Spring Break Day 5 – Cinema and Lego

We decided to have a mid week slump in terms of level of activity so we spent the morning at home base so that the kids could enjoy playing indoors and in the vast garden.  Then in the afternoon we went to the cinema at Tyson’s Corner Mall.  Our oldest son was not bothered about the movie options so he stayed behind with his grandparents and played board games instead. Mr Pict and the two middlies saw ‘Captain America – Winter Soldier’ while I took the youngest to see ‘Rio 2’.  He and I had a bit of time to kill after our film ended but before the other film let out so we had a bit of a wander around the mall.  He liked testing poufs out in a home décor store called West Elm and he was fascinated by the sushi conveyer belts in an eatery.  We also spent some time in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble book store but the thing the littlest Pict loved doing most was just travelling up and down on escalators. 

Once the others had joined us, we headed to the Lego store.  The kids love to make their own minifigures up so they spent some time doing that.  Our 8 year old has read ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy a few times and is a bit obsessed so he wanted to make minifigures that represented characters from those books.  They have a new thing in the lego stores whereby you can hold up a set that contains over 500 pieces to a screen and it then shows a 3D representation of that model.  I asked a staff member to demonstrate how it worked and it was brilliant so my 7 year old and I tried it and nothing happened.  So the same staff member showed me how it worked again and I tried again and yet again nothing happened.  I was going to ask for another demonstration but the 7 year old said that would be embarrassing.

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PS  Please excuse the quality of the photos – I am not very good at using the camera on my phone but I didn’t have my DSLR on me.

 

Spring Break Day 2 – Monuments and Memorials

We travelled into Washington DC on the orange line from Vienna Metro station which meant it was the kids’ first ever time on the metro.  They didn’t seem to think it was notable.  We emerged at the station on McPherson Square and headed to the White House.  The two things the kids really wanted to do in Washington DC were the White House and the Lincoln Memorial and the thing I really wanted to do was see the famous cherry blossoms.  As previously explained, I had never been to Washington DC in the Spring before and probably would have missed the blooming of the trees had it not been for the “good fortune” of the harsh winter waylaying the arrival of Spring.  We walked through a park of fallen blossoms so we were clearly just in time to see the blooms.

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We saw both sides of the White House.  Mr Pict and I had obviously seen it several times before but this was a first for the kids.  Their reaction was somewhat contrary: they were very happy to finally see such an iconic building but were otherwise completely underwhelmed.  I admit to feeling a bit deflated by their reaction. I am not sure what it was they were expecting but I can only assume those expectations had not been met.  I think our 7 year old had thought he might get to take a tour of the interior and maybe say howdee to Barack and Michelle.

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We then headed to the exterior of the Museum of American History to meet up with an old friend which afforded the boys the opportunity to eat pretzels and play in the – admittedly somewhat grubby – water of the fountain, wading in it, freaking out ducks and finding coins to then throw back in for luck.  Do thrown coins keep dispensing wishes no matter how many times they are thrown?

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We walked along the Mall, past the Washington Monument.  This was a momentous occasion for me since it was the first time I had ever seen the Washington Monument without scaffolding all over it.  Our 7 year old was excited and delighted to encounter two mounted police officers on our wanderings on the Mall since he is so obsessed with horses.  His deep brown eyes lit up.  Our wanders took us via the World War Two Memorial.  As it was opened on 2004 and my last trip to Washington DC had been in 2002, I had not seen it before so that was a new one for me.  The Memorial is impressively vast and almost theatrical in its design with its pillars and triumphal arches, its fountains, pool and plaza. 

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We then walked along the side of the reflecting pool and finally reached the Lincoln Memorial at which point the boys’ legs suddenly regained momentum and they leapt up the steps.  I have a treasured memory of sitting for hours on the steps of the Memorial on 4 July 1995 in order to watch the Independence Day fireworks.  The fireworks display was spectacular but even better was the experience of just being there.  Over the course of the six months that we have lived in America, the boys have been learning about the Presidents and have come to love Abraham Lincoln in particular so they had been really excited to see the Memorial.  This time they were not underwhelmed or disappointed.  Their eyes grew wide with the scale of the Memorial, with its massive classical columns, and of the statue of Lincoln itself.  The whole place was absolutely heaving with people so it was impossible to just stand and look and appreciate.  The sculpture is magnificent.  I love its proportionality, the white of the marble and the look of serious contemplation on Lincoln’s face and the sense of the burden of responsibility in the pose chosen.  Somehow the Memorial manages to balance implying the idea of a god-like status through the allusions to classical temple sculptures with suggesting Lincoln’s humanity and humility. 

