Our
Journey:
Avalon's Army of Angels
June 21, 2009
Museum of Natural History...Tibetan Death March
Day one in Washington DC - the city tries to kill us...

This was a long day, a very, VERY long day....  
Personally, I'm pretty danged proud of Aurora and I
for surviving it.  OK, sure, we had the other kiddos
with us, but its we two 'bigguns' who take the brunt of
the insanity - so I'm choosing to cheer wildly for us...

Because Monday and Tuesday will be eaten up with
Reach the Day activities, today was our big giant
'Museum Day', with our sights set on the National
Museum of Natural History.  (go ahead, try to say
that 10 times fast...)  Because Anne is the choir
director for a local church, and had Father's Day
duties with her boyfriend's family, the kiddos and I
were aiming toward DC all on our lonesome.  No
problem...I'm a grown up.  

Anne was kind enough to google door to door
directions for us to get to the National Mall from her
house.  There are several things to note here,
before I begin my get-ready-for-it lengthy description
of our adventure.  First of all, gazillions of people
who work in or around DC don't live in DC.  Anne is
no exception.  She is a "Singing Sergeant" in the
USAF, and a resident of Maryland, several dozen
miles outside of DC.  I was
beyond blessed that the
route from Ann's house in to DC is seriously one of
the easiest there is.  It was simple, few exits, nearly a
straight shot north from where she lives in Maryland.  
In all honesty, I would highly recommend the Waldorf
area to anyone visiting DC as a tourist.  The hotels
are vastly cheaper and the drive into the National
Mall is so simple that even I could pull it off.

For those of you wondering, the "National Mall" is the
stretch of DC that houses damn near everything
important in DC.  At one end is the Capital Building,
at the other end, the Lincoln Memorial.  The vast
majority of the Smithsonian Institute, as well as the
Washington Monument lay in between the
afore-mentioned bookends.  The Supreme Court,
Library of Congress, and  Congressional  office
buildings ring the Capital, while the Jefferson
Memorial and Whitehouse sit  near the Lincoln
Memorial end.  All in all, its a GIGANTIC amount of
history and importance, in a relatively neat little
package.  

While the National Mall appears to be small and
nicely organized...its the
getting there that takes
finesse.  First of all, parking in and around DC is
ATROCIOUS.  Second of all, the Maryland/DC
drivers are
INSANE.  Seriously, I'm not sure I can
stress that last part enough.  People cut you off,
weave in and out of traffic/parked cars/ and
generally speaking, have all taken driving lessons
from Attilla the Hun, as Napolean wasn't nearly ballsy
enough...

Part of the Maryland driver thing is how their funky
exit ramps work.  In and around DC, when you enter
a highway...you have about 10 feet to merge into
traffic.  (OK, so its slightly more than 10 feet...maybe
15...)  These people grow up having to drive like
bats out of hell to ever get any where near the
highway...its part and parcel to the roads here.  
Seems to me they should warn you about that at the
Maryland border.

Anyhoo...I'd been warned 1001 times about NOT
driving in DC.  Its not like I wasn't pre-advised...but
those same people warning me hadn't attempted to
tackle the city with a wheelchair and huge stroller,
not to mention brain-damaged daughter who freaks
out in crowds.  Public transportation like crowded
subways, are not high on my  list of "entertainment
options".  So, we aimed off for DC, ignoring all we'd
been cautioned against, determined to forge a new
path.  And yes, you may begin laughing now.  

Actually, the morning started out OK.  We followed
Anne's googled directions, and her wonderful
hand-written addendums.  We did perfectly well until
Aurora failed to read one step ahead (did I mention
that map-reading is not her forte?).  Normally,
carefully following each individual direction is
great....but when one step is less than a tenth of a
mile long - it would seem appropriate to read on
ahead a bit.  Then again, that's just me.

As it turns out, Aurora's mistake was the LEAST of
our issues.  We easily corrected her misdirection
and got right back on the intended path.  The
problem was, the path lead us directly to police
cruisers and ROAD CLOSED signs.  As we followed
the crowd and traffic to the East - we began realizing
that any and all streets leading to the National Mall
were closed off.  In fact, as we followed, and
followed, and followed the traffic....we were led
multiple blocks past the Capital....before we were
ever allowed to go North.  In a very short period of
time, our ever-so-well-planned-entrance to DC - had
gone horribly awry.  

