A Visit to Our Nation’s Capital

Last month my husband and I took 6 teenagers, his students, to Washington DC on a Leadership Fieldtrip for 6 days. Those 6 days were filled from morning until night with tours of historic sites, historic buildings, monuments, memorials, military sites, museums and a ton of walking. We were pretty worn out after that trip.

But it was so much fun!

And we learned a lot!

My husband and I had lived in Northern Virginia for 6 years and knew our way around so we were excited to take the kids to see our Nation’s Capital. Some of them had never been and some had been before but did not see all that we were planning.

The kids got to see and learn about the workings of all three branches of our government through our tours of the Whitehouse, Capital Building (where they also met their Representative), and the Supreme Court. These tours gave them insight into the way our government works and let them see for themselves what they had learned about in books in a classroom.

 

We took them to the monuments and memorials—for some of our Presidents, for our military and the wars fought and for historic figures who had great impact on our country. All of them moving, especially when toured at night. So many only see these sights in books or on tv….but to stand there in person, next to or inside these great monuments, well, the emotion overtakes you…..they really are a sight to behold, the inscribed words inspiring all those who have come after and those who are still to come….a reminder of our great country and those inspiring individuals.

We visited some of the Smithsonian museums, letting the kids explore and see what interested them.

We spent some time on an island in the middle of the hustle and bustle……an oasis that has long been one of my husband’s favorite places and a place that honors one of his heroes, Theodore Roosevelt. As we walked through the trees and down the paths, we could not help but relax and enjoy the time there together as a group.

We also stopped and toured our National Cathedral, a first for most of the kids and a first for my husband and I. And we also spent time inside the Library of Congress, one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington DC.

 

Midweek, after our tour of the Whitehouse, we went to the National Archives, where we saw the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, the original oct 6 a Mt Vernon (4) copydocuments…..amazed to see the signatures of the very brave men who helped to establish our democracy and create our country. Our last day, before our flight, we visited Mt Vernon, home to our first president. These historic documents and the historic home of George Washington made the founding of our country, real. How wonderful it is that our country has kept so much of its history.  

We saw a lot while in Washington DC. There was traffic and tour groups to deal with. There was great food to be had. There was shopping. There were protests witnessed, reminding us of the freedoms afforded Americans. There were also more security screenings than we have EVER experienced! And yes, there was LOTS of walking!

oct 1 Air Force Memorial (4) copyAnd then there were the military sites—a cemetery, a battlefield, museums, the Pentagon and war memorials….all honoring our military men and women. The military sites were among the first sites we visited, starting with the Air Force Memorial, standing tall on a hill above the Pentagon with an amazing view of Washington DC. We had arrived in DC at 7am after a long night of flying, stopped for breakfast and then headed out to see some sites before checking into our hotel. It was only fitting that our first stop should be at the Air Force Memorial…..after all, these kids are part of the Air Force JROTC at their high school.

We then attempted to stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial, but it was closed for refurbishment and could only be viewed as we drove past it….so we instead went to the Pentagon 9-11 Memorial. The kids were all babies when the horrific events of that morning in 2011 happened, so they only knew it through the stories told to them…….unlike most of us, who remember it all, every moment of that morning and the days that followed. We solemnly walked around the memorial, stopping to read the names of those lost on the plane that morning and those lost inside the Pentagon. This was a sobering memorial, bringing to reality all those lost that day. The kids, as part of their AFJROTC group, participate every year in a 9/11 Flag Raising Ceremony and now they were seeing for themselves, why they do it, why they honor and remember those many lives.

Over the next few days we visited more military sites and memorials—The war memorials on the National Mall to those who fought and died in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and Manassas Battlefield, the site of the first major battle in a war that almost tore our country apart. We took the kids on a tour of the Pentagon, where they learned about all branches of our military. And we visited both Smithsonian Air and Space museums.

