Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Fun #8

We are a church visiting family.  Everywhere in the world we travel, we always make time to see a few churches.  As a result, we have been to cathedrals, monasteries, abbeys, convents, temples, chapels, tabernacles, synagogues, and just about every other type of place of worship imaginable.  Except for a mosque.  But, we will do that someday.  While living in DC we have been to the National Cathedral several times, but very few other religious buildings.  DC, like many large and oldish cities, is teeming with churches, many of which are open to the public and have beautiful stained glass, artwork, and other objets d'art on display.  I have recently decided I want us to see some of these churches before we leave for China next year, so to that end, earlier this week we visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

I have wanted to visit the Basilica for many years and finally got my act together enough to pile the kids in the car and drive the very short 15 minutes (I know, ridiculously close!) required to get there.  The boys have been along for many of our religious building excursions in the past and though they were not thrilled when I revealed our destination, they, like always, found several things of interest during our brief sojourn at the Basilica.  Their less than enthusiastic reactions reminded me of a conversation Kenny and Caleb had last summer near then end of our stay in Vienna.  We were talking about plans for the day and Caleb said, "Daddy, can we not go to any churches today, please?  I really like churches, but if we can just do something different today I would be really happy and then we can see more churches tomorrow."  Kenny, of course, granted this very polite and reasonable request and we managed to find some non-church things to do that day.  Like I said, we are a church visiting family.

The Basilica is vast, not surprisingly.  In fact, it is the largest Catholic Church in the US.  With very few exceptions the wall and ceiling art is done in mosaics.  I'm sure there is a statistic somewhere of how many colored tiles were used -- it must be in the tens of millions.  Much of the art is also very obviously American.  The crypt is enormous and the walls and columns are printed from floor to ceiling with thousands of names.  There are dozens of chapels throughout both the upper and lower churches as well.  We only paused in most of them, but each is beautiful in its own right.  We did not get to see the crypt chapel because there was a mass in progress, but we had unfettered access to every other part of the building except the main altar in the upper church. 

Memorial Hall in the crypt.

There are two organs in the upper church, this is the larger of the two and has nearly 1000 pipes.  While we were there, an organist began to play, giving us a very pleasant and unexpected surprise.

This mosaic is the "Knights of Columbus Incarnation Dome."

There were marble columns everywhere in the upper church -- clearly no expense was spared during construction.  This one in particular was gargantuan.

"Christ in Majesty" -- the mosaic in the North Apse.

The mosaic from the West Apse, it is called "Woman Clothed with the Sun," but Caleb and Isaac preferred to refer to it as "the dragon one."

An example of gorgeous mosaic detail.

The interior view from the dome crossing, you can see the altar in the distance.

"Our Lady of China" -- we couldn't pass up the photo op.

Cooperative and happy Claire resting on a pew.

Another stunningly detailed mosaic.

"Mary, Queen of Ireland" scupture where we stopped to 
throw wishes in the fountain.

Varicolored marble columns.

And even more varieties of marble.

Another example of a beautiful mosaic.

Interior view.

Exterior view.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Fun #7

Though we have been to countless museums in Washington, DC, there always seems to be just one more we have yet to visit.  Last weekend we had record-breaking heat in DC so we found ourselves indoors once again, and though the boys were initially skeptical, our visit to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art proved enjoyable for all.
The National Portrait Gallery has done a very good job of making itself accessible to children.  Upon arrival we headed to the education center where the boys were each able to check out a "Portrait Discovery Kit" personality from a lengthy list of influential figures to help guide them through the museum.  The kits included the guide doll, a set of laminated cards to teach them about various aspects of art and several specific works on display, and several pads of paper to encourage or inspire their own artistic interests.  As a result of the cards we had conversations that day on topics including slavery, women's suffrage, what happened to Amelia Earhart, bronze busts, the Civil War, JFK's assassination, buffalo skins, and suicide.  Needless to say, we all learned a lot. 

 Isaac chose Theodore Roosevelt as his guide and was delighted to pose with his doll and TR's portrait when we found it in the gallery of American Presidents.

Caleb's choice was Abraham Lincoln.

 One of the portraits we were led to using the cards was this one of Frederick Douglass.  In addition to the fact that Douglass was a pivotal figure in the fight for race equality, we had a personal interest in taking this photo.  My dad currently serves as Textual Editor of the two-volume Life and Times of Frederick Douglass edition in the autobiographical series of the Frederick Douglass Papers project published by Yale University Press.  So, this one's for you Grandest!

