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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gunpowder and lead

On a lovely afternoon in Virginia, we left Tasha with a babysitter and embarked on a beautiful drive in the Blue Mountains...
... where we promptly interrupted the peace and quiet with some good old fashioned shooting practice at the range.
I'm not much of a gun person, to say the least. Until this point, my shooting experience was limited to "Can Season" with BB guns and a few shots with bigger guns that I didn't like because their kicks hurt. Needless to say, I was a bit amateur at the whole shooting range thing. And, apparently, the gun safety thing, too:
Matt caught me checking out the loaded gun to try to figure out ... something. I also managed to point said loaded gun at my feet. Oh geeze. It was on safety, but still. Within 10 seconds, the gun was down and April was reminding me that you can only point guns at things you are okay with shooting. Right. Not okay with shooting my face or my feet. So with that piece of advice in the front of my mind, I proceeded to shoot only targets and (mostly) dirt. And toward the end, I even managed to keep my eyes open when I pulled the trigger. Yes, I am fully aware of how pathetic that sounds.
I was much more comfortable with the rifle, which had no kick and a much smaller chance of me accidentally pointing it somewhere I didn't intend to.
Meanwhile, I was surrounded by a bunch of professionals. April and Alex were in their element:
And Matt was having a blast playing with all their different guns:
Although, I think the rapid fire M-16 was his favorite:
At the end of the day, we'd gone through a dozen boxes of bullets, demolished a cart full of cantaloupes, rittled holes in many orange soda cans -- and I managed to not hurt anyone. I'd call that a success.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Washington, DC: Jefferson and Arlington

We spent our second day in DC across the river at two of our favorite sites -- the Jefferson Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. The Jefferson Memorial is a beautiful building that was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing the classic, colonnade style to America, so the design of his memorial is rather fitting. A larger-than-life bronze statue of Jefferson stands in the middle of the memorial and is visible outside through the stately columns.
This trip to DC taught me that far too many Americans are ignorant when it comes to US history. As a lover of US history, I cringed countless times as I overheard the comments of passersby. The words of the Declaration of Independence are etched into the walls of the Jefferson Memorial, and I about died when I heard an intelligent-looking 30-ish American woman say, "Oh, I didn't know Jefferson said that." ... as if it were some random famous quote that she knew she'd heard somewhere before. Lady, it's arguably the most important document in our nation's history. And it was written, not "said" by Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps you should have paid more attention in elementary school. Anyway.
(10 points if you find me and April below!)
The Jefferson Memorial was super fun for Tasha because it had lots of stairs and room to run. We all spent a good amount of time chasing after and capturing the little munchkin.
We stopped by the George Mason Memorial briefly and Matt made fun of me for taking a picture of flowers, but they're a rare sight around here!
Having been cheated of pretty reflecting pool pictures on the Mall, we appreciated nature's own reflecting pool as we walked along the riverfront.
Our first stop at Arlington National Cemetery was the Women in Military Service Memorial, which offered beautiful views of both DC and the cemetery from its rooftop sidewalk.
The Kennedy gravesite with its famous eternal flame is in the distance on the left, and Arlington House--General Robert E. Lee's former home--is in the distance on the right.
The sheer number of headstones honoring men and women who served our country is humbling. The cemetery seems to go on and on forever.
We eventually made our way up to the Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns. Tasha enjoyed the amphitheater while Matt, Alex and I watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
As we walked toward the exit, we came upon an Army funeral procession with full military honors--white horses included. It was beautiful and touching, and a poignant reminder of the individual sacrifices that each headstone at Arlington represents.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Washington, DC: The Mall

April lives just a couple hours west of Washington, D.C., so it was a natural stop during our trip to Virginia last week. Since we'd all been there before (and seen and done all there is to see and do), our two days in D.C. were more about spending time together and less about sightseeing or museum-hopping. Still, it was the first time Matt and I have visited the city together, so we decided to spend a day on the National Mall to officially check those sites off our "together" list. You know how it goes.
We kicked off Day 1 by sleeping in and playing with Tasha at the hotel, then rode the metro into the city. Trains of any type are super exciting when you're 19-months old!
Our first stop was the United States Capitol, followed by a nice long stroll to the Washington Monument.

Tasha sacrifices comfort and leans over as far as possible in her stroller to make sure she can hold her daddy's hand as they walk along. It's the sweetest thing!
After letting Tasha run in circles around the monument for awhile, we snagged a quick lunch from a yellow truck (it's very important to buy from yellow trucks, not white).
Then it was onto the war memorials, which held an increased amount of significance to our tiny group that consisted of an Air Force officer, an Army officer, a soon-to-be Army officer, an Air Force wife and an Army baby.
The most poignant part of the World War II memorial is the Freedom Wall, which features rows of gold stars and the message "Here we mark the price of freedom." There are 4,048 gold stars--each representing 100 American lives lost during the war.
My grandpa served in the Korean War, which makes its memorial come to life a bit more. I love the wall with the simple reminder: "Freedom is not free."
The list of names at the Vietnam War Memorial is sobering. While we were there, an old war veteran searched for a specific name, then knelt down by it for awhile, eventually leaving a small token behind. It was really touching, and I couldn't help but wonder what his story might be.
At the other end of the Mall lies the Lincoln Memorial, which features a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the beautiful building. An inscription above the statue reads: "In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."
After touring inside, we rested in the shade on the steps for a bit while Tasha climbed every single stair at the Lincoln Memorial.
Yes, every single one of those stairs, all at once. Tasha is a determined, independent little soul who happens to be obsessed with stairs, so April dutifully followed her up the entire way as other tourists watched in amazement. By the time she reached Matt and I at the top, she'd lost a pigtail and a half but was still going strong! Must be those Graf mountain climbing genes, eh?
On a side note, the Lincoln Memorial is where you typically take all those gorgeous pictures of the reflecting pool. That is, if the reflecting pool is there. We happened to show up shortly after reconstruction of the iconic pool began. Three nights later, we were watching NBC Nightly News when they reported on "What you won't see when you visit D.C. this summer" -- the reflecting pool. A little late for that revelation, NBC.
Then it was onto Pennsylvania Avenue, passing by the Treasury and Executive Buildings on the way.
The White House is beautiful, and it's neat to think about all the incredible people who have made it their home.
By then, it was getting late and we had a tired toddler on our hands, so we hopped on the metro and ventured out of the city to Falls Church. Alex served his LDS mission in Venezuela and had scoped out a South American restaurant owned by a native Venezuelan. Needless to say, we indulged quite a bit. It was a delicious end to our day!

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