The Epic Weird Squirrel Adventure: Libraries and Fake Supreme Courts


Oh, look!  Minerva has come down to bestow some knowledge upon you, frail mortal!  Try to look happy about it.  The Latin inscription says: “Not unwilling, Minerva raises a monument more lasting than bronze.”  It’s from Ars Poetica by Horace.  If this doesn’t convince you of the hubris of Congress, nothing will.

In Which Brooke is Continually Frustrated at the Cool Things She’s Can’t Photograph

Yes, I realize I have a problem.  Pfffft- what’s the point of visiting the main reading room of the Library of Congress if you can’t pop a million flash bulbs at it?

[scuffs foot in dust] At least the entryway was spectacular enough to merit a few zillion snapshots.



I’m serious, if you didn’t think Congress was a wee bit full of itself, geez.  This isn’t even the library — it’s the LOBBY!   Just how many frescoes does one lobby need?  

P1070614 P1070617 P1070618

The LIC is insane.  And very important, at least from a librarianship perspective.  Those of you who fear that the U.S. is in decline, rest assured that we still rule the global roost when it comes to library cataloging.

[Below: Jeffrey and Eleanor slump exhaustedly on a bench whilst nymphs prance in their midst]


Is it just me, or does the below image look like Apollo is giving someone a pie?  Surely it is a Pie of Wisdom.


I, for one, was quite taken with the quotes about books and reading tucked here and there under the windows.  Yes, I took the time to look up the sources for you, YOU’RE WELCOME.

Sir Francis Bacon

— Francis Bacon


I was ready to guess Shakespeare on this one, but no: Milton.

Philip Sydney

— Philip Sydney, from his epic poem, “Noble Thoughts Are My Homies.”

Thomas Carlyle

— Thomas Carlyle.  Amen to that, bro.  That, and maybe a collection of YouTube videos.

Other points of interest: we saw a handwritten draft of the Gettysburg Address, penned by Abe himself, and the original collection of books that Thomas Jefferson donated to Congress for start up the library.  It included his copy of Utopia.  Nice, right?

I love these funny faces that were tucked into the decorative painting.


The Supreme Court

. . . was covered head-to-toe in scaffolding in an effort to clean up the exterior.  Fortunately, the powers that be were courteous enough to print a giant picture  of the building on the scaffolding, so photo-grubbing tourists like me wouldn’t be forced to take a shot of a big plastic-covered box.  Cold comfort.


Inside was . . . nobody!  Just the lingering aura of constitutional justice, thank you very much.


Plus another pretty ceiling.  I really have a problem.


The National Gallery

This was one of my favorite places to go when I was a teenager.  Back then, I used to daydream about growing up, having a family, and bringing my own children to the museum.  Some dreams do come true.


I will admit that the nostalgia factor was up pretty high.  We didn’t have time to swing by my hometown to show the kids my old home, so this was the next best thing.

Here’s my tip about taking photos in galleries: you can generally get away with it if nobody’s looking and you don’t use a flash.  Especially in the Louvre, it’s like Parisians have just given up on policing cameras.  Except when you use a flash.  Then people shake their fingers and say “Noooo le flash!”

True story.


Jeff & George


Ella & Tom


Kathryn & Sargent (not pictured: Kathryn.  She really loved this portrait)


Ella & Ophelia — I mainly took a picture of this one because Brian and I saw this exact same painting when we went to London as newlyweds.  Why do I love Pre-Raphaelite art so much??


General Monet Exhaustion (Brian and I have been known to fall asleep in the presence of Monet, back in our wild youthful days before we had children)


We enjoyed this museum so much that we decided to return the following morning; Eleanor patiently went through an entire traveling Albrecht Durer exhibit, with me describing and asking her questions about all the paintings and engravings.  New discovery: Eleanor is really good with art museums.  I need to take her to more of ’em.

I am including the following image pretty much because it depicts my favorite part of Dante’s Inferno.  What, you didn’t know there was a steamy reading-a-book-together scene in L’Inferno?  Hie thee to the library, lest Minerva strike thee with a curse!  Or takes a whack at you with her scroll!




Crazy space-saga walkway!


Pyramids!  (Take thatLouvre!)



Underground waterfall!  Dude, I love that waterfall.  So good to see it again.


ANNNNND . . . .

The First Weird Squirrel

It was an albino squirrel, hanging out behind the National Gallery.  The stuff of legends.



