Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas in DC

Christmas at the Capitol
US Capitol Christmas Tree
Christmas is almost here! As I am writing this, Christmas is about two weeks away. One thing I love about big cities is that there are always lots of Christmas festivities. So far I have had two great Christmas weekends here in DC and plan on having another in NYC next week. 

Two weekends ago I was lucky enough to have my mom (you can see her blog here) in town and we had a great weekend together. 

Saturday we went to Middleburg, Virginia for their "Hunt" and Christmas parade. Middleburg is a nice little town about an hour outside of DC. We met my friend Samantha there and together we decided that Middleburg is very much a real life Stars Hollow (from Gilmore Girls). It is a small town of great people, shops, food, and traditions. 

The Middleburg Hunt
The Hunt is one of their great traditions.  It takes place in the morning and pays tribute to the rich fox hunting history in the area.  First the lead horses and the hounds come through followed by others on their horses in their full fox hunting regalia. 

We also got a special Christmas treat, we got to tour the White House and see all of the Christmas decorations!! 

This was really unexpected. Typically you have to schedule a tour of the White House through your senator or congressman's office at least a month in advance and even then there is no guarantee that you will get it because of the White House's rigorous schedule. But lucky for us, my office received an email about last minute tour openings the week before my mom came! We applied and were accepted!

 My mom was especially excited about this because she watches the White House Christmas Special on HGTV every year and this year she got to see it all for herself! The White House Gingerbread House is always one of our favorite parts of the show. 

White House Gingerbread House
This is the best photo of us but our confirmation email said that we could not bring cameras or bags on the tour. Being the rule followers we are, we didn't bring a camera other than the ones on our phones. As it turns out it was some type of special tour day and you could bring cameras. Luckily we were able to get some photos on our phones. They may not be the best quality but at least we have them!

This past weekend was my second Christmas weekend. Timing has definitely been on my side lately (knock on wood) and one of my best friends since middle school was in Maryland with her work and came to visit me for the weekend. We had a great time catching up and got to do some DC Christmas activities along with my friend Samantha. 

Ice Skating on the National Mall

It was quite a marathon of a day but it was totally worth it. After visiting a museum and doing some exploring we went ice skating at the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall. I don't know how many times in life I will get to go ice skating in front of the National Archives which holds some of the greatest documents of our country so I had to take advantage while the weather was warm. 

 We also went to see Zoolights at the National Zoo! Although I think we were the only ones there over the age of 20 without kids we still had a great time! 

Christmas Lights at the National Zoo

Christmas Lights at the National Zoo

 Finally we wrapped up the evening with a trip to the White House to see the National Christmas tree! 

White House Christmas Tree

Although both weekends were packed full and a little tiring, they were both a great way to wind down my time here in DC. 
But no worries, I leave Saturday but still have several DC blog posts that I have not been able to post yet that I will post after I return to SC. 

Oh and one more thing...


I gave my mom a very special gift this year that you can give too! My mom is a former teacher (still one at heart) and education is very close to her heart so this year, in her honor, I gave the gift of education to girls in Pakistan and you can too by clicking here! Every dollar counts and every dollar helps! To learn more, visit my friend Caroline's blog here. She is working in Pakistan and doing some pretty incredible things there. Now, go do something awesome!!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Monuments at Night

Sorry I haven't been able to post as frequently as before, things have been a little hectic. However I did want to tell you about one of my favorite things I've done here in DC and it is definitely a must for everyone who comes here, the monuments at night tour. 
Washington Monument at Dusk
Washington Monument at Sunset
I did my tour with Bike and Roll which does bike and segway tours as well as bike rentals in DC and other big cities around the country. I did my tour with them mainly because I like to bike but there are also other companies that do monument tours and other DC sites if that is what you prefer. Or you may not even want to pay for a tour if you just want to see and take pictures of the monuments and if that is the case you can just walk (or bike) around on your own. 

Personally, I am a trivia and history junky so I (usually) like guided tours to learn interesting facts, some of which I will share with you on my blog and, although there are lots of people at the monuments and security,  I thought it would be safer to go with a group of people. However, you may think this is a waste of money for something you can find on wikipedia and I would still encourage you to at least see all the monuments at night sans the tour group.

World War II Memorial
Lincoln Memorial and the WWII Memorial at Sunset

If you are worried about the bike ride being too long, especially if you do not bike frequently, I would not worry about it too much. They have arranged the tour in a very "rider friendly" way. You bike to each of the sites, stop and listen to the tour guide give facts and other info about the monument, take pictures for a few minutes, and then finally ride to the next site. It is also a very easy riding pace. 

