Day 45: The Branches continued. . .

Today we continued with our tour of the Branches of Government. We had to be up and out early for our 8:30 tour of the White House. (We were through it and back by 9:30.) It took as long to go through security as it did to go through the House. You get to see the first floor of the East wing. We saw the Green, Red, Blue and Yellow rooms, the dining room, the library and the china room.


Our next stop was the Supreme Court. They are not in session, so not even a chance to see any action. We watched a short video (there is always a film). Then we sat in on a 30 minute talk about how the Supreme court works, but we got to sit in the courtroom. We spent a few minutes looking at the displays. I think Shayna enjoyed the special exhibit on Sandra Day O’Conner since she has read about her.


Our afternoon activity was the National Museum of African American History. How did we get tickets? We logged onto the website this morning before we left and got same day online tickets. No problem! Or just really good luck!

We spent almost 3 hours at the museum and still did not get to all of the displays. We made it through most of the historical exhibits. This museum visit officially begins the transition to our “unit” on Civil War and Civil Rights. It was a lot of information on a lot of issues. But it provided a thorough overview/introduction. As we start heading south on Monday we will be able to focus on specific highlights within those topics.


Day 44: Seeing it in Action!

On Monday we settled into our unit in Washington DC. For those who know the area, we are at Pennsylvia Ave SE and 13th St. SE. Another cute, comfortable place with washing machine and a parking space – phew! But mosquitoes – ugh! We followed our usual routine, filled up with gas (so we are set to go when we leave), did some marketing, did some laundry and made dinner, salmon and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Tuesday was our first day of seeing the sites. We are just 2 blocks from the subway and only 2 stops away from the Capital area. We had a 1:00 capital tour, so we decided to stop in to Ted Lieu’s office to see if we could get House/Senate gallery passes to use while in the Capital.

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The staff were so nice. We spent a few minutes talking with them about their jobs and they let us see Mr. Lieu’s office. Our chat with the staff helped Shayna understand how Congressional work actually happens. They offered to escort us through the staff tunnels to the Capital when we were ready – that was really cool!

But first, we had some time so we went over to the Library of Congress. Shayna and I have decided that it is the most impressive building we have seen so far. Beautiful!! While we waited for a tour, we viewed an exhibit on the Gershwins and another exhibit on Bob Hope and the history of comedy in politics. The exhibit is a little dated and could definitely be updated with recent events!! (Go Kimmel!).

We greatly enjoyed the tour which focused in the architecture of the building (built by Italians). We saw a couple of the prized possessions – the Gutenberg bible and the first map that has Amerika on it. We saw the great reading room – gorgeous!


Afterward, we had just a few minutes to check out the children’s reading room – I had to drag Shayna away! Maybe we can get back there sometime this week to hang out a bit.

After our escort into the Capital we were able to start our tour a little early. Another informative tour on the history of the Capital and how it has expanded, while getting to see the multitude of statues – 2 from every state. One room – the original House, looks more like a storage room for statues.

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You are not allowed to bring in any food or water into these building so by the time we were done with the tour we were starving- went to the cafe for lunch. Then we became curious  about where the Senators and Reps eat – we did not see that part of the Capital (but we could smell it!) They obviously have separate dining areas for them. Do they have to pay for their food or are we feeding them?

We ate quickly because we were anxious to get to the galleries to see some action. We made it to the House Gallery just around 3:00 and saw about 10 people in the Gallery, debating some amendments to a Bill. Within 30 minutes, the room started to fill up as all of the Representatives were coming in for a called vote on the amendments and the Bill HR 2824 – funding for maternal child health home visits. Ok, I felt like a political groupy – one of the first Representatives we saw was John Lewis – that was so exciting. I just kept looking over at him to see what he was doing – he just sat in his seat, waiting for each vote, and chatted as people came by to greet him. Then we watched Ted Lieu wander around talking to people on both sides of the room. He seemed to be networking. He is so dedicated to his job! Shayna noticed that the right side of the room looked very different from the left side of the room. (The right side of the room was also very loud while someone from the left side was presenting their amendment – the right side was quite rude, and the acting Chairman – not Paul Ryan – kept having to call for order.). We also kept a lookout for Adam Schiff and finally saw him – it was like the Oscars for me. I obviously have been watching too much MSNBC – although not lately – no access here!

We witnessed three different votes, 2 on the amendments and then the last one on the Bill.  From what we could figure out, the Bill provides funding for health home visits, but to receive funds grantees must be assessed every 3 years and show improvement and states must provide matching funds. The amendments were to remove the requirement of matching funds. Both amendments lost. It was quite dramatic watching the numbers fluctuate.  We did notice on the final vote on the Bill it was super close and it almost lost  and in the last few seconds you could see people changing their votes to get it to pass. Very curious – if they did not support it initially why change their vote at the last second – to be on record as supporting the Bill? To be in step with the Party? – hmm? I felt defeated watching this one Bill pass, maybe my imagination, but sensing some arrogance on the part of the right side knowing they have control of it all. Not sure how the Democrats keep pushing forward knowing they are continually outnumbered.