Out came the maps, and on came the concentration
grimace.  Aurora and I decided that DC would NOT
defeat us, and we began plotting and weaving our
way back toward the proper end of town.  We found
two parking lots that I had info about from the DC
tourist website.  The first one was Union Station - the
center of all DC travel.  The problem is, my high top
conversion van would not fit in the parking garage -
we would have been relegated to the 'bus parking'
area at $20/day.  Being our first day in DC - this
nearly made me cry (remember...extreme limited
budget).  I was not a fan of feeling so taken
advantage of.  So...we headed out of Union Station,
and on to the next best lot on my list.  

Its important to note here, that minimal parking
spaces in DC is bad enough...but toss in that your
vehicle is HUGE, and the whole situation is absurd.   
I somehow feel this is knowledge I should have
gleened before I arrived here.  Then again, I
was
warned.  So, map in hand, we navigated our way to
our second-choice parking lot, at the corner of 9th
and H.  

When we arrived at our lot, we were horrified to find
that the $10 price listed on the website was wrong - it
would actually be more like$16-$18.  Fabulous...we
just spent all that time and frustration getting there,
when a few more bucks would have had us on our
way an hour before.  Lesson learned, DC is
outrageously expensive.  Check and check.

To help you understand the next few sentences of
maniacal ranting, you might want to click on the map
link above.  Here are the particulars.

We orginally exited 395 (bottom of the map) onto 7th
- to take us onto the mall, and hopefully
handi-capped parking.  We were routed so far East -
we exited the map I've linked to.  We eventually got
back to Union Station, NE corner of the map - only to
leave and make our way to 9th and H - parking in the
large empty space next to the word "Chinatown".  
(North on the map)  Now that you know where we are
- you may refer back to the map to laugh after the
next paragraph.

By the map, we knew we had about 8 blocks to walk
to get to the museum.  The girls whined and
moaned, so I agreed to try to catch a bus down to
the museum, if we could find the stop.  We loaded up
the stroller and wheelchair and began our journey.  

I should note here that I had come up with a rather
adorable idea for pictures while we were in DC.  This
Sunday was actually Father's Day, and we were all
terribly sad that we were having fun, and Daddy was
stuck at home.  So, we made huge signs that said
"We (heart) you Dad".  The idea was to hold the
signs up in front of every neat thing on Father's Day
- and then make an album for Daddy.  We knew my
father would like the zoo and memorials more than
the museum, so he was to get "We (heart) you
Pappo pics from those.  Well...the best laid plans of
mice and moms....  It didn't quite work out the way I
planned.  Ambrosia got the signs out of the car, and
gave them to Aurora.  Aurora wanted to be careful
with them, so she laid them neatly on the bottom of
the stroller...

As we left the car, we stopped to watch a trapeze
school that took up part of the parking lot we were
in.  What a hoot!  Anyone can pay to play on the
trapeze set up with lots of safety harnesses, a good
net, and professionals to help you follow your
dream.  If we would have had the money - I would
have ante-d up for Aurora and Ambrosia - they were
enthralled.  

After we gawked for a few minutes, we realized there
was a bus stop right at the end of the parking lot.  
We managed to get there, right as the bus came.  
Because it was Sunday, the bus was blissfully empty
and we could get the stroller and wheelchair on it
with no problem.  The driver was sweet  - and didn't
mind getting the ramp out, or letting us keep the
stroller up.  At a bargain price of $1 each - I thought
$5 was a great trade off for 8 blocks of hiking.  At
least, that's what I
thought.  

As it turns out, the buses were limited in their traffic
pattern even more than individual drivers.  (you may
want to refer to that map now)  Our dear, sweet, very
friendly bus driver was only allowed as far south as
E street, where he had to turn East, and eventually
drop us at 7th.  For those of you counting, that
means he got us 4 blocks south, but then took us 2
blocks east -
away from where we needed to go.  
That's a whopping net gain of
2 blocks for my $5.  
Picklefarts.