A few tips for your tour: 
1. When booking ask for a discount. Most tour companies give a $5-$10 discount if you say you saw their brochure or their ad in the DC visitor's guide, both of which are available at hotels. Even if you aren't staying at a local hotel you can go in and browse their brochures. Also, if it is a bike tour you can get a discount for bringing your own bike. Unfortunately they would not let me use both the bike discount and the visitor's guide discount. 

Me and my bike at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial 

2. Make sure your camera battery is charged. I thought that mine was charged from the weekend before but my camera, even if turned off, loses charge when it isn't being used. I did get some shots on it but not as many as I would have liked. Thankfully, iPhone cameras aren't half bad. Not great, but not bad either. 

Reflecting Pool at Night
One of the last photos I took before my camera completely died
3. Check your tour time and how long the tour is and if necessary make sure you eat dinner before hand. My tour was about three hours and because I am typically a late dinner eater and therefore did not eat dinner beforehand my stomach was growling so loudly by the time we got to Thomas Jefferson that even he felt bad for me. 

Below is a map of the sites we visited (the map is from google images and then I edited it with the Skitch app for iPad/iPhone which is really awesome!). 


We started at Bike and Roll at the Old Post Office Pavilion right by the Federal Triangle Metro station.  From there we biked on the National Mall to the following:

1. The Washington Monument

2. The White House

3. The World War II Memorial

WWII Memorial

 4. Vietnam Memorial (the wall and the names on the wall are kind of hard to photo at night/didn't show up at all)

 5. Lincoln Memorial 

6. Korean War Memorial 

7. Martin Luther King, JR Memorial

MLK Memorial

8. Franklin Roosevelt Memorial 

9. Thomas Jefferson Memorial 

After this we rode back to Bike and Roll via the Mall and saw the Capitol Building. 

US Capitol at Night

Here are some more of my favorite photos from the night. I plan on writing more later about each of the monuments but that's all for now! 

WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial

Washington Monument
WWII Memorial and Washington Monument 

Korean War Memorial 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Awesome Year- November

I know that I have been doing my awesome year posts in order but this one just happened and I cannot wait! It happened two days ago and I am still smiling about it. 

So I was struggling with what this month's awesome thing should be. It gets really hard to come up with these things after a while. So I went home to SC for Thanksgiving and the Sunday night after my mom, dad, and I were going to see The Story Tour in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Christian Music
Everyone singing at the end
If you don't know what The Story is or have not heard Music Inspired by the Story, well you are seriously missing out! The Story is a Bible study written by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee and it is the Bible written in easy to read, novel form and the idea is that churches can go through it one year. So if that's not cool enough they made a cd to accompany it! And if that is not cool enough all of the music is written by my favorite artist Nichole Nordeman and musical genius Bernie Herms.

Natalie Grant and Nichole Nordeman
Nichole Nordeman and Natalie Grant singing I'm with You

The cd is a two cd set divided into the Old Testament and New Testament and each song is written from the perspective of a famous Bible character and sung by a different Christian singer. It features tons of awesome people like Natalie Grant, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Mac Powell from Third Day, Mark Hall from Casting Crowns, Francesca Battistelli, Mandisa, Chris Tomlin and many more.  For a full list click here. Obviously it is kind of difficult to get all of those people scheduled on the same tour so it was only a sampling of them but still completely awesome!

Natalie Grant
Natalie Grant Singing Alive! 
So if going to see a bunch of Christian music all-stars perform wasn't cool enough, we saw it from the 3rd row. And even better, they had a full orchestra and band! It was beyond awesome, incredible, or even amazing! The music was incredible, the artists were incredible, Randy Frazee telling the story of the Bible between songs was incredible. It was all around incredible!!

As if all of that was not awesome enough (and did I mention incredible), it got better!! Nichole Nordeman is on the tour and she recently published her first book Love Story which I read in about 24 hours (this is a real feat considering I am a painfully slow reader). I could not put it down. Each sentence and phrase was so beautifully and artfully crafted I could have highlighted each one. And funny too! Nichole Nordeman certainly has the gift of storytelling and weaving humor, pain, and life into a tapestry of Biblical truths. 

