Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vacation Report Part 6

Saturday, June 19

The last morning of our vacation was spent at Williams Restaurant. Once again the family was meeting there for breakfast. But this time there would be more of my family there than there was on Thursday morning.

In addition to all my sister's family, my Aunt Eileen, Cousins Roland, and his wife, Paula; Pam, and her husband, Bernie; Lynn, and her husband Larry; and my cousin Linda were there as well. It was wonderful to see them all again. I hadn’t seen some of them in over 5 years. I was a bit disappointed that my cousins Roger and Gary weren’t there but that’s life.

Anyway with breakfast as a backdrop the conversation went up and down and across the two rows of tables. Actually the omelet we ordered to split was really bad so we did more talking than eating.

Of course there was quite a bit of talk about our weight loss, how “good” we looked, and how we did it. We showed everyone our “before” pictures. Paula actually had a picture taken on of her in her office her last day at work before her surgery. I just used my driver’s license picture.

I got a chance to talk with just about everyone for an extended length of time. It was great catching up with them as much as it is possible in such a short period of time.

After breakfast was finished, about 11AM we said our “goodbyes” and left the restaurant. A quick stop by a the local market for some Cooper’s Sharp Cheese (6 pounds of it) and Sweet Lebanon bologna to take home and freeze we hit the highway back to Kentucky.

Our trip was long but went pretty smooth with the exception of one stretch through western Pennsylvania. To give me a chance to rest and recover from my day at Dorney Paula drove a stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike; about 100 miles.

We stopped at the last rest stop on the turnpike before our exit to stretch our legs and use the restroom. The sky was really becoming overcast and threatening. I took over driving since there were turnoffs and rain looked inevitable.

Just after we exited the turnpike and got on the highway heading toward Washington, PA and Wheeling West Virginia it started to rain. I mean it really stormed. I had to slow down because of the large amounts of water under my tires and in the wheel wells. I could hardly see the road because the rain was coming down in sheets. Fortunately I had a pick up truck ahead of me and I could follow its taillights. After about 20 minutes the rain passed and it was easy driving again. I’m really glad that I had taken over the driving and so was my wife.

After we got through the interchanges in Pennsylvania and West Virginia arriving in Ohio we headed for Columbus on another long stretch of road. Paula took over driving again and gave me another 90 minute break. I napped during that time. After Columbus I took over the driving and finished the trip.

By the time we got to Cincinnati it was about 10 o’clock. I was looking forward to seeing King’s Island amusement park lit up in the dark. Unfortunately it had just closed before we passed it. The only thing we saw was the taillights of the cars exiting the parking lot.

Our GPS took us straight through downtown Cincinnati so we passed The Great American Ballpark and were soon across the border into Kentucky.

Once we hit saw the sign confirming that we were once again in our home state (pictured above) I got my second wind. I quickly became anxious and determined to get home as quickly as possible. My foot hit the gas and we made it to our front door in about 3 to 3 ½ hours. It was about 1:15AM central time Sunday morning when we got home.

Our vacation and long drive were over. As always it was great to see the old homestead. The dogs were overjoyed to see us and we were overjoyed to see and feel the comfort of our own bed.

So there you have the recap of our June 2010 vacation. It was a long wonderful trip and yet, at the same time seemed really short. I guess time spent with family and friends you don’t get to see very often always goes too quickly.

I would like to say “thanks” to my wonderful wife for hanging in there and being so understanding about all we had to do on this trip. I know she had a good time but it really wore her out. She was a real trooper especially since she had to leave for a 5 day business trip to Central America the day after we got home. Let’s hope we can make our next vacation a bit more relaxing. But I think that's what we said before we went on this one.

Vacation Report Part 5

Friday, June 18: Day At Dorney (Part 2)
To start off the afternoon, the group decided before we split up again, that we wanted to ride the some rides together. A few of us went on the swings. Once again I rode something I wouldn't have been able to ride last year. Marci, Olyvia, Abby and Jordon rode with me. We then headed to a water ride called "Thunder Canyon". It's a raft ride where 8 people sit in a circle on a floating ride vehicle and go through a path of rapids and waterfalls. Every good amusement park has one of these rides. You can count on a good soaking every time. It really is very cooling on a hot afternoon.