After the vote the room quickly cleared out, so we moved on to the Senate. Sorry, no pictures, obviously no cameras allowed. When we got to the Senate Gallery no one was there but a few Runners, the stenographers, the front of the room staffers and the President. Not sure what we were waiting for, but we waited. Then Cory Booker came in – Cool! He read a statement of record on calling for pulling together support for Puerto Rico ASAP. We could not see him because his seat was below where we were sitting (and they are very strict in the Gallery – no standing, moving, talking, etc.) But we heard him live! After he left Senator Stabenow from Michigan gave her statement. We planned to go back on Friday for the big vote, but those plans have changed! But we are keeping track of the Senate’s daily schedule to see if there will be any votes this week where we could see everyone.

dc capital

Day 42: Half way!

We hit the halfway point of our travels. Good time to take a break! We had a lovely morning with my cousin Greg, his wife Wendy and their daughter Lilah. They actually live just a 7 minute walk from where we were staying. We had a delicious brunch and lots of time to chat. Shayna really wanted to see the Philadelphia zoo, which is the oldest zoo in the country, (opened 1874) so I took the girls while Greg and Wendy had some down/catch up time.


Despite the 90 degree heat, the girls and I had a nice time. Some of the animals were actually out and about.


We were able to see most of the animals in just a couple hours. You definitely could identify some of the original enclosures that were made of stone. Not sure if they actually kept the animals contained back in the day.

The next day was a travel day. We had intended to go to an Underground Railroad museum before leaving town, but double checked just before we left and realized it was not open on Mondays. We were so disappointed. Bad planning on my part. However, the smart planning came with our move to Washington DC. In Philadelphia we studied the formation of the US government and in Washington we will get to see it action.

Day 41: The Revolution continues . . .

We still had half of the American Revolution Museum to see, so in themorning we went straight back to walk through the rest of it. We are now really well versed in Revolutionary War history! Including how to prepare a musket to fire:


Our next stop was the American Jewish Museum. Another museum with so much information that the ticket is good for 2 consecutive days. We thoroughly studied the first two floors, 1600-1900s, which focused on immigration to America and how Jewish society developed throughout the US during these time periods. We lost focus by the time we got to the 1900s to present, but I know we will have plenty of opportunity to learn about those issues in the future. FYI – they have beautiful Judaica in the gift shop if you ever need a good gift while you are here.

We had so many options of what to do the rest of the day. There were about 20 different special events happening during this weekend. The communities really take advantage of the ideal weather in September and October (although it has been close to 90 degrees this weekend). We opted to join the Great Philly Tour – it is a 12 hour walking tour of Philly hosted by the Philly Tour Guides Association. Our Free Tours by Foot guide, Marianne, had told us about it. We chose to do the last of the 4 segments of the walk which went from City Hall to the Museum of Art. The Philadelphia City Hall is the largest in the country and it is beautiful. Not sure if they do tours of it, but it definitely would be worthwhile.

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While we were waiting for it to start we hung out in the courtyard of City Hall which was also the location of one of the Monument Labs – a series of temporary artistic monuments set up around the city.


The last segment of the walk started at 5pm and we luckily ran into Marianne who had walked the other 3 segments of the tour (guiding one of them) so we joined her and her BF. It was really fun to be with them on the walk. The walk basically followed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway which includes the Franklin Institute, The Rodin Museum, The Barnes Foundation Museum and multiple other statues, parks, fountains, monuments, and significant buildings. This trip we are not going to have enough time to see the inside of all of these places so at least we got to see the outside. Of course we ended up at the top of the steps of the Museum of Art (you know – Rocky!)


Then we went over the back side to the waterworks (when was it going to end!) and finally to dinner which was so kindly hosted by the Tour Guide Association. Afterward we tried to get a ride on one of the Firefly Pedicabs, another temporary art installation, but they were sold out. (Picture borrowed from their website).

<em>Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies</em> opening celebration on the Parkway. Photo Jeff Fusco Photography © 2017.

Day 40: The Revolution (The 1st One!)