Our visit to Arlington National Cemetery was quite moving. We walked, rather than taking the shuttle, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We walked so that we could see the graves, read some of the names on those white headstones and honor those who have protected our country. Heroes, all of them buried here in our Nation’s Military Cemetery. And then we watched the changing of the Guard at the tomb of the unknowns. The kids all stood for the ceremony, watching as the Changing of the Guard occurred…..honoring the unknown soldiers buried there, the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, including their identity. Words are hard to come by to adequately describe the Changing of the Guard, the reverence these Sentinels show for those entombed here. A solemn ceremony. And the kids watched. They absorbed it all…..the meaning, the honor, the sacrifice. And for the kids who themselves are part of the AFJROTC Honor Guard, this ceremony held even more meaning, showing them the highest honor for any Honor Guard member. Arlington was a very emotional, solemn place.

oct 1 National Museum of the Marine Corp (1) copyOur last stop on our first day before we checked into our hotel was at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived here, but once we stepped inside our energy renewed and we were ready to tour the museum and learn about our Marine Corps. When we first entered the museum we noticed chairs set up for some kind of ceremony, one we assumed had already occurred. We headed further into the museum, enjoying the history of the Marine Corps from inception to current day. The kids enjoyed the interactive exhibits. The museum was a wonderful way to honor our Marine Corps. We came to the end of the exhibits and wandered back into the main atrium, ready to head into the gift shop, when we noticed the ceremony was beginning…the chairs were filled with those there to celebrate the Commissioning Ceremony for a Navy Sailor. And we stopped for a minute, noticing that the Honor Guard was preparing to present the colors. We watched as the Honor Guard moved to the front of the ceremony and presented the colors and then the National Anthem began…..and we all stood, facing the flag with our hands over our hearts. This was our flag, our anthem and our military. And then I noticed we were not the only ones. Everyone there in the museum stopped walking, stopped talking, stopped moving and hands over their hearts they, too, faced our flag and honored this Sailor and our country. There was only honor and respect being shown. Here in the middle of a museum strangers stopped and paid tribute to our country and our military….young and old…..male and female….all races……for a moment we were all a part of this young man’s ceremony, a part of a military tradition.

I was moved to tears.

And the kids were moved by the respect shown here on this afternoon.

Our trip to DC was filled with many opportunities to learn and to see firsthand the greatness of our Country…..how our government works, the history of our government, the honor of military service, the freedom we all have to express our opinions, and how inspiring and impactful one individual can be in making things better for others.

This was a GREAT trip for many reasons, but especially because of how meaningful it all was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Great American Eclipse Trip part 3

Sunday morning came and we were up early, wanting to get started before the crowds. We had places to visit and things to do—A National Monument, a historic site, a state park and the city of Idaho Falls were on the list for the day. And what a beautiful morning for exploring!

We drove north on a 2-lane road, heading toward another out of the way National Monument. The drive took us through farmland, fields of potatoes and hay glistening in the early morning sunlight. As we drove we spotted something standing in the field, and then another….and still more….and then we realized that they were hawks, hunting in the early morning, standing in the cut hay fields. Magnificent site. We saw more hawks on that stretch of highway than on any other road trip…..simply amazing….a sweet surprise.

We drove through small towns, whose populations were 400 and 600…..yes, we were back in rural America. And then we came upon a town with a gas station and we stopped. The gas station had a small seating area and every chair was filled with one of the townsmen…..the older gentleman gathered there on a Sunday morning to talk and drink coffee. This scene made me smile. Life in a small town!

The fields and small towns, gems in our nations crown jewels.

We continued our journey, finally arriving at our first stop for the day, Craters of the Moon National Monument. It was early, but there were a lot of people already in the park and more would be coming….we needed to stay ahead of the masses……

Craters of the Moon National Monument was like entering another world. The lava flow covered everything. It was surreal….eerie…..and I thought about those early emigrants and how foreign this landscape must have seemed to them….how many wanted to turn around and go back to where they came from? Could they imagine a world beyond this barren, rippled, black landscape?

For thousands of years this land has been covered by this volcanic lava. This must be what the moon would look like……

A harsh land.

