Reflecting on the 2014 A to Z Challenge

This is the third year that I’ve completed the A to Z challenge. And just like in 2013 and 2014, after a month of daily blogging I’m blogged out.   I enjoy the A to Z challenge, otherwise I wouldn’t do it year after year. I visited a bunch of new blogs and was very entertained by the following:

  •  After reading Birgit’s posts about the stars of  “old Hollywood” at  BB Creations I really want to watch more old movies. She also makes beautiful cards and maybe I’ll get inspired to start making cards again. 
  • Anabel at Anabel’s Travel Blog posted so many beautiful pictures of so many beautiful places she has visited. I thought about stealing her idea for next year but I soon realized I’d have nothing for those “difficult letters.” But you might see more posts with photos from old vacations on this blog.
  • Stephanie Faris came up with 26 indulgences for the month, a great reminder that life is to be enjoyed. I’ll be recommending her book, 30 Days of No Gossipto middle school aged girls this spring and summer.
  • Mary Montague Sikes posted about travel closer to home. Her A to Z theme was National Parks and many of those have been added to my places to go list.
  • S.K. Anthony‘s month of  S.K.-isms!, made up words, was charming and wonderful.

I’ve probably missed at least one person…

Since I started this blog over 6 years ago I’ve posted about many random things and that will continue. I would like to finish the DC info and post a bit about our actual itinerary, but I  just realized today that I only have a little over a month to finish  23 mobile things (reviews of apps for mobile devices) which I started on Tumbler and then completely forgot about…

Well I better go start working on my post for Thing  #4.


Washington DC, A to Z: Zamboni on the National Mall

On our second day of our Washington DC vacation, Jimmy and I  visited many museums on the National Mall. We started out at the Smithsonian Castle and then split up.  I went  to see some of the  “thousands of the most significant works of art from the Renaissance to the present day” in the collection of the  National Gallery of Art.

Walking through the Sculpture Garden, it’s hard not to notice the skating rink. When I took this picture I was standing just a little bit north of Thinker on a Rock.

Skating Rink
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Washington DC

When I saw the skating rink, I hoped I’d find my picture for the letter Z very close by.  It wasn’t hard to find at all. In addition to owning thousands of pieces of art, the National Gallery of Art owns a Zamboni.

Zamboni Ice Resurfacer
The National Gallery of Art  – Washington DC


The National Gallery of Art Ice Rink is open mid-November through mid-March, weather permitting.

All the museums located on the National Mall are part of the Smithsonian Institution except the the National Gallery of Art  which was  originally conceived and funded by Andrew W. Mellon.

Some Highlights from the Collection
National Gallery of Art
via Wikipedia

Admission to and tours of (even audio tours) the National Gallery of Art is free.  In addition to the art they own, there are also special exhibitions which are also free. Special exhibitions that I saw when I visited in March included:

And like most every other place we visited in Washington DC, I didn’t see even half of what I wanted to see.

Washington DC, A to Z: Yucca and Other Ethno-Botanical Plants

While in the Garden Court of the United States Botanical Garden Conservatory, I was so entranced by the Orchid Symphony that I barely looked at the other plants in the room.  As of yesterday,  the 2014 Orchid Symphony only exists in photographs and videos.

The other plants in the Garden Court are ethno-botanical plants, plants used in products such as fibers, food, beverages, cosmetics, wood, spices and others. One example (with very limited use) is the yucca rostrata.

Yucca rostrata (Beaked Yucca)

Yucca rostrata is almost always grown  as an ornamental plant. Yucca fruit can be cooked and eaten, but rarely is.    The root of the yucca rostrata is inedible.  Yucca is often confused with yuca, the root portion of the  manihot esculenta (Cassava).

The only other ethno-botanical plant I took a picture of far is more useful. If you’ve been reading this since  Washington DC, A to Z: Botanic Garden you will recognize this photo of theobroma cacao (cacao tree).  The fruit, called a cacao pod, contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called “beans”, embedded in a white pulp. These seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate.

Theobroma cacao  (Cacao Tree) 

Washington DC, A to Z: X-Ray Display at the Zoo

At the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, animal x-rays are hung throughout the Small Mammal House. According to the Smithsonian, the display is designed to “explain the relationship between body structure and behavior of animals.”

