Monday, 27 February 2017

East/West divide

It was back on the liberal West Coast that we first met the Pellegs; there they have remained, although they moved a little north up to Seattle.  Still, they fancied seeing what Trumpland looks like and so took a cross-continental trip with their three boys over to visit us.

It's always nice to have visitors to remind one how much there is to do around here, and the Pellegs certainly packed it in with trips to museums, monuments, White Houses, Capitol Buildings, etc.  In between, Pete, Ayal and Guy played many games of Monopoly and say-something-silly-then-laugh-a-lot.  Oh the joy!

Thankfully the adults had multiple coffees due to Dana importing Cafe D'Arte beans from the Pacific Northwest.  And they also enjoyed the weather, as temperatures soared into the mid-70s and many confused cherry trees burst into blossom.  You see?  Visit the Davieses and we arrange everything.

You good, Amir?  Great - I'm back off to bed.

Obligatory family photo.

And then time to reminisce about what holidays looked like before children.

Ah yes.  Children.

In beautiful Union Station.

Making stamps at The Postal Museum.

After that we just sent the kids off by themselves.

Pete has made a good start in the family tour guide business.

Extremely arty photo with reflection by someone with an excellent eye for composition.

Guy takes at boat trip at the Museum of the American Indian.

Perhaps we tired them out a bit too much...

At the kids' table.

Inside the Capitol Building, with a statue of a king (of Hawaii).

Adam, the newest member of the gang, who is keeping a low profile at the moment but will soon be running the joint.

In the Capitol Building crypt.

Every state sends two statues to be displayed in the Capitol, but who's this?  Only someone in a very special place of honour.

Under the dome.

Couldn't do worse than our current politicians.

Meeting up with the Murnanes... a restaurant that offered bottomless mix-your-own Bloody Marys (to keep even the biggest kids happy).

Another day, another restaurant, this time with the Muckers (and mimosas).

Ayal, and my Oreo milkshake.

Claire decides boys are best ignored (for a few more years, at least).

Having another child to solve the "who's going to play Monopoly with me" dilemma is radical, but suddenly more attractive.

Driving off into the sunset.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Gimme some sugar, sugar

When you say "Maryland", the first thing that comes to most people's minds is "maple syrup".  Or perhaps I'm confusing us with Vermont.  Or Canada.  No matter - today we went to a ranger talk in our local park where they have a maple grove, all tapped and dripping with the essential pancake ingredient.

I'd always assumed that maple syrup came out of the tree that way, but no.  Maple sap is actually very watery and thin, only about 1% or 2% sugar, while the thick stuff you pour on your waffles is 65% sweet goodness.  To get it that way you boil it, in this case using a big outside smoker thing, leaving it for hours and hours; they use over 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

While all this was very interesting, the one question on everyone's lips was: when do we get the pancakes?  The answer: at the end, which was fine, but only a couple of small "silver dollar" ones.  Most shockingly, the syrup on top was made from sap they shipped in from New England!  We did get a small taste of genuine Wheaton maple syrup, but only on a lollipop stick.  It was dark and rich, and rather good, but I'm afraid this great state will have to find something else to be famous for.

A beautiful, tranquil day in the park with Virginia.

Well, it was (and this is before they had sugar).

Our ranger demonstrates.

How to spot a maple tree!  Apparently they have symmetrical branches.

An easier way to spot a maple tree.

Pre-syrup sap.

Sorry Hannah, not alcoholic.

Boiling it up.

Finally, some actual Maryland syrup.

And then pancakes.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

So you don't have to

Firstly, my coffee machine came back.  Very quickly, I might add, so I was possibly a bit of a drama queen about that.  But, you!  Caffeine deprivation can do strange things to the brain and that's why, while I was in withdrawal, I found my gaze wandering now and again towards Starbucks.

I don't have anything against Starbucks.  They have comfortable seats, and the temperature inside is usually very reasonable.  There are many reasons to visit, their coffee is not one of them.  That said, in my cappuccino-less state I did notice something that caught my attention: a sign advertising Smoked Butterscotch Lattes.