Our $5 adventure did, at least, explain the traffic
hooey.  Turns out there was some sort of marathon
being run that day - with more-than-the-usual
amount of weekend road closures.  The driver said
that nearly every Summer weekend some part of the
mall will be closed for some rally or another.  It rather
re-inforced my notion that mass marches on
Washington might not have the effects people want.  
When everybody and their cause-happy brothers
march on Capital Hill, does anyone really have an
effect?  Or, are the lawmakers absolutely numb to it
all?  Guess I'll have to wait to test my theory.

After we exited the bus, we had what I will shamefully
admit was one of the low points of the trip.  I was
BEYOND frustrated at how much time we'd wasted in
the traffic jams/detours/parking fiascos.  Not to
mention, being righteously honked that I'd just
forked out $5 to get virtually no closer to our goal.  I
know, you're thinking, "five bucks isn't bad" - well, to
some its not.  But for us, every single dollar counted
- so I let it get to me.  Then, I realized that our Dad
signs were gone!  All we had left was "Dad" - the rest
had blown away.  I was upset they were gone, and
angry that Aurora was trying to blame Ambrosia
instead of taking responsibility and apologizing.  In a
nutshell, I had a less-than-proud parent moment and
made Aurora feel awful, and upset the whole lot of
them.  I still feel bad about it, so I'm publicly
apologizing to all the kids for letting my frustrations
get the best of me.  I have 4 GREAT kids, even if I
sometimes lose sight of that in the heat of a moment.
 Sorry girls!  Mommy hopes you'll forgive me!

After our disagreement/guiltfest, we aimed for the
Smithsonian.  We made the best of our new Eastern
position, by checking out a sculpture garden on the
way to the Natural History Museum.  The pictures
above of the reflecting pool, typewriter eraser, and
giant "Aurora" sculpture are all from the garden.  
The kids enjoyed the sculptures significantly more
than I would have anticipated.  They would have
spent much more time admiring them, if Aurora and I
hadn't shuttled them through with promises of what
the MNH had to offer.  

As we walked toward the museum, I realized that I'd
left my "Map of Disability entrances" at home, in the
printer.  Fantastic...that's helpful.  It turns out, that's
a stupidly important map to cling to - the
Smithsonian Institute's approach to handi-capped
accessibility is nearly as archaic as its buildings.  
People with wheelchairs beware...you're about as
welcome at the Smithsonian as fleas on a camel's
butt.  Oh, and you're treated about the same....

We hiked the two blocks to get to the Museum, then
hiked to the "front" entrance that faces the National
Mall.  But we weren't welcome in the front entrance -
the handi-capped entrance is clear around the
building - on the back side - the equivalent of
another few block hike.  Neat.  We enjoyed walking
through the butterfly garden to get to the back of the
building, but started our visit there by feeling
anything but welcome.  I was floored...I guess I
thought the ADA would be alive and well in our
nation's capital.  Ummm...not so much.  They do the
bare minimum, nothing more.  

Once inside the museum, the kids began oohing and
aaahing immediately.  The security guards were kind
about skirting Avalon around the metal detectors,
and patient with us while we unloaded the wheelchair
and stroller of all our "stuff".  I should point out,
Avalon cannot go through metal detectors.  Her
shunt is magnetically controlled, and any exposure
to severe magnetic fields can accidentally reset it.  
Her shunt is set at the most open setting there is,
allowing the maximum amount of fluid through.  (very
rare)  While we really don't know if the shunt
operates correctly, we do know that MRI magnets
consistently reset it to nearly entirely closed.  If the
shunt happens to be working, going from full open to
almost closed, could result in a hospitalization in a
few hours - not to mention unspeakable pain for
Avalon.  In other words, metal detectors cause
mommy's chest to hurt...in fear of what they might do
to my little one.   Knowing how stressed I already
was, compounded by how unhandicapped friendly
the museum had already been...its not too hard to
imagine it took a while for my mood to improve.  I
wish I could go back and change - but I suppose I
just have to promise myself to go-with-the-flow better
next time.