We couldn't help but pose with this portrait of 
Joseph Smith.

We've seen copies of this famous painting many time.  It was nice to see the original in person.

When I was a kid, my sister, Lil, had these history cards.  I really liked reading through them and distinctly remember one of the cards was a picture of this portrait of Pocahontas.  The boys didn't much care, but they are nice boys and humored me with this shot.

Claire, was excited to take a picture with this portrait of Benjamin Franklin.

And, if possible, she was even more excited when posing with Alexander Hamilton.

After going through all their guide cards, the boys were ready for a break.  The Kogod Courtyard in the center of the museums is a perfect place to take a break.

These very shallow fountains were perfect for working off some energy.

The water streams across the granite floor making it quite slippery and by the time our break was over, both boys were more than a little wet.
After our break we headed to this exhibit -- we had to or Caleb would have been devastated.

They were thrilled with the chance to play these enormous games that were featured in the exhibit.

This quotation was projected larger than life on one wall of the exhibit.  I have my own thoughts on this statement, but I'll keep them too myself.

Jenova Chen, author of the above quotation, invented this game called Flower.  The player is the wind.  You/the wind blows through a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of flowers and collecting petals along the way.  This game is supposed to provide a new perspective in gaming.  I'm no gamer, but, I thought it was sort of boring -- but, I probably just didn't get it.  The kids, however, were intrigued.

We also stopped by an incredible exhibit commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  No photography allowed, but if you are in the area, it is not to be missed.

Afterwards we went back to the education center to enjoy Portrait Story Days, a program offered every weekend which showcases a story about a famous person in history.  We heard a story about Jackie Robinson and then stopped to see his portrait on our way out of the museum.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Something Fishy

We've been eating a lot of fish lately.  We, Kenny and I, like fish, but we have very rarely prepared it ourselves.  And, while the kids have had fish on occasion, since we don't eat it at home much (i.e. never), they haven't had much exposure.  But, we have been thinking about upping our intake for awhile and finally decided that fish was the perfect food to eat on really hot summer days.  It is filling, though not overly so, it doesn't take long to prepare so the kitchen stays relatively cool, and it can be paired with all sorts of delicious summer veggies and fruit.  Anyway, the point of this and ultimately the reason for this post is that I wanted to record what we've eaten all in one place so I'll be able to refer back to it in the future. 

The first kind of fish we tried was salmon.  Once upon a time, when I had an expense account, I used to frequent really nice, fancy restaurants in and around DC.  I went so often to some of them that eventually I'd ordered everything on the menu, so I've had salmon a time a two.  But, I think I have cooked/baked/grilled it myself only a handful of times.  The thing about salmon, and most fish actually, is that preparation is simplicity itself.  Unless you start with a whole fish, um, no thank you, prepping fish takes minutes, cooking it takes minutes, and therefore, getting dinner on the table (my most important priority these days) also takes just minutes.  We bought our salmon at Costco so we had it three ways before we'd eaten all of it.

Salmon #1: Kenny brushed the whole thing with olive oil, added salt and pepper and some lemon and baked it for 20ish minutes.  The result was perfection.  Flavorful, moist, delectable fish that we all yummed right up.  We served it with a salad and some fresh cut fruit.

Salmon #2: Using 4 servings of the left over salmon I made this salad (a slight variation on a Rachael Ray recipe for honey-lime salmon and warm black bean and corn salad):

Warm Black Bean & Corn Salad

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium Red Onion, chopped
2 large Garlic Cloves, chopped
1/2 to 1 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes 
1 tsp. Ground Cumin 
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
1 Red Bell Pepper chopped
1  can of corn drained
1  15oz. can Black Beans, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lime
6 cups Baby Spinach

Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat the olive oil.  Add the onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.  Once the onions are cooked, add the bell peppers and corn kernels and cook for 1 minute.  Add the black beans and cook until the beans are just heated through.  Remove the skillet from the heat and add the lime juice and spinach.  Toss to wilt the spinach and then taste and adjust the seasoning.  Serve alone or with a piece of salmon on top. 

I topped our salad and fish with this yummy honey lime vinaigrette so, so, so good.  Everyone (the kids included) cleaned their plates.