What?  How do you smoke a butterscotch?  And yet, from Werther's Original to the only acceptable flavour of Angel Delight, butterscotch is something of a personal favourite.  In the spirit of embarking upon foreign adventures, I took the plunge.

The small disposable cup I was handed contained a drink not entirely unlike coffee.  It was very sweet, but there were certainly notes of burnt sugar and I was pleasantly surprised by their subtlety.  Until I got to the bottom and discovered where the smoked butterscotch syrup had been hiding out.  As I heard my teeth screaming I thought: 'this might not have been the best idea.'

But anyway, every experience is a learning experience, and I learned that I should never experience this particular experience ever again.  By opting for a Peter Rabbit Organics Strawberry and Banana Organic Fruit Snack my son made a far better choice than me, but that's nothing new.

How could I resist?  How should I have resisted?

What's that you're singing, Pete?  I told you so, I told you so...?

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Pics or it didn't happen

Amanda and Jack had borrowed our waterproofs to protect themselves from the inclement weather at Trump's inauguration.  Amanda claimed it was only her mum who wanted to go; it's getting hard to find people around here who admit to being Republican.  Anyway, we needed to get our anoraks back so I told Jack I'd come and pick them up from his office.  And his office is...The Pentagon!

Yes, Jack works in the iconic US building, the one featured in countless movies and TV series when a quick shorthand for "US military/government" is needed.  I'm sure he does a highly-ranked and important job, but he's also allowed to give tours to friends and family so I blatantly took advantage.  When in Washington!

There are four or five stages of security that you have to get through before you're even allowed under the five-sided roof, beginning with visitor check-in.  "Could I have your name, photo ID, and the name of the person you're here to see?" the lady behind one of many entry windows asked me.  "I believe this will suffice," I said, brandishing a British passport and raising an eyebrow in my most Roger-Moore-like manner.  "Name, ID, who are you seeing?" she repeated, slowly and more loudly.

That hiccup overcome, I was ushered through airport-style security, then into the visitor waiting area (with a gift shop, naturally) until called up to receive my visitor's badge.  Then I had to do some kind of electronic sign-in linking me to Jack when he arrived to escort me, and finally got to walk past the armed guards at the entrance.

Inside was a shopping mall.  Yes, with 26,000 workers in this place a lot of room is given to retail, including food courts, sit-down restaurants, a barber, a chocolatier, and - according to my "Pentagon Fun Facts" leaflet - the busiest Subway in the USA.  An army marches on its stomach, I guess.

The place is massive of course, with 17.5 miles of corridors.  In between the heavily fortified office doors a lot of the wall space is used as historical displays, detailing America's military exploits from the so-called Revolutionary War onward.  Jack wanted to start me out right so took us straight to the bust of Winston Churchill, prominently displayed by the entrance.  Well done America.

From there it was a dizzying tour up and down as we completed the full circuit of the building.  The Navy's corridor was - of course - the most impressive, with oak paneling recalling the lower decks of a fine galleon, and oil paintings of Admirals adorning the walls.  Perhaps one day visitors will stare up at a portrait of Jack's grinning face!  Not Pete's - he's going to be President.

Talking of which, we wandered down the NATO corridor, the flags of all the member nations proudly displayed, United Kingdom and United States fittingly (and alphabetically) next to each other.  "They're going to take all this down soon," Jack told me.  Perhaps he was joking, but President Trump's official photo at the end of the corridor did not find it amusing.

(Yes, that is the actual official Presidential portrait).

We enjoyed lunch sitting at a bar, watching the pizza oven, at one of The Pentagon's restaurants.  Sadly after that Jack had to go back to work because, unlike his visitor, he does have a job, defending the nation or something.  It was a real privilege to be shown around by him.

The only downside?  No photos allowed anywhere!  As a blogger I am sure this is a breach of my First Amendment rights...but decided not to argue the case in one of the most secure, heavily guarded buildings on the planet.  Instead I've had to seamlessly digitally insert myself into some library pictures below.

Me at The Pentagon!

Me outside The Pentagon!

Me in the courtyard at the centre of The Pentagon!

Me in the classy Navy hallway at The Pentagon!

To prove it all happened, I did receive a very fine visitor's medallion.  Good for redemption at any Pentagon eatery or gift shop.