ALBINO.  SQUIRREL.  With red eyes and everything!  If I ever become an evil overlord, I’m definitely going to get an albino squirrel.  It can perch on my shoulder and I shall nourish it with the despair of my enemies.  [rubs hands together]


Coming Up: Mega Museum Blitz, Featuring Alligator Stew

The Epic Weird Squirrel Adventure: Senatorial Subway


The sainted Kathryn knows her way around a travel itinerary.  The most brilliant of her many ideas: arranging a private tour of the U.S. Capitol building with the office of Orrin Hatch.  (Why Orrin Hatch?  As Kathryn put it, “there’s no way I want to be in debt to Mike Lee for a favor.”)  A lovely intern named Stephanie showed us around — just us, no big group of 50+ people.  And we got to see a lot of extra places that the usual tour groups don’t go.  Like, for instance, the tunnel and mini-subway that connects the senate office buildings with the Capitol.

P1070538 P1070540 Yes, I felt like a big cheesy tourist taking photos of everything, Stephanie admitted that she did the exact same thing when she first arrived in D.C.  She even pointed out this cool skylight as a neat photo opportunity:


Big Statues

Both the visitor’s center and the Capitol proper have these giant statues tucked into odd corners.  Apparently each state was asked to contribute two statues of a hero or well-known figure from that state.  Such as King Kamehamehah from Hawai’i (“Hawaiians say that this is a life-sized statue,” said Stephanie):


The kids loved Helen Keller.  I really need to watch The Miracle Worker with them:


And while I have no strong feelings about Ronald Reagan, I will say it’s pretty awesome that the pillar his statue rests on includes a layer of stonework from the Berlin Wall.

P1070608 P1070609

The Crypt

This white star on the floor represents the “crypt” of the building.  Apparently they originally planned to entomb George Washington here, but Washington wouldn’t hear of it.  Who can blame him?  No matter how much I love my job, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be buried there.


I did love the dome above the crypt.  (You will notice a lot of photos of architectural details in these travel posts.  I love me some decorated ceiling.)


Thomas Jefferson recommended that a lot of the pillars in the Capitol be topped with symbols representing the U.S.A.’s agricultural values.  Hence, the “corncob capitals” and “tobacco capitals.”


The stone floors of the crypt also have interesting footprints on them, and nobody really knows why.  There are even these cat’s paw-prints.  Stephanie told us that there’s a story about a ghost cat who wanders the halls of the Capitol. My kids weren’t buying it.


Rooms That Are Famous for What They Used to Be

Such as . . .the Old Supreme Court chamber, where the Dred Scott case was decided.  The clock on the wall is famously set 5 minutes fast because one of the old-timey justices liked it that way to try and hurry people along with their business.  Time management was still in its infancy back then, you know.

P1070558 And this is the beautiful room that used to be the House of Representatives, and is now called the Statuary.


It’s lovely, but unfortunately the vaulted ceilings made for a strong echo effect that made congressional debate impossible.


You hear stories about 19th-century congressmen beating each other up with canes on the House floor, I can’t help but imagine that the frustrating echoy air somehow contributed.  I’ll readily admit that it would drive me nuts.


YES YES MORE DOME PICTURES.  I love domes!  Heaven help me if I ever to go to Italy . . .


Painted Hallways


Amazing, right?  These frescoes were painted by an Italian immigrant named Constantino Brumidi, and they are all over the place.  It was Brumidi’s idea to paint them (he took a tour and was found the blank walls irresistible).  I had no idea the hallways of the U.S. Capitol were so ornate, and I couldn’t get enough of ’em.

P1070567 P1070570 P1070573 P1070576

Obviously, not all of the frescoes were done by Brumidi, such as this one of the first moon landing . . .


. . . and this one of the Challenger astronauts.


The floors were covered with mosaic tile.  The temptation to sock-skate was high.

P1070563 P1070601

I loved this tiny shield detail.


The Rotunda

(You will note that Jeffrey is right at the side of Stephanie the Intern in the photo below.  He is asking her a constant barrage of questions about the building.  That’s how he was for the entire tour.  I tell you, give that boy a tour guide and he’s happy for life.)


Brumidi painted most of this, too, including the famous “Apotheosis of George Washington,” in the tip-top center of the dome.  Considering how anti-monarchial Washington was, I wonder what he’d think of that.  Geez Louise, 19th-century Americans!  What is it with you guys and the almost literal Washington-worship?


Washington is seated at about 7:00, with a pink robe in his lap.  It gets chilly up there in that dome.


