Brace yourself for an onslaught of photos because this is one of those posts (and because I just bought the bullet and paid Blogger for more image storage since I had maxed out my capacity and it wouldn't let me load any more photos)...
About a month ago we found a great deal on round trip tickets from San Jose to D.C. (like $250/pp - not bad, right?), so we jumped on it and decided to have a fun and cultural little end-of-the-year trip. Clara did pretty well on the 6 1/2 hour flight there (we had a short stop in Chicago but that was it). We slept in the next morning and let Clara adjust to the time change by going swimming in the pool at the hotel and playing in the hot tub. After getting cleaned up and grabbing a bite for lunch, we went for an incredibly scenic drive through Shenandoah National Park, parts of which overlook the Shenandoah valley and the Shenandoah river. It would have been more scenic probably four weeks prior to our trip when all the fall colors were on the trees (it was pretty much just brown wintery landscape during our trip) but it was still beautiful with incredible panoramic vistas over stunning country. Plus, this was a national park we had never been to before and we are big fans of the national park system. The drive through the little towns to get there was fascinating too. Everywhere we went Paul and I were pointing and exclaiming "ooh, look at the old building!" or "oh man, this must have been around during the civil and/or revolutionary war!"
We had a pack-n-play for Clara but she ended up sleeping with us every night and man alive that girl is wiggly. She pushed us both to the sides of a king-size bed and slept horizontally in the middle as long as we would let her. It was funny at first but I was glad to get home to our own beds where Clara could have a crib all to herself and not demand to sleep with us just because she can see us when she wakes up in the night.
We did a big drive on Saturday swinging up through West Virginia (just the pandhandle and driving through a couple of small towns but we didn't get out for pictures or anything) and then down through Maryland and into D.C. We stopped at the LDS Washington D.C. temple along the way. It is a stunning edifice and Clara was super excited to recognize it and started pointing and exclaiming "Temp! Temp!" when we came around the corner.
We wandered around the grounds for a bit and Clara enjoyed looking at the fountain, giving high-fives, and doling out hugs (which she does generously these days with huge, huge smiles much to mommy and daddy's delight).
Late in the afternoon we made our way into the capital and spent some time wandering around the western (?) part of the mall where the Lincoln memorial is located. We paused at the Vietnam memorial to appreciate the thousands and thousands of names engraved there and reflect on the sacrifice that so many people have made for others.
I LOVE this photo with the sun reflecting off the polished stone of the memorial and the reflections of people in the stone. Maybe I'm overly imaginative but it makes me think of the people who are represented by this memorial as if they were the ones looking out at us and wondering what we are doing to make our lives matter. It is such a beautiful, simple memorial and yet it has such a power to move me - more so than any of the other memorials on the mall, I think.
Clara gives super cheesy smiles (complete with a long, drawn-out "CHEESE!") for the camera these days. Sometimes she says cheese so intensely that her eyes complete squeeze shut. This shot was taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking back at the Washington Monument and reflecting pool. Paul told me he wants to bring our kids back when they are old enough and do a segway tour around D.C. like the people behind us in this photo.
Clara climbed all the steps herself up to see President Lincoln.
The Korean War Memorial is the spookiest the way they have them spaced apart silently stalking an unseen enemy with haunted looks on each statue's face. I don't know much about the Korean War but this memorial makes me sad.
Once the sun went down it started getting really chilly really fast. I kept trying to warm Clara's little hands by breathing warm air on them and then tucking them under her blanket, then we kept adding layers with her heavy jacket and knit hat. She remained pretty happy the whole time though.
My guess is that the WWII memorial was Clara's favorite. She loved the lights and the fountains and wanted so badly to run touch the water. When we wouldn't let her, she started melting down and we decided to call it a night.
We stayed with my uncle and aunt for the rest of this trip and had fun spending time with them and my cousins who I haven't spent a lot of time around before since they grew up in Texas. On Sunday we went to church together and then had the most AMAZING smoked bbq ribs I have ever had made by my Uncle Richard (seriously, the food was INCREDIBLE - those texans take their bbq seriously). We drove into D.C. for a little bit that afternoon to visit one of my best friends from law school who was my study partner for all three years and who now works for a big firm out there. I didn't take any pictures and I wish I had but we had a fun time chatting and catching up with her and her boyfriend (whom I have actually known since the days when I was a missionary in New Jersey but that is a story for another day...).
The next morning was our last full day on the East Coast so we headed into the capital for more sightseeing while my relatives went to work. My uncle had given us excellent information on the best location to park for free parking and easy access to everything. We started out the day walking around to the Jefferson Memorial first. There were loads of helicopters taking off and landing and Clara was fascinated by that. Oh, and the weather couldn't have been more perfect - it ended up being a lovely 69 degrees that day, I think.
I had forgotten that there was an earthquake that affected D.C. last year but the Washington Monument is still closed off while damage is being repaired so we couldn't get any closer to it than this.
We walked past the White House and saw the national Christmas tree. We didn't take any pictures with the tree because it was actually disappointing and it wasn't even lit up yet (not just because we were there in the daytime but because they didn't hold the tree lighting ceremony until three days after we had left - drat!). Paul kept up a steady stream of conspiracy theories and jokes about every person we passed being Secret Service while we were near the White House.
We hit a bunch of the Smithsonian buildings and saw the Old Glory flag, Dorothy Gale's ruby slippers, and a sunstone from Nauvoo.
We ate lunch in the Natural History Museum and Clara fell asleep looking at the dinosaur bones.
Paul's favorite museum at the Smithsonian is the Air & Space Museum so we spent some time in there admiring the planes and learning about the evolution of human flight. Paul even did a flight simulator that I passed on since I knew it would make me sick.
I wanted my picture taken with Amelia Earhart's Vega. I read a biography about here - "East to the Dawn" - and find her a fascinating and vibrant figure from American and Women's history.
Our last stop of the day was in front of the U.S. Capitol building but we didn't stay long since we were wanting to head out before the rush-hour commute. We still hit traffic though because we got delayed by the Presidential motorcade. Paul even saw Obama being driven past in a black SUV.