We finally made it to the highlights of the Revolutionary History segment of our trip. We started the day with a tour of Independence Hall. I think Shayna was really excited to see the main room where it all happened. The only original artifact is George Washington’s chair at the front of the room.

independence hall

The tour is led by one of the rangers who had us all sitting in a room discussing what resources we would need to start a revolution in today’s world and then compare that to how things happened in the 1700s; definitely a novel approach to discussing how the Declaration of Independence developed. Then we walked through one of the courtrooms and then into the chamber where the Declaration of Independence was designed and signed.

independence mall

After that we fit in a tour of the Philadelphia Mint. It is a self guided tour with descriptions that discuss all of the steps and equipment used to produce coins, all set up around the windows that let you look into the working factory. It was really interesting!

the mint

By the time we were done it was already time for lunch so we walked over to Reading Terminal Market. It was packed! But we enjoyed a sandwich and some fresh pretzels.

From there we walked back to the new American Revolution Museum. There is so much to see that one ticket lets you in 2 consecutive days. This museum just opened in April, it is so new it still has that “new museum” smell! You enter the main exhibit through a door titled “Concord” and exit through a door titled “Yorktown”. Clever! We covered about 1/2 of it before it closed. The exhibits are incredibly informative with lots of preserved artifacts, including George Washington’s tent – that was cool!


Day 39: Brotherly Love

We arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday and had a mellow day of just getting settled into our place – sooooo much nicer than our place in New York  – and finding a place to leave the car. Parking is IMPOSSIBLE in the city! 150 year old streets are not conducive to modern day transportation.

At the last minute we decided to attend Rosh Hashanah services on Thursday morning. We took an Uber to the Rodef Shalom Temple which is fairly close to here, and enjoyed the “Multigenerational” service – i.e. babies crying and parents using little kids as an excuse to talk and walk around. The temple itself was gorgeous but the rabbis (both relatively young) seemed to have some difficulty keeping the congregation engaged. But the sanctuary is gorgeous!


We took the subway home (quickly figuring out our way around), and decided we needed traditional High Holiday food, so made deli sandwiches with crudite for lunch and bought groceries to make kugel for dinner. Unfortunately, I inadvertently bought cottage cheese with pineapple in it (yuck!). I figured out how to make a half portion to fit in the small pirex that fits in the mini-oven – everything is mini here because space is so limited.

After lunch we hopped on the bus that stops at the corner. It dropped us right at the Independence National Park Visitor Center – so EASY to get around! We went straight over to see the Liberty Bell.


Then we walked over to our scheduled Free by Foot tour of Old town Philadelphia which started at Betsy Ross’s house, went through the longest existing residential street, through Benjamin Franklin’s home and printing press office,


and then to Independence Hall. We also had a chance to see the archeological excavation of the first presidential house (used by George Washington and John Adams) which is just next to the Liberty Bell center: President House.  These remains were just discovered in 2007 and this installation is fairly new. It focuses on the incongruity of slavery that existed within the household of George Washington while he was fighting for Independence. The issue of slavery is a major focus of many of the historical artifacts and locations here.

A great introduction to the area to give us ideas of what we wanted to cover the next couple of days. Afterward we headed home to prepare our Rosh Hashanah dinner which we ate on the floor of the living room – there is no dining table. (We really are happy here – very clean, quiet, safe and comfortable – the polar opposite to the place we had in Brooklyn!)

Day 37: Goodbye to NY

Our last day in NY started with a quintessential NY tourist agenda. First we tried to rush tickets for Come From Away which is a play about 9-11, but it was standing room only, so we passed on that idea. Then we had our NY bagel experience – they tasted just like the NY bagels in Santa Monica!

Yesterday was slated to be quite rainy so after surveying everyone we talked to about which museum to prioritize, we decided on the MET. I have never been in such a large museum. We were constantly trying to figure out where we were and how to get to the next room. We started with the Egyptian temple, then went to the American wing where we saw an assortment of Colonial era furniture and furnishings, but this was the high end stuff. Everything we have seen to date on our tours (Lincoln, Paul Revere, etc.) have been from poorer family homes so it was a nice comparison.

After seeing the American history related art, we checked out the modern art and of course the 20th century European artists (Monet, Manet, Renoir, etc.). There was no way we could see it all and spend any significant amount of time in any one area. I can see how New Yorker’s must love to just stop in on a weekend day to check out one or two exhibits, and just come back anytime for others.

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Afterward we met up with Ruth and Bailey for some more quality friend time. After a couple hours we had to say goodbye as they had evening plans. On our way to meet Diego for dinner we got to see all the diplomats leaving the UN for the evening.

We met Diego for some local ramen and decided to catch the subway at Grand Central Station for our last NY venue.grand 2.jpg

This week there was a special exhibit honoring women scientists and engineers. They were projecting some celestial designs and the women’s names on the ceiling of the station. It was really cool! (This picture was not staged – just good timing!)