A long mural circles the dome, chronicling U.S. history.  Brumidi wasn’t able to finish the mural before he died in the 1880s — actually, Brumidi gave up on it after falling off of some scaffolding — which is why the mural continues on up to the Wright Brothers’ plane at Kitty Hawk, when a 20th-century artist was hired to finish the job.  The maiden with the shield in the middle of this photo represents History.  Just to the right is Christopher Columbus.


What We Couldn’t Photograph

This will be a recurring theme on this trip — too often, the most interesting things we saw were in places that prohibited photography.  In the case of the Capitol, that included our brief sit-ins in galleries of the House and Senate. There was nothing of interest happening in the House — although we were pleased to discover that the seals of all 50 states are inscribed on the House ceiling.  Cameos of famous lawmakers throughout history are pictured on the walls.  (Like Hammurabi.  Can’t beat a good Hammurabi reference.)

However, we were able to be present in the Senate for the opening of the afternoon session.  Did you know they start with a prayer?  And the Pledge of Allegiance?  After the opening, we were pleased to see Harry Reid take the floor and give a passionate albeit soft-spoken speech about the damaging effects of sequestration.  There were only two other senators there to hear it, but senate records are public, and we were tickled to read quotes from Reid’s speech in the Washington Post the next morning.  Oooooo, civic pride!

Tomorrow: Walls Are More Fun With Quotes

The Epic Weird Squirrel Adventure: Part One


Here’s my theory: my sainted mother-in-law, Kathryn, really loves her children, and she really loves her grandchildren.  But the grandchildren (my kids) live on the West Coast, and other children live on the East Coast.  What to do?  What to do?

The most obvious answer, of course: bring the grandchildren on a tour of the East Coast!  Specifically Washington, D.C. and surrounding touristy areas.  Yes, this all really happened.  About a month ago to be specific, right on the heels of Eleanor’s baptism and a whole week of Paw-Paw Days.

I was chosen as chaperone.  Whee!  I went to high school in the suburbs of D.C., so it was doubly exciting to revisit my old stomping grounds.  Jeffrey and Eleanor were chosen for the trip; the little guys stayed behind with Dad.  (Of course, now the sainted Kathryn is now planning for the little guys to have their own trip to Boston in 5 years.  Because we just can’t get enough of that sweet intra-continental travel stuff.)

In other words, this blog is about to take a long detour into travelogue land.  And yes, there will be two weird squirrels.  But more on them later.


Our first real outing into the city was with Aunt Natalie and Uncle Michael.  Natalie works as an attorney in town, and has a small (but lovely) apartment just two blocks away from the White House.  We met her and Michael there and took the Metro up to the

National Zoo


To tell the truth, this wouldn’t have been on my personal travel itinerary, but Natalie really, really wanted to show her niece and nephew the panda.  And who am I to stand in the way of such enthusiasm for fuzzy roly-poliness?  I even brought Natalie a copy of Mrs. Harkness and the Panda (excellent children’s nonfiction title from 2012) as a thank-you gift.

I remember seeing Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing back when I was a teenager.  This time we saw . . . Mei Xiang, I think.


Boy, can she chew that bamboo!  These photos were taken in a panda-ravenous crowd of about 60 people, all simultaneously straining necks, hoisting smartphones into the air, and shoving small children to the front for a better look.


We had all brought bowls of frozen yogurt into the zoo with us.  Mango fro-yo with fudge sauce and pandas: you really can’t beat that combination.  Seeing all seven of us parade by with the treats caused more than one child in the zoo to complain, “but look, Mom, everyone here is eating yogurt!  Why can’t I have some?”


The White House: a.k.a. Natalie’s Backyard

This (above photo) was as close as we could get, owing to the Boston Marathon bombings.  Security was amped up.


I was charmed to see that the exact same anti-nuclear protest that I saw in the 90s was still there.  Which meant that I was immediately bombarded with questions from Jeff about what nuclear war isand how it works, and so on.  It was what would prove to be the first in a series of  awkward questions about U.S. history.  Eleanor’s face says it all.


The Far End of the Mall

And then, a brief evening sojourn in Memorial-Land.  I love the WWII memorial, it is enormous.  Cue Awkward Barrage of Questions from Jeffrey #2!  And why isn’t there a big memorial for WWI on the Mall?  Is it somewhere else?


I made fun of these people on the Segways, but secretly craved one.  Or at least a bicycle.  The Mall is not scaled for human-style pedestrian traffic.  It is made for Ents.  Gosh, that’s a long walk.