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Despite the day’s heat and the children’s’ small feet, it was decided that we would head towards the Jefferson Memorial to see the cherry blossoms there.  Appropriately, since we had just been at the location of his historic “I have a dream” speech, we went via the Martin Luther King Memorial.  As it had only been completed in 2011, I had never seen that one either.  It is a fantastic design. Inspired by King’s quotation, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope”, it comprises imposing blocks of granite from one of which the strong figure of King emerges.  Being such an eloquent man who delivered such powerful speeches, a wall is inscribed with quotations from several of his speeches.  The portrait sculpture itself made me think of Soviet sculpture, a style I actually find aesthetically appealing, but the steadfast posture, the stoic facial expression and the gaze fixed on the horizon certainly all seemed apt.

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Ultimately we didn’t make it as far as the Jefferson Memorial as small legs were beginning to tire.  This was one of a few times I have failed to complete a walk out to the Jefferson Memorial – indeed I think I have only made it twice – and for some reason I always used to feel guilty that I had found the time to visit with Lincoln but not Jefferson, as if his feelings were hurt.  Odd, I know.  At least this time I could blame my kids.  I, therefore, made do with the cherry trees on the opposite side of the Tidal Basin.  People were milling about everywhere looking at the blossoms.  I knew the blossoms were a big deal but really had not grasped the scale of the deal at all.  I actually did not know that there was an organised festival each year that celebrates Japan’s gift of the original 3000 trees just over a century ago.  It was so thronging that it was really hard to find a space to take photos.  I ended up pointing my camera upwards a lot.  The boys didn’t seem to share my interest in blossoms, though our 4 year old liked seeing the petals floating in the water, forming a ring at the edge of the lake, and proceeded to gather more fallen petals to gently drop into the water.

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The walk to Foggy Bottom Metro Station seemed to take forever as we all felt stickily hot and grimy and the kids were definitely starting to flag at that point.  Finally, however, we were on board and managed to get a seat after a few stops.  We did have a weird experience of “turbulence” on the metro train as it jerked and stalled at one station because of a problem with circuits (surely an electrical vehicle will only work with a steady supply?) but it amused all the passengers nevertheless.

 Back at the house, we cranked up the barbecue as it was such a nice evening for eating outdoors – we had even eaten breakfast outdoors.  The boys were gallivanting all over the vast garden as there was a climbing frame with a slide and swings and a trampoline.  There were lots of trees in the garden and piles of logs at the rear.  Our 8 year old rolled over a log and shouted there was a snake.  We partly didn’t believe him, as we thought it was one of his jokes, but I quickly walked to him anyway by which time I could see that the other boys, who had joined him, were confirming it was a snake.  The 7 year old asked if he should pick it up and I, therefore, ordered them all to back away from the snake.  Having come from Britain where we only have adders to be concerned about, we tend to be a bit too touchy-feely with wildlife and perhaps complacent too.  We are still learning to exercise control and undertake risk assessments when it comes to interactions with wildlife.  It turned out to be a wee tiddler of a thing, about six or seven inches long and not very thick.  I wondered, however, if it was a baby version of something more serious so still did not touch it and had the boys stay back a bit so they were not within striking distance.  Mr Pict took a photo and uploaded it to Facebook and one of his friends identified it as a De Kay’s Brown Snake which is apparently harmless to humans as it likes to eat earthworms and slugs.  This was still exciting though as it was our first ever wild snake in America.  We used to find lots of slow worms where we lived in Scotland, lizards basking in the sun and even the occasional adder so it was cool to “meet” our first wild American snake.