Without it’s long, flexible tail  a squirrel wouldn’t be able to scurry through the trees.

You can see more animal x-rays at The Inside Story. In order to see the explanations you need to go to the Zoo.

Washington DC, A to Z: Washington Monument Alternative Viewpoint

There are very few places in Washington DC to get a view of the city from up high.

In 1910, the 61st United States Congress enacted a new height restriction law limiting building heights to 130 feet, or the width of the right-of-way of the street or avenue on which a building fronts, whichever is shorter.

The Washington Monument (technically not a building) is 555 feet tall. When it was built in 1884 it was the tallest structure in the world. That lasted about 5 years. It is still the tallest structure in Washington DC.

One of the things we wanted  to do during our vacation in DC, but couldn’t, was to go up the elevator in the  Washington Monument for an aerial view of the city. Unfortunately, while we were there it was  closed for the final stages of restoration from the earthquake of 2011*.  Click here to see videos of the damage and, at the bottom of the page, 3 videos shot by security cameras during the earthquake.

The  Cross family from Michigan was at the top of the Washington Monument when the quake struck. They said that they felt the 555 foot monument sway nearly a foot, and said they felt pieces of the monument falling on them. ABC News

*This is the same earthquake that damaged the Cathedral (see Gargoyle post for more information). They were the only buildings in DC damaged.

Washington Monument, March 2014
Getting Its Cracks Fixed

The Pilgrim Observation Gallery at the National Cathedral is only 150 feet high but the Cathedral is built on  high hill. Tour groups aren’t allowed on the elevator. Large windows provide unobstructed 360-degree views.  I only saw 5 other people when I was up there!

Washington DC Skyline
Capitol to Washington Monument
Photo taken from Pilgrim Observation Gallery, Washington National Cathedral
View of Washington DC from Pilgrim Observation Gallery

In the picture above:

The Washington Monument is scheduled to reopen on May 12, 2014. Reservations can be made online at . When I tested the site last night select times were available for May 20 – May 22, May 30, June 2-3, June 5-6. (You can reserve further out than that, but I stopped clicking on “next available date”).

Washington DC, A to Z: Vaulted Ceilings Keep the Cathedral from Falling Down

Actually its the pointed arches, vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses that keep a Gothic cathedral from falling down but that’s far too long for a blog title.

Washington National Cathedral (last mentioned in the post Gargoyles on the Cathedral Walls) was built in the Gothic style. It also was engineered and constructed  using traditional Gothic techniques.

The stability of the architecture is maintained by the force of gravity: the weight of the building, and the various elements of the building—buttresses, pinnacles, arches, vaulting—push against each other to keep the building intact and upright. Cathedral Age

Many different vault styles were used in the Washington National Cathedral. I’m not sure which styles are represented below.  And I’m not exactly sure where some of these photos were taken.  I tried to follow the self guided tour in this pamphlet but frequently had to take detours or wait;   many groups of adults on guided highlight and specialty tours  and  many groups of teenagers on school trips are in the Cathedral at any given time.

Washington National Cathedral
Somewhere in the Crypt
Washington National Cathedral
Pilgrim Observation Gallery
Washington National Cathedral
Somewhere in the Main Level

Gothic architecture brought two major advantages to buildings:

  • Buildings could be much taller (and not fall down).
  • Since exterior walls were no longer used for support, the building could have thinner walls and many windows.

The Washington National Cathedral contains over 200 separate stained glass windows. One of the stained glass windows even includes a piece of the moon.

Washington National Cathedral
Scientists and Technicians Window

There are many virtual tours on the Cathedrals website. See Gargoyles on the Cathedral Walls for more information and links.

If you are thinking about visiting the Cathedral while on a visit to DC, directions are on the Cathedral’s web site.  It’s a 20 minute express bus ride from  Dupont Circle (where we were staying) or a 30 minute express bus ride from the White House (bottom right corner of the map) to the Cathedral.

The Cathedral is also a stop on some of the hop-on / hop-off bus tours.