The kids really hadn’t heard of the Lincoln Memorial outside of “it’s that place on the back of the penny!”  Which is the only possible reason I can think of to explain why we still have pennies.



. . . was at a restaurant appropriately called Lincoln.  The floor was tiled with pennies.  They served delicious small plates, most of which were great, but I call foul on the deviled eggs.  If a deviled egg costs $5 it should taste like it just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Ovarian.  These tasted like something I could make.  However the restaurant also had lovely hand-stenciled walls in the bathrooms, so I call a net-positive for Lincoln.  Because I am the most highly distracted food critic ever.


See?  Hand-stenciled!  There were different patterns in each of the stalls!

Meanwhile, epic sidewalk statuary.


Tomorrow: The Senatorial Subway — Corncob Capitals — The First Weird Squirrel

PawPaw Days: Sunset

A string of clear skies and warm weather (the folks round here call it a “sunbreak”) often leads to spontaneous behavior.

Who was I to pass up an opportunity to watch the sunset at Richmond Beach with my mom?

P1070442 P1070444

These photos don’t really do the place justice.  Imagine a giant opalescent sheet of glass, fringed with craggy snow-spiked mountains.  Add a foreground of green grass with frolicking children . . . got it?

P1070440 P1070441

PawPaw Days: Port Townsend

After the home-run with the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, I thought I’d take another big swing with a ferry ride to Kingston.

The ferry ride was nice enough.  Sunshine!


But what to do on the other side?  Most of the businesses in Kingston were closed, but the ticket vendor at the ferry terminal recommended driving to Port Townsend, which is reportedly adorable.

And it is.  But it’s also a 45 minute drive from Kingston.  Which is not so great if you have to get back home before the kids get home from school at 4:00.  Alas, we didn’t realize the drive time until we were almost halfway there.


But it was fun anyway.  Seagulls of unusual size!


This random guy with his epaulet-bedecked coat!


And lunch beside the sea.  The water is incredibly clear in the Port Townsend Bay.  We saw a rowboat, sailboat, kayaks . . . and a sea otter!

Katie is quite the mealtime conversationalist.



Grandma & Grandpa:




The drive back was a bit of a race-the-clock white-knuckles on the steering wheel affair, but everything was chill once we got on the ferry.  Popcorn from the snack bar didn’t hurt, either.


And yes, we did make it back just in time to see the school bus pull up in front of my kids’ stop.  Whew!

PawPaw Days: Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

2013-04-15 11.00.52

Backing up a bit . . .

I want to chronicle a few more of the adventures I had with my parents when they came to visit last month.  Especially this insane tulipalooza eye-candy freakout:

2013-04-15 11.04.26

2013-04-15 11.05.36 2013-04-15 11.08.48

Seriously, is the level of beauty here just insane?  A staggering number of the flowering bulbs grown in the U.S. come from Skagit Valley, which is about an hour’s drive north of where I live.  My parents and I noticed how similar the weather and climate are to those in the Netherlands (we took a road trip there when I was 8 or 9).

We mucked about in the fields for a while (and I do mean mucked, the mud was thick):

2013-04-15 11.35.55

Then we went to see the demonstration gardens.  Holy.  Cow.  It was like Flower Disneyland, everything was meticulously manicured and gorgeous.  After a while I began to get a little dizzy, even though I was loving every minute of it.

2013-04-15 11.41.04 2013-04-15 11.41.13 2013-04-15 11.45.02

(Pant. Pant. Pant.  Are you ready for more?  It’s like putting SweeTarts on your eyeballs.)

2013-04-15 11.47.23 2013-04-15 11.54.37 2013-04-15 12.01.24 2013-04-15 12.14.40



By the way, all of the images in this post were taken by my mom, with her phone.  I only used about 1% of the photos she took; we were all a little giddy and swept away by the spectacle.  My mom loved it (home run on the hostessing front!) and I can’t wait to go again next year.

2013-04-15 12.18.04-2 2013-04-15 12.18.25 2013-04-15 12.26.08

PawPaw Days: Snoqualmie Falls

My parents are here for a whole week!  Fun times for everyone, but especially for those of us who get to watch Katie try to figure out their names.

Right now, she refers to both of them as PawPaw.  And occasionally she will specify my mother as PawPaw Suzie.  Meanwhile, Katie refers to her paternal grandparents as PawPaw and Randy.

Today after church the weather was sunny, so we took a drive out to Snoqualmie Falls (one of the “Top 20 Places in Seattle to Take Your Mother,” according to one of the random websites we found).