And in this harshness there was beauty….created by a flowing river of lava……and weathered over time. Beauty could be found even in the destructive forces of nature.

And life grows….finds a way to continue to flourish even in the harshest conditions. Here plants grew, flowers bloomed and animals roamed. Trees grew tall atop high cinder cones. Yes, life continues even in under extreme conditions…..

I found Craters of the Moon national monument fascinating, delighting in the flowing lava field….taking it all in. Here was another jewel in our nations crown jewels. Another example of the diversity in this country I love.

The British have their crown jewels, preserved and displayed in a tower for all to enjoy…..and we too, have our crown jewels—the diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires—found in the diversity of our country…the diversity in our land, our people and our cultures. Our jewels are found in the mountains and the valleys, the rivers and the lakes, the oceans and the plains, the cities and the farms, the parks and monuments, the battlefields and the historic sites, in the people and the cultures all across this great land. Our crown jewels are on display and preserved for all to enjoy….we just have to see them, experience them, respect them, understand them, and embrace them so that we never lose our gems!

I am forever thankful that I live in a country that is as diverse as America is. And I am grateful for a husband who loves this country and exploring it as much as I do. Together we have seen many of our nations jewels…….

One more jewel was discovered on our trip.

One more National Monument checked off the bucket list!

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Nature as the Artist

I love art. But I am not an artist. I admire those whose creativity comes through in the many art forms.

I love to see architecture, the artistry simply amazes me.

I love public art……from statues in public places to the murals painted on walls of buildings to graffiti in an alley and everything in between.

I love the art created by Christmas lights every December.

The Sistine chapel has always fascinated me, so seeing it in person left me speechless.

I love to visit art museums and local artists when we travel.

Art inspires me. Manmade art is stunning and beautiful to behold.

But natural art, created by the forces nature makes my heart sing.

As a child I loved to lay in the grass and look up at the clouds as they took on many different forms, changing as they drifted over my head. Nature as an artist at its finest.

And as a teenager I discovered the beauty in the artistry of water and wind over the red rocks of Arizona……I was awed and could not take my eyes off the sculptures created by the forces of nature.

I have always loved a forest filled with green trees, brown trunks and the many colors of wildflowers painted across the landscape. And then as an adult, I was introduced to the beauty of trees that were bare, the leaves having fallen away in autumn. I am amazed at the beauty created by those branches reaching upward and outward and thankful for the friend who taught me to “see” those trees in a new way.

Nature is quite the artist.

And my latest trip into Southern Utah reminded me once again, why I love the outdoors and just how breathtaking the artistry of nature can be.

We saw wood work—twisting and turning–beautiful–

We saw how nature painted a canvas of colors and murals on the hillsides and how water painted stripes and shaped the rocks through the ages.

We saw how the forces of water and wind can carve rock into amazing creations, that like the clouds change with the angle and the direction of the sunlight highlighting the works.

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And we saw glass….a mountain of glass in the middle of the red valley, surround by red rocks and bluffs and sand—created by water and wind……unexpected art that delighted the soul.

 

I love art.

And art created from nature is one of my favorites….it makes my heart sing and my soul dance. I could spend hours……days even…..exploring this art and never feel I have seen the same piece twice.

Nature is an amazing artist.

Facing Fear while hiking in a National Monument

When my husband planned our vacation for this summer I was ready for an adventure. Our vacations are not relaxing vacations, most of the time, anyway. Our vacations are more of an adventure, an experience, and after our adventure we usually need a vacation.

And sometimes on our adventure vacations, I learn new things about myself and I often face my fears.

This adventure had me facing my fear of heights, again, and my fear of lightning storms…both at the same time on the same hike.

I am scared of heights………I approach overlooks and edges with caution, often standing back far enough to not feel as if I will fall to what I know will be my certain death. And my husband loves to find ways to push me into facing that fear. So, with shaking legs and hands, heart beating out of my chest and a feeling that I may just pass out, I went with my husband on the hike he had chosen for us.