After stowing our valuables in a locker the family got on 2 different rafts and away we went. Abby, Marci's daughter, really didn't want to go on it but she couldn't stay by herself so we helped her though it. However she didn’t like it at all.
The rest of us had so much fun we got right back in line and went a 2nd time. It was the group event of the day.

After Thunder Canyon Bob, TeeJai, Chuck, Abby, Jordan, Bo and I went to Wild Water Kingdom. Our first mission was to ride the lazy river. Abby, Chuck and Bo didn’t want to go with us so they went to the Wave Pool. The lazy river is a circulating stream of water that you float around on in a round inflatable tube. When we got the queue area was full. At the hottest part of the day we had to wait. I could feel the sun beating down on the back of my soon to be sunburned neck. The wait was only about 10 or 15 minutes but was our longest wait of the day.

The trip around the “river” was really fun. Jordan and I went together in a double tube. Once we got under way it was clearly established that he was the “captain” of our ship and I was the navigator. He immediately began to instruct me to steer the tube to one side of the stream or the other to take advantage of the water falls or squirting streams aimed at passers by.

Our experience was a fun. But the thing I really enjoyed about the lazy river was watching my brother in law Bob behind us. As I wrote before he doesn’t ride amusement park rides so his level of enjoyment is limited when going to a park like Dorney. But in Wildwater Kingdom he really enjoyed himself especially on the lazy river. Having experienced the ride earlier in the day he maneuvered his tube in just the right way to take advantage of the waterfalls and maximize his float time around the stream. He really had a good time and I enjoyed watching him.

Once we finished with the lazy river we walked over to the wave pool to join Abby, Bo & Chuck. We spent about 30 minutes or so in the wave pool. I didn’t like it. The waves came at a “10 minutes on and 10 minutes off” increments. When the waves were coming in you had to jump to keep your head above water. Being off your feet you were pushed back a bit. In the shallow water I was pushed back off my feet but had them anchored to the bottom of the pull. The force of the water twisted my right knee. At first I thought I really hurt it badly but it was just a slight twist. But it did hurt for a few days afterward. So I have decided that I don’t like wave pools and probably won’t go in one again.

Before we were to meet up with the rest of our party at the front of the park (to decide who wanted to leave and who wanted to stay) Chuck suggested we go to yet another water ride. It was made up of a series of pools set up on a hillside just below each other. Starting at the top water flowed down emptying into pool below it creating a current that carried riders with it. You got in an inner tube at the bottom of the ride, carried it up several sets of stairs and walk ways to the top. You got in the top pool, floated across and “drained” into the next pool.

Because of the continuous movement and different levles this water ride was perpetually in motion which meant there was almost no line. But because so many riders were in the water at the same time there were “bottlenecks” at the "drain" of each pool that led down the slide to the next pool. Stationed throughout the levels of the ride were park employees (aka life guards) who were in charge of keeping people safe and unplugging the bottle necks.

The first time I rode I flipped off of my tube after going down the first slide. Initially the water level was too high and I couldn’t get back on the tube. But with Bob and the lifeguard helping managed to get back in it. It was the only time I allowed myself to fall out. I made sure I held on tight.

The ride was so much fun that, despite the fact that we only had 5 minutes left before our appointed time to meet the others, we took another 10 minutes to ride again.

Finally we met everyone at the park entrance. I was ready to leave but others who had to ride home with me wanted to stay. I gave in to the idea of staying another hour and then leaving. We actually stayed another 2 1/2 hours.

During that time we went on The Whip again, also the Scrambler and I took my last ride on Steel Force with Shay and Bo.

Finally after the kids rode some kiddie rides in the Camp Snoopy area of the park we all made the long walk up the hill to the parking lot and bid Dorney Park & Wild Water Kingdom a fond farewell.

It was a great day for me. One of victorious personal experiences and building stronger relationships with my family members. I don’t know if that’s my last time I will ever get to go Dorney Park but I will always look back on it as one of the best.

When I got back to our hotel Paula and I went out to dinner at the Route 248 diner about 5 miles away. It was a local restaurant that had only been open for about 15 months. The atmosphere was pleasant and the food wasn’t bad.