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but probably not this:


Majestic, no?  Lots of people compare it to Niagara Falls, which is nice, but I’m guessing that those people have never been to Niagara Falls.  Snoqualmie is much, much less terrifying.

Although, Niagara is probably a teensy bit easier to get a group photo with.


Yay!  Here we are standing in front of a railing!  With some mist!

Jeffrey is wincing because he fell asleep in the car on the drive.  So did Eleanor and William.  Katie, having taken her nap before the drive, stayed awake and chirped the whole time about PawPaw and allllll the fun things she wanted to do with PawPaw.


Seriously, she’s been insisting that PawPaw Suzie read her stories at bedtime instead of me.  That.  NEVER. Happens.

Down in the Boggy Boggy Bog


The signs of spring are different here in the Pacific Northwest — the temperatures don’t rise, mainly because they were never low to begin with (somewhere between 45-55 degrees every day).  So springtime is measured out in sunshine, which is gradually creeping back into our lives.

Also, instead of springtime robins, people look for grey whales in the Puget Sound.  Details, details.

We decided to splurge on our rare slice of sunshine today and take a hike in the Mercer Slough.  This is a boggy natural preserve in Bellevue which was created when Lake Washington’s water levels dropped ten feet after the construction of the Chittenden Locks.

Just  . . . just look it up.


Anyway, this left a network of meadows, wetlands, streams, and ponds behind, all of which make for excellent hiking and wildlife watching.  Or it would have been so if Katie hadn’t been Going Napless for the afternoon.  I’m pretty sure that forest critters tend to, ah, resist the allure of a toddler screaming.

In lieu of critters, we did spot these interesting yellow lily flowers.  They looked so early-springish, all perky banana blooms sticking up out of the moss and branches.


I love how they are awkward and tough-skinned, yet still full of energy and life.  Just like early spring.



Happy Birthday, Katie-Boo!


This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day fell on Katie’s birthday.  Can we be forgiven for focussing more of our attention on her?  She is the ripe old age of two.  In case you forget her age, just wait a moment.  She’ll eventually do some semi-disastrous thing and remind you.

Both Brian and the kids had the day off from school, so to celebrate, we hit the slopes!


That is to say, we walloped the mountainsides with inflatable penguins.

Sledding!  Which does not come cheap in these parts, especially since what I’m used to paying for sledding is nothing. I’m sure there are sneaky little hillsides in the Snoqualmie Pass where one can sled for free without being cited by the snow police, but I’ve yet to locate any of them.  So the state parks-run Hyak sledding hill for us it is.

And, well.  It is nice to have heated bathrooms on hand, if that’s what the entrance fee pays for.  Ahem.


Much to my surprise, Katie loves sledding.  None of my other children enjoyed it when they were two, but Katie just squealed, laughed, and wanted to go again and again.

That is, until she got sick of wearing her mittens, and refused to put them back on.  Instead, she wanted me to hold her in my arms and blow hot air on her fingers to keep them warm.  That’s when I decided to retreat back to the minivan for hot cocoa.



During that break, Katie somehow managed to flip on the van’s headlights without me noticing and drained the engine battery.  Because I had obviously forgotten that she was two, and had to remind me.

Luckily, we were able to get a battery jump from other kind families and get home to hot pizza.  Yay, birthday memories . . .


That’s Agri-tainment!

I just realized that during this past week I’ve taken pictures of Katie sitting on THREE DIFFERENT TRACTORS.




Obviously I have a problem with the kid-on-a-tractor obsession.

Katie and I were invited to a birthday party at a faux-farm this week (you know . . . one of those farms that really isn’t a farm, but more of an extended playground/petting zoo for families to romp around in) and then later went to a farm festival at Camp Korey, a nonprofit camp for disabled kids.  I preferred the latter experience, since the former had 800+ kids and their grownups crowding around.

Also at the latter: baby chicks!


And a HAY RIDE!  (Why being driven around in a hay-laden tractor trailer is considered amusing mystifies me, but I won’t deny that it is indeed darn amusing.)


Which is a rather creative way to incorporate Seattle weather into a family festival.  Kids were going to town in that puddle.  I think I saw a toddler girl whose parents had obviously just given up on the whole staying-dry concept and was squatting around in the middle of the thing.  Other kids were wearing rain suits, which are like snowsuits, but made of waterproof nylon with no stuffing.  I’d never seen them before outside of an REI catalog.