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Christmas Shopping

This is less a blog entry about the differences between America and Scotland and is more about the differences in experiences between living in a rural town in Scotland and living in the suburbs of a city that has a population as large as the whole of Scotland. Life can be lived quite differently as a result.

This year I did not even start Christmas shopping until late November.  We obviously could not import any new items with us, either in person or in our shipping, which meant my usual habit of starting to buy Christmas gifts in the summer – if not earlier – was not feasible.  Then we had a “bedding in” period during which time I almost forgot that Christmas was just a few weeks away.  It was a trip around Toys R Us – just for browsing purposes – that snapped me back into present buying mode as my kids mentioned a few things they would like to pop on their Santa lists.

Living where I used to, leaving it so late to embark on buying gifts for four children would have had me hyperventilating.  We had a few really lovely gift shops in town but none of them really stocked much in the way of toys, certainly not many for kids above preschool age.  It was, therefore, necessary to travel to the nearest large town – which was over an hour away on boke-inducing roads and still a bit limited – or the nearest city – which was a five hour round trip.  As both excursions required me to take my children with me, it was all a bit stressful, not least because of having to somehow make secretive purchases with them by my side.  In recent years, therefore, I had resorted to using the internet to buy gifts.  However, the internet only really works effectively and efficiently if you know what it is you are buying. If the children had asked Santa for a specific toy or book then the internet worked like a charm for price comparisons and ordering and delivering, all without me having to venture outside the house.  Doing it that way also made it very easy to keep on track of the budget and number of gifts being bought as all the “receipts” filed into my email inbox.  Of course, the downside of all this delivery of packages was that some companies liked to charge additional shipping costs because of our postcode.  Sometimes the premium was pretty steep.  We might have been just over two hours from Scotland’s largest city but those companies would make  it seem as if their parcels were having to go through acts of derring do and explore the hinterland of civilization just to make it to us.  More than once I had to have an argument with someone on the phone who claimed they were going to place an additional charge on our delivery fee because we “lived on an island”.  That was news to me.  Also more than once I would suggest they look at a map, follow the route and tell me when it was they thought the delivery was going to cross a large body of water.  Ridiculousness.  In any case, the internet could indeed work like a charm for Christmas shopping unless the children were not asking for anything specific or had only asked for one thing when more than one gift was required.  The need for search terms to input into the websites means that browsing in search of inspiration can be a long, wasteful and frustrating enterprise.  I estimate that last year I accomplished as much as 90% of my gift shopping online but that was only possible because I started in May.

So this year was very different.  The advantage of not making a start until late November was that it coincided with the Black Friday sales.  My boys happened to be asking for a fair few new and popular toys and, by jings, they turned up thick and fast in the online sales which made life easier and cheaper for me.  Everything I bought them during the sales period was 50% or more reduced.  Kerching!  Once that period was over, I still needed a few odds and ends for them, stocking stuffers and the like.  In previous years, I would have cruised sites like ebay to find some funny wee bargain items.  This year, however, I could mooch around the local malls and find lots of cool bits and bobs for them.  And, what’s more, I could do all of that completely child-free since – living a few minutes away from stores – I could fit it all in while the biggest three boys were in school and the little one was in preschool.

There is a downside to this ability to shop locally, however, and that was that the novelty of it may have got the better of me.  In an effort to make their first Christmas in America really memorable and special, I may just have gone a teensy wee bit overboard on the present buying front.  It was all a very good price so I’ve not burst my budget but my understairs cupboard does look a bit like Aladdin’s cave.  And I had to wrap it all.  I.  Loathe.  Wrapping.  Nothing sucks the Christmas spirit out of me faster than having to sit on the floor for hours cutting patterned paper, getting trapped by unruly sticky tape and trying to figure out the engineering required to neatly wrap all those bizarrely shaped boxes.  Which is one of the reasons I love buying lego for the kids.  Nice rectangular boxes.  It took me several nights and a bottle of wine to get it done, but as of last night all of my gift wrapping is also at an end.

Now I can sit back and let the festive mirth and holiday fun begin.  Except I can’t because my house still looks like a warehouse and I still have a third of the shipping boxes to empty once I can figure out where on earth I am going to place their contents.

At least I don’t have to gift wrap those boxes!