Christian Music
The guys singing Empty
As if all of that was not awesome enough (and did I mention incredible), it got better!! Nichole Nordeman is on the tour and she recently published her first book Love Story which I read in about 24 hours (this is a real feat considering I am a painfully slow reader). I could not put it down. Each sentence and phrase was so beautifully and artfully crafted I could have highlighted each one. And funny too! Nichole Nordeman certainly has the gift of storytelling and weaving humor, pain, and life into a tapestry of Biblical truths. 

So I took my copy of Love Story just in case she had the opportunity for an autograph. The show ended and as my parents and I were filing out in front of the stage I spotted her back stage. My mom just happened to have a pen and I decided I would wait a few minutes to see if anything played out. I thought that maybe if I was lucky a stage hand or a security guard would take the book over and have her sign it and bring it back. I thought if I was REALLY lucky she would see me, book in hand, and come over and sign it. I had no idea that I would be really REALLY REALLY lucky. A tour crew guy came over to talk to someone he knew and saw me with my book and asked if I was "waiting on Nichole?" (he said it so casually like I might actually know her). I explained that I was just hoping she would sign my book. He then said, "How about you meet her?" It was one of those moments that I feel like never happens to me. I was somehow able to utter yes and the nice man pulled out a meet and greet pass so that I could not only meet Nichole Nordeman but all of the other artists on the tour! Unfortunately he only had one left and didn't have any for my parents, but the nice folks at the Gwinnette Arena let them come with me. They took us back to a back room with 50-60 people and waited a little bit for the artists to come one by one and talk to each family and sign autographs. 

All of the artists were so nice! I'm not much of talker so it took me a few minutes to warm up to talking to people I have looked up to for most of my life. Nichole Nordeman signed my book and was so gracious. After she moved out of ear shot I looked at my mom and said, "Wasn't she soooo nice!!!" and my mom graciously acted like I wasn't a 13 year old girl who just met Justin Bieber. 

By the time Natalie Grant came around I was quite giddy and talkative. I told her how much I admired her and the work that she had done with Abolition International and fighting human trafficking which is something I am also very passionate about (and you can learn more about that by clicking here). We talked for a few minutes about Abolition International and music, how awesome her husband Bernie Herms is, and twitter (she also gave me high five, so we're practically best friends now right? Just kidding). 

We also met Bernie Herms, Mark Hall, Jeremy Camp, Matthew West, Todd Smith and Amy Perry of Selah, Christian rapper Rawsrvnt, and Randy Frazee.

Unfortunately, the tour was headed to Tampa that night so they were a little short on time and asked us not to take pictures so the best I can do is post these: 

Like I said, it was an amazing night! I have woken up every morning since with a smile on my face, and will probably wake up tomorrow the same way. If the tour is coming near you, be sure to go see it! The music is almost as incredible as the message it presents.  

For more awesome things I've done click here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Veteran's Day Tour

Happy late Veteran's Day!
Me and my bike in front of the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial
I wanted to write this post right after Veteran's day but because Congress was back in session the week was busier than I thought it would be. 

Let me start by saying I love Veteran's Day. It is a beautiful day set aside to honor and thank those who have served our country by fighting for and protecting our rights and freedoms. That being said I was really excited to be in our nation's capitol for this special day. 

I started searching what was going on DC for Veteran's Day more than a month ago. I was really disappointed to find out that DC does not have a Veteran's Day parade. Even the small town I grew up in has a Veteran's Day parade, and it has always been one of my favorite parts of growing up in a small town. The local National Guard always rolled out a tank or two and a Hummer, and helicopter. It was something my brother and I looked forward to every year and it gave our parents the opportunity to help us understand the sacrifice all of those in our military have made and how it is important and the least we can do to thank them. 

So I still wanted this to be a special day and since DC does not have a parade I decided to do my own little Veteran's Day tour. Thankfully it was a great sunny day for a bike ride. I started out riding down the National Mall, past the Lincoln Memorial, and over the Potomac River. It was a great view of the Potomac and you could even see the National Cathedral. 
Potomac River with National Cathedral in the distance
After crossing the Potomac into Virginia, I headed over to Arlington National Cemetery. 

A beautiful fall day at Arlington National Cemetery

If you have never been before this is a must see if you are in DC. If you have been before, then I'm sure I do not need to convince you to return. 

