Monday, June 20, 2016

Planes Trains and Automobiles

The White's have returned from Washington DC! Well, two of us have returned, anyway. Josh is currently residing in the dorms on the University of Maryland campus before he flies out to France in a few days.

So here is my trip recap. Have a seat, it's a long one. :) 

We flew out last Saturday afternoon. As we all know, I hate airplanes, so that is always an ordeal. The crappy thing about living in Boise is that the airport isn't big and it doesn't fly to that many places, so unless you're vacationing in somewhere like Denver or Minneapolis, you're gonna have a layover. Which means I have to get on two airplanes. Which is twice the ordeal. But I survived it. Josh was with us and this is the first flight he's taken since he was little and I didn't want to make a big deal about how much I hate it, because I don't want him to hate it, so I mostly tried to keep my hatred of airplanes to myself, lol. Honestly, it wasn't that bad. Maybe I exaggerate how awful airplanes are. Just a tiny bit though. They're still kind of awful. 

Here we are at the airport. Look at us all fresh and happy and ready for an adventure! :) 

We got to DC at 11:00 at night and we were actually staying at a hotel in College Park, Maryland, because National History Day is held on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. So we had to figure out how to get from the airport in DC to College Park at night, and it's like a 30 minute drive. So we got brave and learned how to Uber. Boise has Uber, but everyone here has a car and public transportation isn't really much of a thing here, so I don't think it's a big thing here. I've never used it. It sounded scary! But we were brave and we figured it out and it's actually super easy and so convenient. We ended up using it several times on our trip. I'm glad I learned how to use it. It's kind of cool, actually. We felt like city people, lol. 

Three thousand kids and their parents descend on the University of Maryland campus every June for National History Day. All the hotels in the area are totally booked and it's a bit of a madhouse. But it's fun seeing all the kids from different states all so excited about their history projects. 

One of the funnest things they do is pin trading. Every kid that comes to NHD brings pins or buttons from their state and they trade them all week long. The goal is to get a pin from every state by the end of the week. It's a great ice breaker activity and really gets all the kids talking to each other. It was really fun to see kids in the lobby of the hotel or even at the events in downtown DC or on the subway and have them run up and ask what state you're from so they can trade pins. Pin trading is serious business at NHD! Josh had a blast with that. 

Here he is doing some pin trading:

We stayed in a hotel a couple of miles away from campus, so there was a lot of going back and forth from the hotel to campus all week. One of my least favorite parts of the week was transportation. We didn't rent a car, so getting around was tricky. There was a shuttle that went back and forth from the hotel to the campus all week, since pretty much everyone at the entire hotel were NHD families. But it was a bit of a pain to catch the shuttle at the right time, so we did a lot of waiting for that. If we wanted to go into DC, which we did several times, we had to catch the shuttle from the hotel to the campus, take a bus from campus to the metro stop, and then take the subway downtown, which could take up to an hour depending on where we were going, and usually required a subway transfer. We spent a lot of time waiting for transportation that week. Waiting for busses, waiting for subways, waiting for shuttles, waiting for Uber. Lots of waiting. We pretty much used every form of transportation I can think of besides boats on our trip! We totally should have taken a boat tour. :) 

We got really good at the DC metro system! We have very little experience with subway systems, but we were pretty proud of ourselves by the end of the week. Shawn especially is an expert at getting us on the right trains. Who knew he had that hidden talent, lol. 

Here we are on our first subway ride! Such a tourist thing to take a picture of! 

The University of Maryland campus is really nice. We got quite familiar with it during the week, especially the student union. We walked all over that campus all week.

To give you a rundown of our week, Sunday we started out at the National Zoo. We wanted to see the famous giant pandas. We saw them. It was really really hot and I wasn't all that impressed with that zoo. I love zoos in general, but that one was sort of a bust. It was my least favorite activity of the week. 

Monday we got the opportunity to do something really cool. NHD set up a private tour of the Holocaust museum in DC. We had to sign up in advance, and we were glad we chose to do it, because it was pretty neat. Next years NHD theme is Taking A Stand In History, so we got to attend some lectures and a private tour based on that theme. They showed us some exhibits at the museum about people who took a stand during the holocaust, and then we got to attend some lectures and great discussions on that topic, followed by a reception with some yummy food. It was a neat experience and we really learned a lot. After the museum we walked over to the Washington Monument, which is gigantic and cool to see, and then we decided to catch an Uber to the White House. 

I actually went to DC 20 years ago when traffic actually went in front of the White House and you could go stand in front of the fence. There is a lot more security these days and you can't get quite as close, but it's still early cool to see the White House in person. And of course we took a selfie. :)

Tuesday was a big day, it was the day Josh got to present his documentary for judging. He got dressed up and looked all handsome and professional. 