Because we entered at the ground level - there was
very little crowds for our first few exhibits.  The girls
grinned with the Easter Island head, marveled at a
multi-story totem pole, and checked out the "teaser"
exhibits that gave samples of what we would find
upstairs.  After a brief pit stop, we decided to pause
in the eating area, to have our picnic lunch and "fuel
up" for our big adventure.  It was a good decision,
my mood and headache improved greatly with some
rest, calories, and water.  So did the kiddos.  

I suppose I should point out that I planned for
lunches out long before we left.  We brought two
totes with us full of dry goods.  We brought bread,
peanut butter and marshmallow fluff for sandwiches
(marshmallow won't spoil like jelly), goldfish crackers,
cheezits, various nuts and seeds, granola bars,
pudding cups, small candies, and lots of ziploc
baggies.  We always brought more food than we
would need on each of our outings, so we limited
any expenses for "eating out".  The bonus is, we
have grand memories of impromptu picnics, that we
couldn't have planned for.  With our water bottles,
we were always well stocked.  Considering we'd
been told that a hotdog at the Smithsonian can run
$7.95....I'm pretty sure we saved a HUGE amount of
money.  Can you even imagine?  $8 hotdogs x
5....ack!  The kids were sick of PB&fluff by the time
we left...but we all agreed - it was worth it.  

After our 'picnic', we headed toward the front of the
building and the dilapidated elevators.  Gads those
things were scary looking.  Little did I know we'd be
wishing for them the next day...

On the way to the elevators, we passed through an
exhibit of stuffed birds that are indigenous to the
Washington DC area.  My old Botany & Zoology
building at Ohio State used to have a similar display
in the basement.  The girls grossed out at the
thought of it, then quickly became engrossed at
being able to see the birds up close.  They were
fascinated at the coloring and texture of the
feathers, beaks, and feet.  Anam kept asking if they
were "dead".  Ummm..yeah buddy, for several
decades.  

When we made it upstairs to the main hall, the kids
just gasped.  From the full sized stuffed elephant, to
the enormity of the building, it was all terribly
exciting.  We decided the best approach was to just
start at the first exhibit by the elevator, and keep
going.  No choosing, no criss crossing - just get
moving and see what we see.  We could have easily
devoted an entire day just to the first floor, but
instead we were forced to limit our time at most
exhibits to very brief.  Poor Ambrosia, she was
frustrated beyond words.  She wanted to stop and
read
everything.  I felt very sorry for her, but I still
think she enjoyed the day immensely.  

Avalon's absolute favorite exhibit was the dinosaur
skeletons.  There is something about "Rexi" from
Night at the Museum that sticks in her mind.  She
was enthralled with the fossils and dinosaur
reproductions.  All the girls were fascinated with the
recreations of "digs" and just how much guess work
there is in reassembling the skeletons, and filling in
missing parts.  Even Anam loved the dinosaur room
- it was definitely an A+ for all parties concerned.  

The ocean rooms were similarly popular.  From the
whale hanging overhead, to the pickled giant squid -
there was lots to see and marvel at.  Again, I wish I
could have given them hours on the first floor to
delve deeper into the exhibits that fascinated them.  
It makes me want to turn around and go back next
week...  I guess I know what I'll be working/saving for
this year!  

The Mammal room held a lot of fascination for the
kids, but not-so-much for mommy.  After working in
zoos/preserves/labs, I far prefer having the kids
watch live animal behaviors - but I do appreciate
what it means to them to be able to get so close to
the animals.  In even the best zoos - good
husbandry means keeping a safe distance between
the animals and the public.  To be able to stand next
to a hippo and a giraffe, well, its a gift that most
people don't ever get to experience.  I didn't realize
how much I haven't told the children about my
"former" life as a zoologist, until I kept making
references that made them stop in their tracks.  
Apparently, I need to dig out my old pictures.  Darn
shame I wasn't more of a shutter bug back then...