Salmon #3: With the last bit of left over salmon I made salmon patties/cakes.  I used this recipe for guidance, but made a few changes (i.e. seasoned bread crumbs instead of bread, no canned salmon -- ick, and a bit of garlic powder).  When the cakes were ready, I sliced them in half and served them on hot dog rolls with tartar sauce.  I make my own tartar sauce because I like it extra tangy.  Here's the recipe in case you do too:

Tartar Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
Dash of spicy brown mustard
1 spear or so dill pickle finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Lemon pepper seasoning to taste
And, if your lemon is a little bitter (you'll know once you taste your sauce), a bit of sugar

The salmon cakes were a hit, so we were 3 for 3 with our adventures in serving salmon.  If you've got some great recipes for salmon or any other fish for that matter, please share them with me, we're on a roll.

Next up, Tilapia.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Fun #6

When we visited the National Museum of the US Navy a couple of weeks ago, the guard at the gate asked us if we had been to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA,...yet.  We hadn't, but after waxing so
eloquently about how worthwhile it was, he made us promise to go as he was certain we would be sorry if we did not.  After such an impassioned sales pitch how could we not assure him we would visit and soon?  Last weekend we kept that promise and made the 45-minute drive to what turned out to be, in fact, a very well-done, thorough, engaging, and educational museum. 

This is not the best picture of the building's facade, but it was really hot and super sunny when I snapped this so there were no do-overs.

Our visit began with a 20 minute film about the Marine Corps.  It was the only real propaganda we encountered, and even then it was fairly toned down.  On the armrests of each seat in the theater were these little gold plaques.  Each said something different and many were placed there in honor of a former Marine.

We were joined in the theater by a host of new recruits, so new, in fact, that their uniforms don't yet say "MARINES."

The museum starts from the "beginning" describing how the Marines got their start and what life was like as a sailor in the 18th century.  Bottom line -- not great. 

Thankfully, there were many kid friendly exhibits.

There were also lots of opportunities to dress up and pretend to be Marines from various eras of their history.

Caleb was not as keen to dress up as Isaac, but he was intrigued enough by this garb to put it on.

The main exhibit progressed chronologically through the major campaigns of the Marines and along the way there were several of these "Be a Marine" stations.

This visit definitely tested our knowledge of US military history.  The boys had endless questions and expected us to be at the ready with accurate and complete answers.

Some of the stations were equipped with stools,

and some were not.

The museum is laid out in a circle and the exhibits really are well thought out.  There is so much to see and a fair amount is interactive.  One could easily spend days inside and still not see/read/experience everything on display.

About halfway through the exhibits, Isaac started to get a little restless.  Luckily, we found Chesty's Corner, a fun place for kids to take a break, color, read, and just relax.  Chesty is a dog named for Chesty Puller, the most decorated Marine in US history.

After a brief respite, we joined up again to view the Iwo Jima exhibit.  This is the actual flag raised by the Marines once Iwo Jima was secured.  We also met a veteran of Iwo Jima who works as a docent in the museum and he shared some very interesting trivia with us.  Many of the battle ships that ferried Marines to Iwo Jima and other engagements in the Pacific, were damaged at Pearl Harbor.  But, in between December 7, 1941, and 1944, 15 of the 17 ships that had been bombed at Pearl Harbor were put in dry dock, repaired, at put back to sea.  Only the USS Arizona and the USS Utah were too far damaged to be repaired -- of course, those two ships were sunk and now rest forever as a reminder of that terrible day.

5,391 Marines, 209 Navy, and 1 Coast Guard (he was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time) were killed at Iwo Jima.  This wall represents each of their sacrifices.  The museum docent instructed me to move a few steps back, use the camera's flash, and take a shot of the memorial wall.  When we looked at the photo later, it revealed this image of Mt. Suribachi.

After the WWII exhibit Isaac, Claire, and I sort of blitzed the Korea and Vietnam galleries and the 9/11 exhibit so he could go back to Chesty's corner and play some more.

But, we did stop long enough to get a couple of shots of various things that interested him.

Our last stop before departing was the museum's rotunda.

There are huge exhibits in the rotunda to demonstrate Marines in action, as well as several full-size aircraft suspended from the ceiling that have been used over the years by this particular branch of the armed forces.

In addition, the perimeter of the rotunda is encircled with statements made about the Marines by members of the other branches of the armed services.

In the end, the guard at the Navy Yards was right, this is a great museum and we were glad to have visited.   

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