The next morning we would be the last chance we had time to spend with the family before heading back to Kentucky.

Vacation Report Part 4

Friday, June 18
Dorney Park is an amusement park in Allentown Pennsylvania. When I was growing up it was the place that our family went for our one day "vacation" each year. The park holds a special place in my heart when it comes to childhood and family memories.

I hadn't been to an amusement park in several years. Before my surgery and weight loss I had gotten too large to fit on any of the rides. Now with 170 pounds gone it was going to be different. I was "pumped" full of a new spirit of adventure. I couldn't wait to get on everything. In fact I don’t think there was a ride or water ride that I passed on all day long. I went on all I could.

Going to the park with me were 11 other family members including my sister, Shari and her family and my two nieces and their families. Paula and Bobby, my nepher, (now an Easton High School graduate) decided that they wanted to stay home. Paula isn't much of a thrill ride person and neither is Bob. Paula spent the day at the hotel relaxing, watching TV, and playing video games on her laptop computer.

Before I move onto the story of my personal victory of returning to riding roller coasters I have to tell you a story about getting to the park.

My 8 year old great nephew (my niece, Marci's son) Jordon, rode to the park in the backseat of my car. On the way there we continued a conversation started the night before about Jordan not wanting to ride any roller coasters. I kept teasing him and offering him various degrees of rewards if he rode a "big roller coaster" with me. My "offer" was as high as a $50 and a new I-pod. He still refused to say he’d ride.

He then asked "will you buy me a puppy?” This took me back a bit but I figured I’d found his “price”. I told him that if he rode a big roller coaster with me and his parents agreed (knowing that they wouldn't) I'd buy him a new puppy.

As we pulled into the parking lot we could see the roller coasters all being tested. As we all watch the empty cars go up and down Steel Force, (in the picture above) Jordan, from the backseat in the most resolute and disappointed manner I've ever heard says, "Well I guess I won't be getting a puppy." A classic kids moment for me. I'll be telling that story for a long time.

As planned we were at the park's gate when it opened at 10AM. Once we got inside our group planned on splitting up. Some of us wanted to go on the rides at the Dorney, park and others wanted to go to Wild Water Kingdom, the water park. But it didn't open until 11AM. So we spent the first hour riding park rides that everyone would go on.

We rode the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Whip. The first "thrill ride" we got on was the Sea Dragon. This was my first personal victory ride. Before I lost weight I wouldn't have fit into to the seat and the safety bar wouldn't have latched. But it did now. About half of us rode this ride and some of us did it twice. It was fun but not one of my favorite rides.

After the "riders" and the "swimmers" went their separate ways it was time to get down to the business of riding roller coasters. Shari, Bo, Melissa, Shay (Melissa's roommate's daughter) and I headed for Steel Force. We got on with hardly any wait.

Once again I celebrated the fact that I had no problem with the safety belt and the safety bar. It was a double weight loss victory because for Shari, who sat next to me, it was her first ride in on a roller coaster since her surgery as well. The 2nd time we rode it Shari and I got in the front seat. What a ride. I would only ride Steel Force one more time at the end of the day but I will always remember it as the thrill ride that marked my return to roller coasters.

Over the course of the day we went on to ride 3 more coasters, a log flume, and a ride that shoots up into the air. Shari and I really enjoyed Thunder Creek Mountain, the log flume, because it held a lot of memories for just the two of us from the last time we were at Dorney.

The best coaster was the "Talon". It was a coaster where your seat is below the track. The only thing between your feet and the ground (or sky during when going through the inversions) was air. I only got to ride it once but my sister rode it twice. It was our favorite.

At 1 o'clock the two groups met back at Shari & Bob's van. Shari and Marci had brought meat, cheese, peanut butter, and jelly and marshmallow cream for sandwiches. Marci brought chips and snacks. We had a little picnic right there in the parking lot. It had gotten very sunny and hot so we all had to kind of sit in the vehicles to get out of the sun and off our feet. But it was a great time of being together just as a family.