Day 36: 9-11

Fast forward 200 years, I thought it was important to visit the 9-11 museum so Shayna could learn a bit about recent history. This is another “must see”. Be forewarned, it is really intense. I did not know how Shayna would respond to what we would see so I opted out of the guided tour, but I STRONGLY recommend it if you go. This museum was was the most crowded venue we have been to so far. It was PACKED. More amazing, despite all of the people, the museum is almost silent. There is such a sense of reverence in the space. Of course, I could not make it much past the first display without crying. I am not sure if it impacted Shayna quite the same way. I think it is much more heart wrenching for anyone who was alive at the time and watched the events unfold vs. the younger generations who have only read about it.

There is so much to see and we ended up moving through many of the displays rather quickly, one to protect Shayna from some of the vivid displays and second to get away from the crowds (it was almost impossible to see the displays in some rooms). Of all the incredibly artwork that commemorated the event this flag was designed by an artist. The red and white stripes are made up of pictures of each individual that passed, or a candle for those who did not have a picture and the blue is of the police and fireman who perished.

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At the end of the museum (it has an IKEA format where you wind through a set pathway) there is a place you can write a message and then if appears on a map that everyone can see. Here is Shayna’s message:


And here is what the display looks like:

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After the museum we decided to do something a little lighter. Since the next day was going to be rain, we had to fit in our outdoor activities. Shayna really wanted to check out Central Park. We decided the best way to see it was by bike.


After our bike ride we met up with some old McKinley friends. Bailey was in Shayna’s class and a good friend. They moved back to NYC about 3 years ago. We had such a nice visit. It has been so comforting to have friends and family to be with, not only while we are on the road, but particularly in New York with all the crowds and chaos. Since it is UN week it has been particularly crazy, especially where Bailey lives which is right near the UN.


Day 35: NYC Tour

Sunday was a really special day. When I was researching for this trip, I found a woman in New York who conducts historical tours. Her company is called Patriot Tours: Patriot Tours.  When I contacted Karen, she offered to do a special tour for the kids (a bit shorter and focused than the adult version). I reached out to anyone I knew with kids in NY and we managed to pull together a small group for our tour.

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Ruth and Bailey are friends who used to live in Santa Monica, Melissa is one of my synchro teammates who happened to be in town and then Marika is the sister of our wonderful next door neighbor, and her son Clyde.

We had a great time together on our tour learning about revolutionary history in New York. I think the locals had a special appreciation of what we learned about since they have been walking the same paths as our forefathers from 200 years ago.  Of course, the tour had to include some Hamilton history.


We ended our tour with a quick stop at the Fearless Girl.

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Shayna and I had a very special evening planned. As part of Shayna’s ELA studies, we have doing a poetry unit, reading TS Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, studying the poems and listening to the music while following along with the poems. We concluded this poetry unit with a trip to see CATS. Shayna was so excited. We found a nice family owned Italian restaurant in the theater district, had our NY Italian food and went to see the play. Needless to say, Shayna loved it!


Day 34: Coming to America continued . . .

Once people were released from Ellis Island many of them settled on the lower east side of Manhattan. In the late 1800s/early 1900s it was the Irish and Germans, followed by the Eastern Europeans, Italians and Chinese. So, to stay with the theme we decided to visit the Tenament Museum on Saturday. You have to reserve tours, 1 hour walk through the tenaments or 2 hour walking tours around the neighborhoods, all with different themes. Because these tours are so popular we could not get the tours we wanted until the afternoon. So, we started the day by walking around the lower east side. We started at the Essex Street Market, which is the only remaining NYC indoor vendor market (think Grand Central Market without the restaurants).

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Next we checked out the Hester Street Fair (think a farmer’s market with just the prepared foods). It all looked great, but too early to eat.


So, we wandered around China Town and Little Italy. It was the annual St. Gennaro festival (think carnival and restaurant outdoor seating with people walking around all fitting within the narrow streets of NY). It was crazy but looked like lots of fun.

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We finally were hungry enough for lunch and found a cute little Dim Sum restaurant which turned out to be well known for its Bao. Yum!

Finally it was time for our tours. We started with a 2 hour walking tour titled Then and Now. Our guide provided a great review of the LES neighborhoods and buildings discussing how the landscape has changed over time and questioned us about which buildings/streets should be preserved vs. rebuilt. It really provided perspective on all of the factors to consider with change and development of neighborhoods.

Then we met my nephew Diego who joined us for a 1 hour tour inside the Tenament building. It was a hot day, so we definitely got a little perspective on what life was like inside these buildings. This tour really rounded our 2 day exploration of immigrant life in NYC.


Of course a day on the lower east side would not be complete without a visit to a deli, so we had dinner at Katz’s Deli. The 3 of us split one meal – matzoh ball soup, brisket, kugel, potato pancake and pickles – can’t get more DELI than that!