Washington DC, A to Z: Ulysses S Grant Memorial

With all the monuments and memorials in Washington DC, the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial frequently gets overlooked. It’s not included in  the National Park Services’ list of  Iconic Memorials and Monuments. It’s not included on the Official Washington DC Visitors Guide list of Washington DC Monuments & Memorials. I don’t recall reading about it in any of the numerous travel guides I consulted when planning this vacation. It’s not even shown on most tourist maps of Capitol Hill.

We just happened to pass it on our way  to the Metro after our very busy first day in DC and walked over to see who was honored with the very large equestrian monument in front of the Capitol.   I took this picture  to post for the letter U and because the lion looks like I always pictured Aslan.

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial (1920) Washington DC
Bronze and Marble
Sculptor: Henry Merwin Shrady

A few days later, while driving slowly around the Capitol, our Monuments by Moonlight tour guide told us some fascinating stories about this monument, most are included in this article.   We never made it back to that part of DC, so  I don’t have pictures of the other sections of the monument.  DC Memorials has some great pictures of the Artillery and Calvary groups at either end.

U.S. Capitol and Grant Memorial
by Martin Falbisoner
Wikimedia Photo

This statue is far more interesting than it seemed to be when we first saw it. If you’re interested in finding out more about it, these articles are a good starting place:

History Behind Lion Statues in House of Cards Opening Credits by Tom at Ghosts of DC

Includes some great pictures from the Library of Congress Archives

Men on Horseback Dominate Memorials  by The Washington Times

An overview of the 28  equestrian monuments in Washington DC

Equestrian Statues & the Theory of the Raised Hooves by DC Memorials

Links to a page with detailed photos of 38 equestrian monuments in the United States

A Great Bronze Tarnished by Neglect by Michael F. Bishop at The Wall Street Journal

Exploration of the artistic value of the sculptures included in the memorial.

Washington DC, A to Z: Thinker on a Rock and The Drummer

After starting our day on the National Mall at the Smithsonian Castle, Jimmy and I split up. He headed northwest to the American History Museum and I headed northeast to see art.  Walking through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, I overheard parts of a phone conversation that went something like this. “I’ve been waiting for you for 10 minutes at the statue of the large bunny… What do you mean you’re at the statue of the large bunny?…”

Hopefully, they figured out that on the National Mall there are two sculpture gardens and each garden has a statue of a large rabbit by artist Barry Flanagan.

Thinker on a Rock (1997) and The Drummer (1989-1990)
artist: Barry Flanagan

Thinker on a Rock is located in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art. It is located in the middle of the north side of the National Mall (between the Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery of Art). The Drummer is located in the Sculpture Garden of the Hirshhorn Museum. It is located directly south of the other sculpture garden (in front  of the Hirshhorn Museum).

These sculptures might look familiar, even if you haven’t been to Washington DC. From 1979 to 2008, Barry Flanagan created many bronze sculptures that  featured hares doing human-like things: drumming, thinking, leaping, dancing, boxing.  For each, Flanagan modelled a figure of a hare in soft clay.  The clay model was then cast into bronze sculptures, usually in a series of from 5 to 8, that retain the marks he made by hand in the clay. Flanagans sculptures are on display throughout the world, maybe even in a place closer to where you are than Washington DC.

 Thinker on a Rock was cast in 1997 in a series of five.In addition to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, this sculpture is currently on public view at the following locations:

The Drummer was cast in 1989 and 1990 in a series of seven. In addition to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, this sculpture is currently on public view at the following locations:

Washington DC, A to Z: Statuary Hall

As amazing as it is in this A-Z posting, today I am continuing our tour of the United States Capitol from where I left off yesterday. After touring the Rotunda we made our way to Statuary Hall.

According to Book a Tour of the Capitol  all tours of the U. S. Capitol include the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. (Unless one of them happens to be closed, like the Rotunda is now.)

My post for letter K,  included pictures of some of the statues from  National Statuary Hall collection. (It also included more information about the collection than I’m including here.) We saw six more statues in the Rotunda but I was too busy taking pictures of other things to take pictures of statues.

We spent some time  talking about the second statue provided by the state of Minnesota. Unlike the other Minnesotan honored with a statue, I had heard of Henry Mower Rice ( a very pretty park in St. Paul is named after him).