After lunch as a group we went back into the park. While everyone else went to use the restroom my brother in law, Bob and I rode the carousel. He's not one who enjoys most kinds of amusement rides but he wanted to go on the Merry-Go-Round. So the two of us climbed onto the up and down horses and off we went. We had a great time. We were just two old codgers riding and enjoying the nickelodeon’s unique version of popular country music tunes. It was one of the highlights of the day for me.
Next Post: Day at Dorney: Part 2

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vacation Report Part 3

Thursday, June 17
This day was graduation day for Seniors at Easton Area High School which included my nephew, Bobby Windom Pearson the Third. Upon receiving his diploma at the ceremonies in the evening he would be the first member of the immediate Havens family to graduate from the rival school.

The day started out with a birthday breakfast for my sister, Peggy, at Williams restaurant. Once again all members of the immediate family were there as well as about a 1/2 dozen of her co-workers. Paula was still exhausted from Monday's trek through Washington so I decided to let her sleep in while I went to breakfast.

During the day I took some time to go visit with my friend, Joe, who still lives in the neighborhood I grew up in. In the brief time I had been in the area I still hadn't had the chance to visit that side of town so I was looking forward to not only the visit but the drive there as well.

This was once again a "time warp" situation for me. I actually hadn't lived on Brainard Street since 1986 but the old neighborhood hadn't changed much.

It was great to spend time with Joe and his mom Judy. We sat in their living room and talked for about an hour and a half. I felt bad that I couldn't take more time to be with them or go to a baseball game or do something with Joe and his brother Joshua. But this was a relatively short visit to the area. I promised him we'd do something together the next time I came up.

The graduation ceremony was held at Stabler Arena on the campus of Lehigh University in South Bethlehem, PA. It was about a 30-45 minute drive depending on the way you drove there.

When we left our hotel we had plenty of time to get there so I decided to take the scenic route. We drove through Bethlehem. We passed the Just Born candy factory. It's the place where they make all the marshmallow peeps everyone loves at Easter time.

We then drove past the newest and most unusual thing I've seen in the Lehigh Valley area in a long time. We drove across the Minsi Trail Bridge and saw the old Bethlehem Steel factory that has been converted into a Sands casino. It's still being built up but it was really strange to see the way it's been changed.

Finally we made our way up over South Mountain and got to the arena. The parking lot was already close to being full. Fortunately we were allowed into the front lot because of our handicap sign.

The arena almost filled with spectators by the time we got there. Shari had saved us seats, which was a job in and of itself. Our seats were perfect because they were just up from where Bobby sat in his chair on the floor. The class of 2010 for Easton High School numbered about 650. But the Havens/Pearson family was there for only one of them, Bobby. He was a little more than halfway back in the 26 rows of chairs set up on the floor.

The ceremony went relatively quickly. Because we were so close to Bobby we all got some really good pictures. I took some cool video as well.

By the time the ceremony was over and we got back to our car it was 9PM. My sister Peggy came home in our car. The traffic getting out of the area was unbelievably slow. It took us an hour to reach the highway back to Easton. I got on going the wrong way and then got lost. Eventually I did get back to Shari's house.

Everyone came back to Shari's and we had sandwiches and chips. We gave Bobby his graduation gift and took some pictures with him. Finally it was a little after 11 when we decided to head back to the hotel.

The occasion and main reason we for our visit was over. Bobby was a high school graduate...an Easton Area High School graduate. A first for our family.

While Thursday was an important day for all of us, the next day, Friday, was the one I'd been looking forward to for a while. We were going to Dorney Park

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vacation Report Part 2

Tuesday, June 15
Before we went on this vacation Paula and I had been to at least 3 zoos together: Nashville, Philadelphia (twice), and Louisville. But on this day our plans included going to the National Zoo in DC.

We were both still really tired from the long day we had on Monday and the only animals were really interested in seeing were the Pandas. We decided that we would only spend about an hour or so at the zoo, which was located in the northern portion of the city.

Our GPS took us there in way that gave us an unexpected "tour" of the city that featured view of some rather interesting architecture. We circled around end of the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. So although we didn't get to see it up close we did see the back of the building.

Once we found the National Zoo we were surprised and a bit taken back about its location. It was in a very urban area. Because of difficulty trying to find a place to park, our fatigue issues, and in consideration of plans we had for the week that involved walking, we decided that we would just skip the zoo.

