day trip. We formulated a plan for the day that we had to throw away the evening before the trip when the 14 year old fell of his skateboard and badly sprained his ankle. Since he was still pleading to go and given we had already booked and paid for the admission tickets, we decided to forge ahead with the trip to the museum but to junk all of the other plans for the day.*

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One area of focus for the assignment was early humans so we headed to that section first. I took a DNA test a few years ago as a means of making contact with other family historians researching the same families. It has led to all sorts of interesting interactions but there was really nothing interesting about my DNA. It proved I was as boring genetically as I was on paper. The only unexpected find was that I have a smattering of Neanderthal DNA. Until then, I had not known that Neanderthal DNA can still be identified at detectable levels in contemporary humans. I guess now I know where my massive forehead comes from.

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There was a special exhibition about sharks so we decided to boost our tickets for entry to that gallery. You might recall that my 14 year old and I are a wee bit obsessed with sharks. I cannot say that we especially learned anything new about sharks but we appreciated the life size models as we could really grasp the scale of some of the less familiar sharks. We also had fun with the megalodon models.

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I am sure that many visitors to natural history museums spend a lot of time among the dinosaur fossils. While I am certainly no dino nerd, I have never outgrown that childhood fascination with these ancient beasts. One of the things my son was writing about in his assignment was fossil evidence of dinosaurs being feathered so we particularly honed in on the exhibits relevant to that topic. We also made sure to visit all of our favourite dinosaurs – mine is a triceratops in case you are interested. We visited the Ice Age mammals too. As much as I know it would be wholly unethical to do so, I do think it would be marvelous to resurrect mammoths from extinction.

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Other sections of the museum we visited included the Central American gallery and the meteorite and gem sections. You will observe our family tradition of taking photos of ourselves in the same poses as sculptures. My 16 year old loves sparkly shiny things so has always enjoyed that section and my husband is an astronomy geek so he loves getting up close to space rocks. He was especially enthralled by a case containing three chunks of meteor taken from the surface of the moon.

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Unfortunately the limping 14 year old was starting to feel the strain of his busted ankle so we could not keep forging on through all of the other areas of the museum. We felt satisfied that we had covered a lot of ground, however, so left feeling fulfilled.

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And now we need to return to NYC at some point soon to do all of the things we had planned on doing that day but didn’t manage to achieve.

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*The reason the 14 year old is in the majority of the photos is because they will be used to illustrate his assignment and not because he is more biddable than the others when it comes to having his photo taken.