The one room that shocked me with how much they
LOVED it, was the skeleton section.  Don't get me
wrong, I thought it was FANTASTIC, I just never
would have guessed they would.  The kids were
endlessly curious about the differences in skeletons
between different types of animals.  They couldn't
get enough of snake skeletons, turtle skeletons, bird
skeletons, and how very different they were from
dogs and cats.  'Scientist mommy' grinned like a
cheshire cat through the entire exhibit.  Maybe, just
maybe - there's a future scientist in the bunch!

The kids also loved a new exhibit upstairs that was
called "Written in bone".  Basically, the exhibit was
CSI and Bones tv shows, meets colonial history,
meets real life.  In the beginning of the exhibit, they
explained modern archaeological methods, and how
bones can tell a great deal about a person.  The
exhibit was based on several unmarked graves from
a Chesapeake bay colonial settlement.  The girls
remembered a great deal from history in school this
past year, and what they learned in Williamsburg in
the fall.  By pairing that base knowledge with what
the museum was teaching them about "studying
bones" - they really understood what they were
seeing.  

The pictures on the right are from the "Written in
Bone" exhibit.  Its a small room, that is explaining the
position of several unknown bodies in the
Chesapeake burial site.  As the 'light skeleton' would
light up - displays on the wall would describe the
bodies, and who they represented.  Totally lost on
my kids, they just wanted to be weird and lay in the
"coffins".  Heck, they laid on graves when we were at
Williamsburg...there was no sense in arguing now!  
Turns out, we gave lots of people the giggles, and
several other people ideas.  As we left the room, a
group of 20 somethings were following suit...  I
suppose I should give the kids credit for originality.

As far as "laughter" goes...wow did Ambrosia come
up with a doozey!  In one part of "Written", there was
a display of three different skulls.  I should say here,
that whenever possible, the actual bones were used
in exhibits.  These were not resin copies like the
dinosaurs - these were real skeletons, so the
minerals, etc where they were unearthed from
affected the color/condition of the bones.  Anyway,
the display of three skulls was of an African, Native
American, and European - to show how scientists
look at differences in eye sockets, jaw line, cheek
bones, etc to help decide the race of the person
they have exumed.  I was standing at a nearby
exhibit while the girls were learning about the skulls.  
Suddenly, I hear Ambrosia announce (loudly I may
add), "Wow!  Even their bones are
different colors!"

As the woman who had been standing next to them
gasped then ran away trying to stifle her giggles...I
pretended I didn't know them.  Aurora died a bit -
then tried to explain to Ambrosia why the other lady
had run off.  I'm not sure which was funnier -
Ambrosia honestly not getting it, Aurora-the-teen
croaking of embarrassment, or the unknown woman
trying desperately to get out before she laughed
herself silly.  Doesn't matter....I didn't know them
anyway...
First monument we came to - I
started making them pose!
The name of this sculpture is:  
Aurora!  How cool is that?
Our attempt at the "Love Dad"
pics - with the remaining sign
In the middle of the sculpture
garden.
How could you not love a giant
typewriter eraser?
This was absolutely Avalon's
FAVORITE exhibit.  She calls it
"Rexi" - like in
Night at the
Museum."
An "Easter Island Head" like in
Night at the Museum.  The girls
were giddy!
This was a different "Rexi" than the one pictured above - it was merely a head
mounted on the wall.  Avalon and Ambrosia thought my idea of "feeding them to the
dinosaur" was hysterical.  Anam found no humor in my gesture.  Geez...you'd think
the kid could work with me a bit!
A gigantic trilobite - found in
Ohio.  The kids thought it was
neat it was from home.
A "Placoderm fish" - also from
Ohio  - its an armoured prehistoric
fish
Hippo impressions...yeah, we're
that weird.
Checking out the pickled giant squid
This picture is for the Delaware
Road Hawgs.  They brought "Bob"
the bison back from Sturgis, ND
for Avalon last year.  She wanted
to grin with a real Bob for them.  
Grinning with a stuffed bear.  I
have no idea why.  
This is at the base of the stuffed
elephant in the central hall of the
museum.  This exemplifies museum
day with Anam...cranky, difficult,
arguing, difficult, whining,
difficult...repeat.
Thank the stars, moon, and
asteroids for naptime~
I love that face...
I have odd kids.
What can I say?   Cute!
I LOVE this picture!  Funny enough, it was taken more than half way through
the day, in an ugly hallway, outside of an even uglier bathroom.  I think the
lesson is, who needs backdrops when your kids are this adorable?  No, I'm not a
proud mom or anything...  Hee hee hee....
By the end of the day, we were nearly sprinting to
make sure we saw everything.  We couldn't possibly
walk past this 'caveman' exhibit without stopping
though!  These goofy pics are of the girls doing their
best caveman impersonations.  I couldn't possibly
choose between them, they both make me laugh out
loud.  Of course, Anam refused to participate.  I
wasn't kidding when I said he was being a giant
picklehead all day.  Rather than letting it upset us,
we just decided to take it for what it was, life with a 2
year old.  He can be the cutest, most charming little
boy on the planet, or a complete turd.  Lucky us, we
had poopy-head today.  

