Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. Collins go to Washington or "Hey Y'all, is that Where Ol' Barry Lives? "

The weekend of September 19th-20th the Raleigh Collins took a trip to our Nation's fair capital for a visit with Sue and Mark and some sightseeing. Thanks to a little serendipity and great weather, we had the best unplanned trip on record.

Ashley flew up for a week of business meetings and power lunches, and got to spend some time in the Northwest part of the District. I'm pretty sure that in a few weeks photos will appear showing her meeting with lobbyists and congressmen - the legislation in question no doubt addressed the pressing question of universal Cooper suffrage. Canine issues notwithstanding, she found some great restaurants around the 14th St NW area (note: they were all out of our price range for dining; but delicious on someone else's dime none the less)

Casey flew up at the end of the week, and had a small public transit odyssey getting into the city. He flew from RDU to Baltimore (BWI), took the MARC train into Union Station, and then Metro'd and walked to the meeting spot. Air turbulence aside, the trip was fun - too bad Raleigh doesn't have any sort of reliable public transit. We would definitely ride a light rail system if they put one in down here. We ate a tasty lunch at Potenza on H St., where the food tasted as good as the place looked, and headed on down to Sue's office.

We got the high roller's tour at the Department of Education. Literally, the high-Rollers (ha ha, get it Sue?) and headed back out to Springfield, where Sue and Mark live. They were kind enough to tolerate us in their space (or we should say, Noel, their cat, was kind enough to hide so we could invade her space) while we took a whirlwind tour of all things D.C.

First up: The Library of Congress (LOC). Let's get a couple things clear about this LOC, from two library lovers and avid supporters: This ain't your average library. For starters, most of the books are kept in the restricted "card access" only areas. This includes the ever elusive "Rare Books Collection", which of course, is what we wanted to see most. Come to find out, you can obtain an 8-day "readers card" if you say you're doing some sort of "research"... just a heads up for those of you (like us) who wanted the Gold Standard for library cards. On another note, this was Casey's favorite building that he's seen in D.C. The majority of the inside is done up in mosaic tile, with designs honoring the great names in arts, sciences and humanities. We also saw the exhibit of Thomas Jefferson's library that showcases the remaining original books that Ol' T.J. offered to Congress after the original LOC collection was destroyed in the War of 1812. The collection is extremely impressive and varied, and contains many original printings of what are now pieces of classic literature. Jefferson possessed over 6500 volumes at that period is an amazing show of his appreciation of knowledge (and, let's be honest, wealth). When we go back, we're going in that dang reading room. A final note, their Bible collection is pretty cool too.

Next, we took an underground tunnel tour (by mistake and on purpose) to visit the Capitol, where we lucked into getting a tour at just the moment we arrived. After a brief video and summary by our guide of the main parts of the Capitol, we were handed tickets to the House Gallery (Senate was closed that day). See, luckily unplanned! Seeing no legislators in session, we continued on our merry way. On the walk back, we heard a (conspiracy) theory from a restaurant manager about how the beginning video is actually a screening room where Capitol security guards use body scanners on the entire audience to check and make sure no one is carrying any unauthorized ordinance.

After the Capitol tour (and no, no one screamed "You Lie" during our visit), we headed back home to eat dinner a nearby (sort of) Italian place. Sue and Mark are infamous for their "spots" and this one didn't disappoint. Best Fettuccine Alfredo ever - Sue, can you leave a comment with the name of that restaurant?

The next day, we opted for a stop over in the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Pretty neat; but we (of course) got stuck behind a terribly grouchy old man in an over-sized Rascal scooter who kept nudging my (Ashley) heels. After that we visited a place I will now recommend to everyone who visits DC: the Newseum. It is an absolutely fabulous place. Highly interactive (for the ADD folks like us) and had a little bit of everything (from a section of the Berlin Wall, to the Unibomber's hut, to a radio tower from part of the former World Trade Center). Visit it; it's worth $20 and can easily take 5-6 hours to spend the right amount of time in! And, since Mark lost us somewhere on the third floor and we were helped by a museum guide, we got a tour of their working TV studio (more unplanned luck). We didn't see him, but this is the place where George Stephanopoulos shoots his Sunday morning political roundtable.