Having made that determination, we headed out of Washington and toward Pennsylvania. I was excited to be getting on I-95. I knew it was the one direct route that would take us to Philadelphia and then we could head toward Easton from there. The bad thing about I-95 was that we went through about 3 or 4 tollbooths. We paid $11 in tolls just to get to Philadelphia.

Once we got on the Northeast extension of the Pennsylvania I decided to stop in Quakertown so we could have lunch at a Boston Market restaurant. It's one of Paula's favorite places to eat. We had turkey and corn bread. The meal was delicious.

We arrived at our hotel (Holiday Inn Express) in Easton late that afternoon. We then went to my sister Peggy's house for dinner. Nearly all of my PA family was there. We had hamburgers cooked on the grill and other picnic type stuff.

After dinner my sister, Shari; Paula; my niece, Marci; her son, Jordon; and I walked to Shari's house (I don't even remember why now) which was about a 2 mile round trip. Paula & Shari walked at a rather quick pace. Marci, Jordon and I lagged behind. We had a great time laughing and joking during the walk.

On the way back we walked past the house where my aunt and her family lived when I was growing up. The house was really fixed up and the yard looked nice. Yet it still looked basically the same as it did 40 years ago or so when I would spend a week there during the summer.

Actually walking through the entire Southside area was like stepping into a time machine. That was the first of several times I got that "time travel" feeling during my visit. More about that a later.

Jordan Peter was so much fun on the walk. He gave his mom and I laughs all along the way. He managed (although not on purpose) to get15 minutes of comedy material out of a lightening bug landing on his finger and just staying there.

After getting back to Peggy's house the kids were asking for ice cream. There wasn't any in the freezer. So I loaded the kids into my Vue. We went to the store to get 1/2 gallon containers of ice cream and take them back to Peggy's.

About 10:00 both Paula and I were very tired. It was time to say "goodnight". We left and went back to our hotel. The bed was very comfortable and gave us both some very much needed rest.

I fell asleep happy about the fact that for the next couple of days I would be spending time with my sisters and their families in an area that I had once considered my home but hadn't seen in over 3 years. It felt good to be back.

Wednesday, June 16
The only "set" event on our calendar for our first full day in Pennsylvania was dinner at my niece, Melissa's, house.

After sleeping in we took our time at the hotel and then went and did some grocery shopping at the "Giant" food market.

During the afternoon Paula went shopping with Shari, Peggy, and Teejai. She had to get some groceries to make a side dish for the meal at Melissa's later that night.

I had agreed to pick Melissa up from work and take her home. At 12:30 I went by the downtown Easton WaWa to tell Melissa I would be there at 3 to take her home. That left me with about 2 1/2 hours on my own. I decided to go visit the cemetery where my parents are buried.

I took my time getting there and cruised Phillipsburg just to look around. I got lunch at the new convenience store (A WaWa market/gas station) that had been build on the site where Mom & Dad's bank had been for many years.

I spend a few minutes at Mom & Dad's grave "talking" to them. I told them all about what my life is like now (or as much as I could in such a short time). I told them how happy I am and that I am doing my best to actively follow Christ and minister to others. I also added that I would like to think that they would be proud of all I've accomplished since moving to Kentucky. I left by telling them that I filled with hope for the day I will get to see them again.

Soon it was time to go back to Easton and pick Melissa up from work. I took a back road that I used to drive all the time when I was an auto parts delivery driver. I even stopped at one of the garage's where I used to take parts. Hendershot's Garage was still open and the same father/son team worked there.

I took Melissa home and headed back through town to pick Paula up at Shari's house. I decided to go down Northampton Street, the main street in Easton. I parked between 9th & 10th street. I went into the NAPA auto parts store. It used to be Easton Electrical Devices, where I worked for 19 years.

Earlier I mentioned having a "time travel" feeling. Well when I walked into that store I warped back to 1999. The place looked basically the same as it did during my days as an employee. To perpetuate the feeling the guy who was my boss was standing behind the front counter on the phone helping a customer. "Mr. Jim Slifer!" I exclaimed. He looked up, smiled and called out my name. He looked a bit older (I found out that it was his 62nd birthday that day) but seemed to be still the same old nice guy.