One thing I don't have photos from are the
jewel/mineral rooms.  I so enjoyed seeing the
sparklies, I didn't try to photograph them.  I wimped
out, and bought the postcards to put in the
scrapbook instead.  OK, so maybe I should amend
that "enjoyed" statement.  The jewels were
breathtaking, unfortunately, so was the body-odorific,
constantly SHOVING us family that was permanently
smashed up against us through the whole exhibit.  
Criminy, if you're going to be that pushy and rude,
would it have killed them to
bathe, at least once or
twice in the past month?  Ugh.

And speaking of "buying" the postcards, I did spring
for a few small souveniers.  We all agreed on a "soap
rock" as a fun family take-home.  It looks like a
beautiful piece of amethyst, or some type of purple
crystal, but its soap.  You rub your wet hands on it,
and the amazing perfume of the soap stays on your
hands long after you rinse them.  What fun!  I also
snuck and bought small stone hearts for everyone in
the family - each in their favorite color.  I wanted
them all to have a small reminder that they always
have my heart with them.  

Because the shop was so small, Aurora and
Ambrosia waited in the hall with a sleeping Anam.  
When Avalon and I rejoined them, I was met with a
chorus of "Please oh please!" about going back in
the shop and buying Daddy a gift.  Aurora
remembered that this was the shop she'd bought
something in 3 years earlier, when she'd come to
visit Anne.  With the ornery grins they had, I couldn't
say no.  Several minutes later, two very triumphant
daughters appeared, brandishing "Amber candy" for
Dad.  This is no ordinary candy - it comes complete
with real used-to-be-alive mealworm and cricket in it
for Daddy to eat.  They were so proud...

Eventually, we all decided we were "done".  We'd
been very lucky, the Natural History museum has
extended hours in the Summer, so we'd been able to
stay much longer, and see much more than we had
originally anticipated.  None-the-less, we were all
exhausted, and knew we had one heck of a walk to
get back to the car.  So we aimed out the door - and
off toward the elusive parking lot...8 blocks away...all
up hill.  Ugh.

On the way to the car we had a couple of fun
encounters.  As you can see in the picture below, we
ran across a local restaurant named "Ella's".  Since
Ella is Ambrosia's middle name, we
had to take a
picture.  I briefly contemplated buying a small dinner
there, but at $14 for a personal sized pizza - soon
thought better of it.  We all agreed that a picture
would have to suffice.  Glad to know I have sensible
kids!
Cave-daughters
Still grinning, and this is on the
way out!
Further down the road (or up the road as the case may be), we ran across this little guy.  I
guess he's the mascot for the DC Metro rail system.  At least, that's the map on his side.  Don't
really see how an elephant ties in with a subway system...but I was too tired to ponder or
question it.  We just had fun taking goofy pictures with it.  Yes, we're hopeless tourists.  And
honestly....proud of it!  If you can't have fun on vacation...when can you?  Even if you are
convinced your feet are going to fall off and your out-of-shape body is going to implode.   Oh
well, its all for the sake of a few good memories...

All in all, it was a fantastic day!  We had our disagreements, we had our grumbling, but mostly,
we had each other.  I wouldn't want to go to the Smithsonian any other way.  

I'm the luckiest mom in the world.