Henry Mower Rice
Frederick E. Triebel Artist
Given by Minnesota in 1916

A few  statues in Statuary Hall  caught my attention:

From left to right:

  • Standing next to the statue of Henry Mower Rice is a bronze statue of Jefferson Davis by Augustus Lukeman that was given by the state of Mississippi in 1931. A statue of Robert E. Lee is also in the collection.
  • This marble statue of Ethan Allen by Larkin G. Mead was given by the state of Vermont in 1876. This statue is much taller than other statues in the room.
  • This bronze statue of Father Junipero Serra was given to the National Statuary Hall Collection by California in 1931. It is one of the statues in the collection most likely to be replace by one of a woman. Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

Click here to view the statues in this collection by name or state order or here to the view statues by location.


Washington DC, A to Z: Rotunda of the Capitol

We saw many buildings in Washington DC with impressive rotundas. The most impressive one was the first one we saw, the United States Capitol Rotunda. After we toured the Capitol Visitor Center (for a description and pictures click here), we followed our tour guide into the Capitol.

The U.S. Capitol Rotunda is a large, domed, circular room in the center of the second floor of the Capitol  used for important ceremonial events, such as the lying in state of its most eminent citizens.

United State Capitol
Rotunda Canopy

The fresco  Apotheosis of Washington, painted  by Constantino Brumidi,  is in the center of the Rotunda Canopy.  Although the fresco is located 180 feet above the floor, the figures were painted in a way that makes them intelligible from close up as well as when viewed from the floor.

United State Capitol
Rotunda Canopy
detail from Apotheosis of Washington

The painting shows George Washington rising to the heavens in glory. The super hero figure at his feet (that’s how our tour guide described it) is Freedom who, accompanied by an eagle, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power. (Click here to see a very detailed photograph by the Architect of the Capitol.)

United States Capitol
Portion of Rotunda Wall beneath Canopy

The walls of the Rotunda hold historic paintings and a frescoed band, or “frieze,” depicting significant events in American history.

United States Capitol –  Rotunda Wall
Details of  Three Scenes from the
Frieze of American History

The Frieze of American History contains 19 scenes depicting significant events in American history.  It measures 8 feet 4 inches in height and approximately 300 feet in circumference. It starts 58 feet above the floor. The frieze was designed by Constantino Brumidi who in addition to painting  The Apotheosis of Washington decorated many areas throughout the Capitol.  The scenes were painted between 1878 and 1953 by three artists: Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Constaggini and Allyn Cox.

The scenes shown above are “Colonization of New England” by Filippo Costaggini, “Battle of Lexington” also by Filippo Costaggini and “The Birth of Aviation” by Allyn Cox.


Click here for much more historical information from  the Architect of the Capitol. Extensive information about the art in this room can also be found in Chapter 10 Symbolism in the Rotunda by Frances V. O’Connor,  Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol This book can be downloaded for free from the website of the U.S. Government Printing Office.

For a 360 virtual tour of the Rotunda of the Capitol click here.


The Architect of the Capitol has just begun a multi-year project to repair more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies in the Capitol Dome caused by age and weather. The Rotunda is currently closed so that safety netting can be installed.  If you want to see the Capitol Dome without it being surrounded by scaffolding, there’s a good chance you will have to postpone your trip for a few years. Click here for more information.

In addition, at any time to visit areas of the Capitol beyond the Capitol Visitor Center, you must make a reservation in advance. We made our reservations through the office of one of our Senators and started the day with breakfast at his office (for a description and pictures click here). To find out more about visiting the Capitol including various ways to make reservations, click here.

Finally, a reservation to tour the Capitol is not a guarantee that you will be able to tour the Capitol or see certain parts of the Capitol. The easiest way to find out about cancellations as soon as possible is to follow the U.S. Capitol @visitthecapitol on Twitter.

If this snowfall happened  two days later than it did,
our Capitol visitors tour would have been canceled.
Donna in Washington DC – March 5, 2014

A blanket of 3-5 inches coated the District on Monday, prompting emergency declarations, class cancellations at school systems already scrambling to make up for snow days and the shutdown of the federal government. The Washington Times