He would want me to tell you that I made him do this pose. But it's hilarious and awesome. 

Presenting his documentary was INTENSE. Holy crap, the judges were scary. I was incredibly proud of him because that was really high pressure situation and he handed it like a champ. He played his documentary for three judges in a classroom on campus and then they asked him questions. But they weren't sweet nice smiley people who asked him softball questions, it was like he was up there defending a masters thesis or something. They asked him ridiculously hard questions about the gold rush. Like, what percentage of gold miners were married and supporting families vs. how many were single men? Explain hard rock mining to us. Uhhhh....? And they had very stern faces like they were not playing around. I would have crumbled under the pressure. But one thing Josh has going for him is that he competes on his school's Academic Decathlon team and he has a lot of practice and experience with this sort of thing. He has been trained to present things, handle interviews, etc. So he handled the questions like a champ. He knows exactly how to answer a question he doesn't really know the answer to. I was really impressed with him. 

Unfortunately he didn't advance to the finals and didn't win, but I could not have been prouder of him. He worked so hard on that documentary and he really did his best. He learned a lot this year that he will use when he starts next years project. And yes, he's already planning his project for next year!

After the pressure of competing, we headed off on the adventure I was most nervous about. Some of the other people from the Idaho group decided they wanted to do a three hour sunset bike tour of downtown DC. Now, we all know how much I love bikes. But three hours? Downtown? In the heat? I am so out of shape. I was imagining all the worst case scenarios where I wouldn't be able to do it and someone would have to carry me and my bike back to the bike shop, lol. I was really really nervous about it. 

We got to the bike shop at 6pm. There were about 10 or so of us signed up for the guided tour. Our tour guides were awesome. We got our bikes picked out, put our helmets on, and we were off, riding on the streets in downtown DC traffic. It was scary for a few minutes, but our guides knew exactly where to go and what they were doing and then it was pretty much the coolest thing ever! The weather totally cooperated. It was in the high 70's with a breeze. Perfect. And miraculously, I could actually do it and keep up! It was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever done. We spent three hours riding around DC and to all the memorials. It wasn't three hours on the bikes, we got off frequently to check out the memorials. We rode past the White House, we rode to the Washington Monument, we rode to the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR memorial, the MLK Memorial and then as the sun was setting we rode to the reflecting pool, the war memorials and the Lincoln Memorial. An absolutely gorgeous evening, beautiful views, amazing memorials, just the best night ever. I loved every second of it. I will never forget that night. It was the best part of the whole trip. If you ever go to DC, you absolutely must do it. Capital City Bike Tours. Look them up and go do it. Even if you're out of shape and think three hours on a bike sounds like it might kill you. It won't, go do it. 

Here we are having the best night ever!

Did I mention that it was the best night EVER? I loved it. 

The bike tour ended at 9pm. We still had to make the hour subway trip back to College Park. They are currently working on the subway system in DC, especially at night, so the subways are occasionally backed up, crowded and slow. We were SO hot and tired after the bike trip and the journey back to our hotel was both hilarious and ridiculous. The subways were absolutely packed, twice they stopped and kicked us all off and said they were done for the night and we had to wait for another train to come along, and it was just a long, silly, weird, crowded adventure. 

Here were are crammed on a subway. I can't explain to you why this is funny. It just is. You had to be there. Everything is funnier and dumber when you're tired. That's just all I have to say about that, lol. 

OH! And here's a story that Josh won't want me to tell but I'm going to tell anyway because it's adorable! Sorry Josh. :) We happened to be on the subway that night with some other NHD kids who were trying to get back to College Park. While we were all crammed like sardines on the train, there was an absolutely adorable NHD girl who kept giving Josh the look. You know the look, lol. They finally struck up a very flirty conversation and Shawn and I and the girls dad all chuckled and tried to pretend that we weren't there. He got her number, took a picture with her and texted her the rest of the trip. She was adorable. He's adorable. The whole thing was adorable. He actually met up with her again at the Smithsonian later in the week for a few minutes. Adorable. 

Wednesday we headed back out to DC to visit the National Art Gallery. This was one of Josh's bucket list items, so it was a big deal. Ever since Josh was five years old, he has loved Vincent Van Gogh. Josh was not a typical five year old, lol. We spent months when he was five pouring over books on Van Gogh. The only thing he wanted for Christmas that year was a framed print of Van Gogh's Langlois Bridge At Arles. It was the most expensive gift I bought anyone that year! It still hangs in his room to this day. He loves Van Gogh. And Wednesday was the day he was going to see a Van Gogh in person for the very first time. He went into that museum like most kids walk into Disney World. He was SO excited! We asked the front desk guy to point us in the direction of Van Gogh and we made a beeline for it. 