Although I have been before, I am always shocked by how many of the white headstones there are. If you are standing in the middle of the cemetery and look out at the rows and rows of headstones, it looks like they go on and on and never end. The view generates a wide variety of emotions: sadness, pride, nostalgia, patriotism mixed with a sense of awe at the beauty of it all.  
Arlington National Cemetery

After getting there and getting my bearings, I checked my watch and it was a few minutes after the hour meaning I had about 45 minutes to explore before the next changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the fall, winter and spring the guard changes every hour on the hour and in the summer it changes on every hour and half hour. 

While I was waiting for the next changing of the guard, I went to the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy. JFK's gravesite sits just below Arlington House and has a beautiful view of the cemetery and the Washington Monument and the US Capitol. 

The gravesite of JFK, his wife, their still born daughter and son who died 15 weeks before JFK. 

Looking out from the gravesite there is part of JFK's famous 1961 inaugural address ("Ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country") carved into the granite. It is such a beautiful and eloquent speech and is more than appropriate for not only JFK's gravesite, but also for the grave sites of so many who gave all that they could for their country, they gave their lives. 

President Kennedy Gravesite
View of DC from JFK Gravesite
Not far away from JFK's gravesite is Robert F. Kennedy's gravesite. In the picture below you can see a little bit of Arlington House at the top of the hill. I didn't make it up there on this trip but maybe next time I will. 

Robert F. Kennedy's Gravesite
One reason I posted this picture is because I was hoping someone out there could help me solve a mystery. If you notice on and around the grave people have placed different coins. I tried googling it but could not find what this signified. I read that leaving coins on military headstones is meant to send a message to the family with each denomination meaning something different. Leaving a penny simply means that you were there and visited, a nickel means you trained in bootcamp together, a dime means that you served with the deceased in some capacity, and a quarter means that you were with the person when they died. Robert F. Kennedy did serve in the military but because there are so many quarters and Kennedy did not die in military service I did not know if there was any other significance. 

After visiting the Kennedy grave sites I started making my way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I wanted to get there early so that I could get a good seat. 

I love the beauty and honor of the ceremony. I remember after my last visit I did a good bit of research on the Tomb Guards. I think I will save it for another post but if you would like to do some research on your own before then click here or here.

Unfortunately, for the actual Changing of the Guard I decided to take a video and was planing on posting clips of it but there was a major glitch in that plan. My phone froze up because it ran out of memory while recording it so it only saved the first few minutes of the ceremony and when I went to transfer what I had from my phone to iPhoto on my laptop it refuses to transfer. So if you would like to view the ceremony from the comfort of your own computer click here.

Directly behind where you stand to view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a small museum with a variety of medals and different things about the 3rd Infantry and the Old Guard (the division of soldiers that tomb guards are chosen from as well as the burial details at Arlington). I have been to it before but it is closed on Mondays so I was unable to visit on this trip. However, there was a section open that I had never seen before. If you walk around towards the amphitheater, like you are going to the restroom, you will see the door where the Tomb Guards enter and exit. Inside the door is a case with a mannequin dressed in a Tomb Guard's uniform so you can see it up close and a case with different medals, flags, and other awards. All of these have some relation to the Tomb Guards. Below is a picture of the medals of a Tomb Guard who was killed in Vietnam. This display further exemplifies what type men the guards are and the sacrifice they are willing to make for our country. 

There are lots of memorials and things to see at Arlington National Cemetery. If you know someone who is buried there you can look up where the grave is before you go or at the visitor's center. For a list of all of the different memorials click here.

Unfortunately, it looked like it was about to rain so I was not able to see many because I was on my bike I wanted to get back into DC and a little closer to home if it did rain. I was able to see a few on my way out though. 

Memorials to those who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle, the Iran Rescue Mission of 1980,
and the Columbia Space Shuttle. 
USS Maine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
Mast of the USS Maine which was destroyed in Havana, Cuba in 1898. 
Finally when leaving the cemetery I stopped by what I think is one of the most iconic memorials in the world but especially in DC, the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial. It is not actually in Arlington Cemetery but just outside of it. There is a walking/biking path around to it or you can drive (it is about a mile walk/ride so if you are in a hurry you may just want to drive). 

There is also a great view of the city at the memorial. Below is one of my favorite photos I've taken while in DC. 

Iwo Jima Memorial DC

I wish I would have taken a picture of the quote on the side but didn't think about it at the time. It reads, "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue." I think that is the perfect quote for Veteran's Day. It is something we too often forget and sometimes need to be reminded of that without the valor of those who serve and have given their lives for our country we would be unable to enjoy the freedoms and the life we do today.