We exchanged basic "so what's happening and where have you been" type conversation. I asked about the business and some of the old employees. He gave me an update on most of them. Of course there were comments about my losing weight. Then he asked if I'd like to go over to the office and see his son who was on working on a computer there.

We walked halfway through the store. Looked around as much as I could. The place was still the same. I walked past what was once the small engine sales counter. Past the water fountain under the stair that led to the 2nd level, up a step, through a door and into the office. It was still the same as well. I greeted Jim Slifer Jr. We exchanged brief pleasantries and updated each other on our lives.

It was then that I got a call on my cell from my sister asking me where I was and telling me that they were back from shopping. I said my "good bye" and left the store.

I walked across the street to a place called "Noto's Deli" to get a drink. I walked in and got a bottle of water from the refrigerated case and went to the counter to pay for it. While walking up to it I noticed that woman I used to be married to was working behind the counter. Another employee came over to the cash register to help me. The "ex" didn't speak to or even acknowledge me. I figured I was making her uncomfortable so I didn't say anything to her either. I wonder what she thought of my weight loss? I guess I'll never know.

The evening was a nice gathering of the entire family. There was a wonderful dinner which included meatballs and a Mexican chicken dish. After dinner we all just sat around and talked for a couple of hours. It doesn't sound like much but it was a very enjoyable evening.

Melissa lives in a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood in Forks Township about 10 minutes outside of Easton. I'm very proud of the life and home she has made for herself and her son "Bo".

Before heading back to the hotel I drove up through Forks Township. It's an area just outside of Easton that has really changed since I moved away. I drove through and noticed several new stores, restaurants and strip malls.

Our first full day in Pennsylvania was a long one but in comparison the next day would be even longer. However it would also be a milestone for the family. Something would happen that has never happened in Havens family before.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vacation Report Part 1

After nearly a 2 month absence I have returned to posting on this blog. I'm not going to attempt to explain why I haven't been blogging or recap has happened to me since the last post. Most of you who know me know the important stuff anyway.

This first return post, and probably the next couple as well, will be a recap of the days Paula and I spent on vacation (June 13-20). This week long getaway included 2 1/2 days of driving, a day in our nation's capitol city, and all or part of 5 days in the area of Pennsylvania where the northern branch of my family lives.

Sunday, June 13
Our journey to Washington DC began about 8:30 AM on Sunday June 13. For the first time we were following the directions of our new Tom-Tom GPS unit. According to my son & daughter in-law (who also have a Tom-Tom) you have to name your GPS. We named ours "Nova."

The reason for this came when we were "off route" in the Washington DC area late Sunday night. While making a "U" turn to get back to where we should be the GPS announced that we should get back on the highway heading toward "Northern 'Va". It actually said "Va" as a word not as an abbreviation. Paula & I thought it was so funny we agreed right then and there that the Tom-Tom's name had to be something that commemorated that moment. So we came up with "Nova" as its name.

Our drive to Washington DC was a day's journey. We passed some of the time by listening to a Patricia Cornwell audio book (Body Farm). We stopped quite a few times to fill up the car and "empty" ourselves. We stopped for lunch at a place in Olive Hill, Kentucky called "Smokey Valley Truck Stop". It was featured on the Food Network in 2007. The food was okay but not great and the service was rather slow. But the novelty of going on to "You Tube" and seeing the segment from the show "Drive-Ins, Diners, & Dives". Will make for a lasting memory of our visit. I told my brother-in-law about it because it's just the type of place he will be interested in stopping on his next trip to visit us.

The only other thing that's noteworthy about our trip was that it was long. It took us about 13 hours to get to our hotel in Alexandria, VA. But once we checked in we went to bed so we could get an early start to our long anticipated visit to the National Mall and the Smithsonian Museums the next day.

Monday June 14
We got up early in order to beat the crowds to the National Mall. We left the hotel about 8:30 and made the half mile walk to the Metro station and aboard Washington DC's public transit train system. We each bought a Farecard for $6 to cover our round trip cost. Once we determined which train we needed to take (thanks to my wife) we got on and road for about 25 minutes.