But this time on our hike, as I faced and conquered my fear of heights, I had to also face my fear of lightning storms, a fear brought about by a severe thunderstorm that produced a tornado when I was in first grade……….a long held fear that has me hiding under my blankets at night when lightning strikes…..a fear that grips me and keeps me from venturing outside or near an open door when I hear the first clap of thunder. I am so scared that I will be struck by lightning that I run as fast as I can if I am outside, seeking shelter from the storm……..on this hike, I couldn’t run….I was hiking and going up a steep trail when thunder came rolling in.

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Going down the stairs near the beginning of the hike.

We were in Natural Bridges National Monument. It was evening, close to sunset. And it was cloudy and lightly raining when we arrived. The rain slowed and then stopped so we headed out on our hike to Sipapu Bridge. The hike down to the canyon floor under Sipapu bridge was not long, it was only .6 miles. But it was steep, descending 500 feet in the .6 miles. There was a set of steep stairs and 3 wooden ladders along the trail to help us get to lower sections. The ladders scared me…..not being able to see where I was stepping, nor how far the ladders descended had me frozen on the rungs, unable to take that next step…..until my husband guided me, making me feel safe enough to travel down the rest of the ladder.

 

There was a moment when my fear told me that there was no way I was going down those rocks and that the view I had at that moment was close enough. We had reached a point on the trail where metal railings had been cemented into the rock so that we could hold on and not fall as we descended down the steep rock…..ugh! I saw that and froze. Nope! No need to go any further. My fear said to just look at the natural bridge from here and wait for my husband to finish the hike and return to me.

And then I realized that fear is irrational and illogical. And I was not going to let it stop me from experiencing the view from underneath the natural rock bridge. So, with my husband’s guidance and reassurance and despite my legs feeling like jello, I grabbed that railing with a grip so tight I thought I just might pull the rail out of the rock and I finished the hike down to the bottom.

It was worth every shaky, anxiety filled moment! The view beneath that bridge was breathtaking. I felt so small standing under the rocks. And I felt so proud of myself. This was one of those moments that had me glowing!

And then it was time to climb 500 feet back up out of the canyon on the return .6-mile hike. It was steep. It was scary. And my legs shook again as I walked along the edge of the rock, up the ladders and grabbed the railing with a death grip. My heart beat fast and hard, from the fear and from the exertion of climbing up the 500 feet.

We made it half way up and stopped to take in the view. How tiny we felt standing there, awed by the stunning beauty that lay before us.

And then………the thunder. My heart jumped, my body shook. I still had a long way to climb up…….a ladder and the steep set of stairs between me and the safety of our vehicle. No way was I going to stick around for lightening to strike me, or the trees around me, or the rock that I was hiking on. Time for this girl to move and move fast.

And fast we went. I forgot about the height and the drop off next to me and moved quickly up the trail, praying I would reach the top before the lightening got me.

I was almost to the top…….I could almost touch the top and could see the SUV but I couldn’t breathe, my heart was beating so hard and fast I thought it was going to jump out of my body. I reached for my husband and let me hold onto him as he helped me to the top. And once we were there, next to the SUV and finally ready to jump inside to safety………and then he made me walk some more to slow my heart rate before climbing into the safety of the SUV…..…..really? in the thunder and lightning?

I did it. Despite my fears I hiked to the bottom and back up.

I did not fall to my certain death. I did not fall and injure myself. I did not get struck by lightning and I did not die of a heart attack.

Fear is irrational, fear is illogical and fear is born of our past experiences.

But facing my fears and pushing past them allows me to see just how strong I can be and lets me experience things that the fear would have had me miss.

I survived. I took the leap. And the experience was amazing!

Chiricahua National Monument

One of my bucket list items is to visit EVERY National Park and National Monument in our country and thanks to my wandering spirited husband, who enjoys traveling and exploring as much as I do, I have been to a lot of the parks and monuments…..there are still many more to visit and some I want to go back to and explore more of.   This past weekend we crossed off another of those bucket list monuments.