I wish you all could have been there to witness it. We walked into the room with the Van Gogh's and it was magical. Josh got teary, I got teary, we stood in front of his self portrait like a bunch of crying weirdos. There it was, a real Van Gogh. Josh couldn't stop staring at it. He examined it from every angle. We marveled at the brush strokes, we couldn't believe we were seeing it. The guard finally had to come over and tell us to back up because I think we were making him nervous, lol. We weren't going to touch it, of course, but I think the guard wasn't quite sure, lol. It was a really cool moment. A really really REALLY cool moment. A picture can't begin to convey what a cool moment that was. 

After we composed ourselves and left the Van Gogh room, we walked around the museum and saw so many other cool things! We saw Monets water lilies! Which by the way, was good timing, because Josh is visiting Monet's garden on his trip to France. Lucky. We went to the modern art section and saw a Jackson Pollock's Lilac Mist!! It was a really really great day. 

Except for one thing. My feet. My feet had been bothering me somewhat through the whole trip, and by Wednesday I was in a lot of pain and my feet were swollen up like balloons. By the end of the art museum I could barely walk. We still had a bunch of things planned, but I was starting to become concerned about the state of my feet. So after much discussion and deliberation, I decided to leave the boys in DC and I took an Uber back to College Park. I spent the rest of the day with my feet on ice. 

The boys spent that evening at the American History Museum. I'm bummed that I missed it, but they had a great time.

Thursday was the awards ceremony for NHD. Josh didn't win and I stayed at the hotel with my feet up, but they had a good time at the ceremony anyway. 

Thursday afternoon was the day I had been dreading. It was time to transfer Josh over to the dorm he would be staying in for the France trip. The France trip is done by the NHD people, so they plan it to start right when NHD ends. The group spends several days in the dorms in the UofM campus before going to France. There are 15 kids and 15 teachers on the trip. The dorm they're staying in is actually brand new, it was just built last year, I think. So as far as college dorms go, it's really nice. I was impressed. Plus, it's empty except for them, so they get the whole nice thing to themselves. So we went over there and got him checked in. We were one of the first ones to arrive. I helped him make his bed, we hung up his clothes, we found the bathroom and the laundry room. Then I told him to sit on the bed so I could take his picture. He sat down on the dorm bed, I took one look at him and burst into tears. Ugh. So many mom emotions. We had just spent this absolutely amazing week with him and now we were saying goodbye, and seeing my baby sitting in a dorm room was just a little too real. He's so grown up and independent and all of a sudden I realized that my baby isn't a baby anymore. But I'm apparently a big baby because I stood there and cried in a dorm room like I was sending my kid off to war or something. It's only two weeks. I know it's only two weeks. But, ugh. I'm a mom. I'm entitled to the occasional my-baby-is-growing-up-too-fast meltdown.

So Thursday evening we said our goodbyes and left him in the dorms. I went back to the hotel room and cried some more. 

Friday morning we got up bright and early and headed home. Two more airplanes. I survived. 

Unfortunately my feet haven't survived so well. We've been home for two days and I still can't walk. I'm actually a little concerned that I might have a stress fracture in my left foot. It's fine as long as I'm sitting, but I can't walk on it. If it doesn't feel better in the next day or two I'm going to go have it x-rayed. 

Josh is still on campus in Maryland, having a great time. We text pretty frequently, so I'm getting the play by play. Saturday night they got to go to a really fancy dinner at the Decatur house, across from the White House, that was put on by the White House historical society. It was a super fancy suit and tie dinner. Josh has never been to anything that fancy, but he said it was really cool. He was excited because they gave all the kids boxes of White House Jelly Belly's. :) 

Yesterday they visited the war memorials and they have attended several lectures on WWII. At the fancy dinner they actually got to meet a WWII vet who gave a speech. So cool!

For the next few days there will be more lectures, a visit to Arlington Cemetery, and then they're going to be doing research at the National Archives. On Thursday they fly to France! He's going to have such an amazing time. I'm so excited for him that he has this opportunity. He's never going to forget it. I miss him like crazy, but this is a great experience for him. 

So there you go. The very long version of our awesome trip to DC! We really had an amazing time. I'm grateful that we had the opportunity to do it. Taking a trip with just one kid was actually really special, and it has made me realize that I want to do that with Matthew and Clarissa when they're in high school. The one on one time with Josh was really great. This is a trip none of us will ever forget. 

And now that I'm home, I'm moving on to something else exciting! While we were in DC I got my official college acceptance letter. I'm officially a full time college student! This week I'm figuring out what classes I need and getting registered for the fall semester. I'm really nervous about going full time, but ready to get started. Life is exciting around here lately!! :) 

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