After coming home, we had bite to eat at Mike's American in Fairfax. Fun atmosphere and good food; but they mixed up my side order of asparagus for beans and tomatoes ... not quite the same. Casey reports that their mashed cauliflower (similar texture to mashed otatoes) were good and their seafood is delicious.

Our last morning, we visited the Smithsonian's most recent offering, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The "national" museum is a bit of a misnomer, since this place showcases native culture and history from across the three Americas. This museum is visually and emotionally stunning, from the architecture to the exhibits. Oriented with respect to the four cardinal directions, every bit of the museum is built with a respect for and integration into nature, even though it stands out from other buildings on the Mall. It's a moving experience to visit - make sure you walk around the grounds outside the building if you go.

After an easy flight home and a slight hiccup at the off-site airport parking lot (the automatic carwash there blew off my side-view mirror), we were back home and rested. The D.C. trip was a fun little jaunt, and we'll definitely be back up again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Return to Mt. Pisgah

This past weekend (Labor Day weekend), we took the pups (well, the big two) back up to Mt. Pisgah/ National Forest for a few days of hiking, site-seeing and fresh air.

Cooper, AKA: Mr. Too-fat-to-hike, stayed at Grandma Toni's house all weekend; where we were told that he "Earned a Hamburger"... I'm not even going to comment on how he earned a hamburger; aside from saying... if Cooper has a talent, it's certainly his ability to persuade food to come his way (for a prime example, visit the previous entry involving a NY Strip).

Anyway, back to main story...

Case and I took Arnold and Mattie back to Mt. Pisgah Family Campground. It's located off of milepost 408 off the Blue Ridge Parkway and is AWESOME. We reserved a campsite back in June; so we were able to take our time getting to the campground, resting assured our spot was waiting on us. (Note: previously, we drove up at 4 a.m. and by chance, parked ourselves in the VERY last available spot). This year's campsite D12 was great. Tucked up behind a grove of mountian laurel and pine; our spot was elevated, private and very great for the dogs.

Arnold, in fact, thought so much of it that he snuck out of the tent on the first night. This revelation played out a little something like this:

Casey wakes up: "Uh, where's Arnold"

Ashley wakes up (takes out ear plugs): "Is that a joke? What do you mean 'where's Arnold'? He's next to Mattie"
Casey: "Uh, no he's not. Is he over next to you?"
Ashley: "Casey, we're in a 6x6 tent, where next to me would he be laying?"
Casey: "Well, he's not next to me or Mattie... wait, why is the tent open?"

Both of us (plus Mattie) hurridly crawled out of the tent to find Arnold laying at the top of the site; smiling. Jerkface. Apparently, Arnold wanted to get back to nature, and sleep under the stars. He even made himself a nice little dugout nest.
Anyway, the rest of the weekend went by beautifully. We found several blueberry thickets along each day's hike; which was a great surprise. We probably ate 2 pints of berries walking along the trails.

Mattie also got to try out her new "hiking boots"; which are just booties we bought to go over her front two paws; which are irritated from her allergies. They turned out to be God sends because they kept her from losing her footing in wet/slippery spots and kept the mud out of her paws. Also, an added benefit is that the booties kept her from breaking her legs walking around Daddy's overly-Pledged, deathtrapped floors.
Arnold acted like a Tourette's Syndrome kid and spazzed out when we put a pair on him. Needless to say we didn't make him wear them hiking.

All in all, Mt. Pisgah continues to be one of our favorite North Carolina destinations. This year, we ventured a little further into part of the Shining Rock Wilderness and part of the Art Loeb trail. It's quiet, refreshing and just plain relaxing to be there. And since there were no black bear encounters this year, we left with a little more confidence for our next trip. We're thinking of taking a short overnight backpack excursion here in the near future. We'll at least come next summer for all the blueberries.

We packed up camp and headed back to Stately Rankin Manor, where we were greeted by a very content Cooper. I mean, after all, he had a hamburger, a bed to sleep in and the leather chair to nap in. If he had a glass of scotch and cigar it may have been Heaven to him.

We celebrated Lilly's 2nd Birthday with ice cream, cake and hamburger meat for the pups; and pizza, ice cream and cake for the humans.

It was a good weekend had by all apparently.

Check out our online album for some more shots

Stay tuned for updates on the DC trip and general info on our lives (not like it's that exciting!)