This year is about saying ‘yes’ to those things that scare me or are outside my box and it is about living life to it’s fullest, silencing that voice that tells me “no, you can’t do that….you have so much you need to do and you can’t afford to take time for you”.   And I remind myself of this daily.  So when our friends asked us if we wanted to join them for a weekend get-away to do some hiking and celebrate our friend’s birthday, we said yes.  My mind and that voice said that I had a lot to do for work that weekend and I really needed to catch up on some things at home…..but my heart and my choice to celebrate life had me saying yes, let’s go! 

We visited Chiricahua National Monument, located in southeastern Arizona.  What an unexpected delight I found in this part of Arizona.  When we imagine this state, we picture the Grand Canyon, the desert, brown, dry and full of cacti and rattlesnakes.  But this state is so much more.  And here in this out of the way part of Arizona we found the unexpected and that made my soul sing. 

Chiricahua was called the land of the “Standing Up Rocks” by the Chiricahua Apache Indians and after my visit there, I can understand why. The road through the park was closed beyond the Visitor Center so we knew we would not get to see everything, but we could hike and see some of this beautiful monument.

Now when it comes to hiking my husband and I attack it very differently, much like other things in life, yet we find a way to balance it so that we both enjoy what we are experiencing. For my husband it is about the hike, the exercise, the exertion and the time spent in the outdoors, free of all of the distractions of the fast paced world we live in, communing with the nature.  And the hike is done at a pace that keeps him moving, quickly along the trail, getting in the distance he wants to accomplish while pushing his limits.  And the outdoors are his spiritual place, just as it is for me.

Hiking for me is about the feeling of accomplishment when I finish, the photography possibilities, the spiritual feeling I get from being in the outdoors, and the views.  My pace on these hikes is often slower than my husbands, partly because I stop to take pictures or to take in the view or smell a flower and partly because I am just slower, and that is okay. 

I love to take my time on a hike and really “see” what is around me. The ocean is the place I feel the closest to God and to my mom, it is where I find peace.  And time in the outdoors is the next best thing for me.  I feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and peaceful.  I see the greatness of this earth that God created and I marvel at all that is around me.  The diversity in the landscapes leaves me in awe.  The outdoors is my spiritual place. 

 

 

This hike was amazing. And the diversity of the landscape we hiked through was inspiring, leaving me so grateful that I live in this great nation, full of diverse people and land.  We left the visitor center with no real decision on how far we would hike and usually for me that is scary.  I like to know how far I am going and how long it will take.  And I like to know ahead of time, how much elevation change there will be so that I can be prepared.  Often I look at maps and back out of the long hikes…..4 miles is okay but more than that would be too much…what if I get out there and then I don’t have anything left in my legs to carry me back?  I knew this would be long, but I wanted to just take the leap and go.  And I am so glad I did! 

We went from the pine forest surrounding the visitor center to high points with views that took my breath away.  We traipsed over dirt paths, and snow packed, icy paths. And then we traveled down to the creek bed, crossing the snow covered creek, mostly empty of water, a number of times before hiking up the other side, toward the standing up rocks.  We went from winter to spring and back again.  We happened upon an animal none of us had seen before, the Coatimundi, a relative of the raccoon.  There were four of them and I was thrilled.  We walked through tall rocks, grottos and finished at the top of Echo Canyon……and then we had to turn around and go back. 

The hike, the time outdoors among the trees, rocks and animals and the time spent with friends made my heart and soul come alive and sing. I am happiest when I can be disconnected from the world for a little while, when I can find peace, the time to converse with my spiritual side and can renew my spirit. 

I did this hike and I finished.  We hiked over 9 miles that afternoon, for 5 1/2 hours.  And I did it!  One more time that I accomplished something I didn’t think I could do, I went farther than I thought I could……oh, I was SORE after the hike, but the feeling of accomplishment, the sights I saw, the time spent with friends were all worth the pain in my legs.   

I am really living when I take the leap and just see where it takes me.

And the icing on the cake is when I can cross off another item on my bucket list.