Once we came up from the underground station we were in the heart of our nation's capitol. We walked about 2 blocks to "The Castle" the welcome center for the Smithsonian. The streets were full of people walking to work as well as tourists just like us. The Washington Monument was to our left and towered over the area. It could be seen from just about anywhere.

We scoped out the Smithsonian museums we wanted to see on the map inside "The Castle". We watched a short orientation film starring Ben Stiller, then walked out the door onto the National Mall. It was about as wide as two football fields. To our left was the Washington Monument about 11/2 miles away and just as far to our right was the US Capitol building. Being there was the first "big moment" of our day. We stood there snapping pictures for about a minute or two.

At 11AM we entered the Smithsonian American History Museum. Visiting here was the reason I'd wanted to come to DC for vacation. I understood this to be a place where lots of pop culture artifacts were on exhibit. Things from TV like the "All in the Family" living room and original set of "The Swamp" from MASH, my all time favorite show.

I guess I misunderstood what the place was because it turned out to be more of history museum than a pop culture history museum. Only about 10% or less of the exhibits were pop culture. There really was only 1 room of that kind of stuff. I know it's a museum but I thought I was going to be entertained not educated. That was not the case and it was rather disappointing.

There were 3 pop culture things on display that really made my day though: An original Kermit the frog puppet donated by Jim Henson, a car from the flying Dumbo ride at Disneyland, and one of the pair of ruby slipper used in the filming of the Wizard of Oz.

We walked around for about an hour. Looking at the 3 floors of exhibits. Soon we knew it was time to sit down and rest. We decided to have lunch in the basement cafeteria. That was a mistake because it was very expensive and caused both of us to have an upset stomach. Still we got 30 or 40 minutes of rest we needed. Soon we were feeling better and headed over to the Smithsonian museum of Natural History.

We walked through that museum looking at the exhibits including one about gemstones and minerals found in the ground. It was labyrinth of displays that seemed to never end. We saw enough quartz, precious metals, gemstones and varieties of rocks & stones to last us a lifetime. We also saw skeletons of modern animals who live all over the world. There was also a room with lots of impressive animals stuffed and set up in their natural habitats. It was like a taxidermy zoo.

Finally we went to the area I was most interested in, the dinosaur room. It was there that we saw several dinosaur skeletons. It's the first time I've actually seen them in person. The T-Rex was the best but the brontosaurus and stegosaurus were cool too.

By the time we finished in the Natural History museum we were once again exhausted. We left and went outside in the heat. The day had warmed up considerably. We got something to drink and sat on a bench in the shade to relax for a few minutes.

We talked about doing a walking tour of the "big 3" (Washington Monument, White House and Lincoln Memorial. But from where we were sitting it was at least a mile walk to the Washington Monument in the hot sun. The idea of more walking in the heat didn't appeal to us at all. We decided that we would try to come back the next day to do the "monument tour".

We walked back toward our Metro station. On the way was the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. I wanted to go there so we decided that since it was inside we would look around before calling it a day.

I was glad we did. Although it was more walking we got to see the Wright Brothers' plane, Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis and other cool air craft. There was also a large exhibit devoted to the Apollo space program. I got to see a very large model of a Saturn 5 rocket.

We took in a film in the museum's planetarium. It wasn't a real planetarium just a movie theater with a large domed roof that served as a movie screen.

After we saw all the space stuff we decided to head back to our hotel. We got on the Metro and rode back to Alexandria. We stopped at strip mall near the Eisenhower Metro station and had dinner. It was at one of our favorite restaurants, Ted's Montana Grill.

We were exhausted and just wanted to eat and walk back to the hotel. While we were eating a thunderstorm with torrential rain hit the area. We had to wait an extra 15 minutes for it to stop. Once it did we walked the rainbow shaped bridge that led back to our hotel.

Paula spent the rest of the night in the hotel room. I rested for a while and then went to a local Walmart to look for a Washington Nationals baseball shirt. I also picked up some groceries we needed.

We planned on going to back to see the monuments the next day but before we went to sleep just decided to check out and head toward the National Zoo and then onto Pennsylvania.

Our first day in Washington DC had been fun but all the walking and standing around really wiped us out. We both slept very soundly after our first full day of vacation.