Day 19: Our Continuing Quest for Knowledge

The Capitol. Photo: Jenny Williams

Today was an early day. We had a 9am tour of the Capitol, and we were supposed to get there 45 minutes early to get through security. After going through proper procedure, I’m guessing that the get-there-early time was made standard for really crowded times. One, the place didn’t even open until 8:30am. Two, there wasn’t a crowd. But we were there before 8am anyway, since we didn’t want to be late and weren’t sure how long it would take to get to the right place. (The Capitol is a very large building, and there was always the possibility that we’d have to walk around to the other side.)

Statue that they used to cast the bronze one on top of the Capitol dome. Photo: Jenny Williams

While we and a couple dozen other people were waiting for 8:30 to arrive, we watched a squirrel and bird running around us. It was obvious they were used to people, since they both seemed to be flitting from person to person saying, “Huh? So you’ve got food, right? No? How about you?” While the bird was particularly interesting to watch, the squirrel tried to stare down one of the guys waiting. The guy stared back. The squirrel flinched first, and moved on to his or her next victim.

Finally we went in to the Capitol, did security, and checked in for our tour. Then we waited. Fortunately, there was plenty to see while we waited. Statues, placards, and paintings were all around. All of these federal buildings are filled with incredible artwork and national pride.

Close to 9am, we got in line for the tour. The tour started with a video entitled “E Pluribus Unum” which talked about the government in general and the Capitol specifically. Then we moved on to the walking part of the tour. We wore fairly ineffective headsets that were on the same frequency as our tour guide’s microphone. I could barely hear him, though, and the volume setting wouldn’t change. But I could hear well enough. He walked us around several areas, detailing artwork, statues, and uses of the building. We spent time in the Rotunda and the “whisper” room where they used to hold the meetings of Congress. We saw where John Quincy Adams’s desk used to be. The whole tour was less thorough than I had expected, though. I thought we’d go in more rooms. You can get access to the Senate and House galleries through senators and representatives, but I knew that the regular tour would tax the kids’ attention spans as it was. I love the Capitol building. It’s beautiful inside, but outside it’s a materpiece. The dome is gorgeous. The scale is huge. The architecture is classic. I was very glad to spend so much time looking at it today.

Inside the Library of Congress. Photo: Jenny Williams

Next, we took the underground (read: air conditioned) tunnel to the Library of Congress. I’d never been to the Library of Congress before and was excited to go. We didn’t end up spending as much time there as I’d hoped, but we did manage to see everything, if not completely in depth. We started off in the room with information on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Despite my American Studies degree, I even learned something here. I never knew that 12 amendments had been sent to the states to ratify. I thought only the 10 had been sent. The other two were silly ones that didn’t seem to fit with the rest, so it’s just as well they didn’t make it!

Next we went to Thomas Jefferson’s library. I heard a tour guide talking about the room. He said that Thomas Jefferson had bought 6000 books, but his collection was partially ruined in a fire at one point, so the Library has tried to recreate it over time. On one of the displays, it said, “Thomas Jefferson believed an educated person should be familiar with all areas of knowledge,” and then specifically referred to Jefferson’s acquired knowledge about building and construction for Monticello. This sums up my opinion on the matter as well. Why not learn a bit about everything? There are so many different kinds of things to learn. It’s important to be exposed to a lot, and learning about new things is fun.

The Supreme Court. Photo: Jenny Williams

We also saw a Gutenberg Bible plus another one that I forget the name of. The Gutenberg one is in fantastic shape and looks like it was written yesterday, not 546 years ago. We also saw the main reading room of the library, from up above. It was sparsely populated down below, and looked very quiet. I wished I had some actual business to do there, but I didn’t.

Throughout the Library, there were MyLOC stations where we could put in our Passport (gotten at the information booth) and do educational challenges called Knowledge Quest. It taught about art around the Library, the significant historical documents, and more. We didn’t get to all of the challenges, because the kids lost interest, and our feet were starting to hurt. But we’re going to check out the website for MyLOC and see if we can continue the quizzes we skipped. The MyLOC stations also allowed you to add things you saw around the Library to your personal collection for easy retrieval later. The guy at the information booth even stamped our Passport with a couple of neat Library of Congress stamps.

The Spiral Staircase in the Supreme Court Building. Photo: Jenny Williams

Next we had lunch with one of my oldest friends, whom I met as a freshman in high school. Twenty-four years ago. I hadn’t seen him for ten years, so he and his girlfriend joined us for lunch at a yummy pizza place while we caught up on things. Nom.

Afterward, we had plenty of time for the Supreme Court. All the naysayers who thought I was crazy to schedule all three of these government buildings in one day, well, it worked out just fine. And we didn’t really rush all that much. At the Supreme Court, we looked at the exhibit there about the building being built, and how it was only in use starting in 1935! I thought the building was much older than that. They had information on some of the justices, and had a special exhibit on Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the first woman to serve on the bench there. We also saw one of the special elliptical spiral staircases, which was beautiful, but we weren’t allowed to use it. We skipped the video on account of the kids being bored, but I insisted that we listen to one of the courtroom lectures.

The courtroom lecture wasn’t too long, and would be our last thing of the day before the gift shop (I did avoid buying anything in any of the gift shops today). We sat in the seats intended for the public, which weren’t comfortable. The padding was sparse, and the backs were too straight. The room was lit from the windows on the sides, though I had envisioned it being untouched by natural light. The lecture described how the Supreme Court works. Very little new information gets brought into a Supreme Court court case. Each side only gets 30 minutes to explain themselves, but that includes questions from the justices, which usually fills most of that time. In the court, there is a lot of tradition to routine, including where the justices sit. Anyone can go and hear arguments, if arranged ahead of time I suppose. Also, there are only two requirements to be a Supreme Court justice. One, you have to be nominated by the President. Two, you have to be confirmed by the Senate. That’s it. You don’t have to be a certain age, a citizen, or a lawyer. One interesting thing about the Supreme Court building is that it is built out of domestic marble, which is a fairly bright white. But the room where the justices hear cases is built out of a darker Italian marble, and has all furnishings from outside of the U.S. All of that gives it a different feel from the rest of the building. And the carved figures in the artwork around the ceiling allows for those concerned with laws throughout history to keep an eye on things.

We spent the day surrounded by knowledge, wisdom, experience, and information. It was fantastic. If I had been alone, I would have and could have spent much more time at it, especially in the Library of Congress, but I had to balance my interests with keeping the kids engaged. Since they weren’t too ragged by the end of the day, I think I did okay. But the floors were all marble where we went, and so our feet (in our best walking shoes) kept getting tired and we had to take rest breaks.

Then we stood out in the pouring rain for over an hour, but I won’t get into that.

Drove: None.

State and a District: Virginia, District of Columbia.

Weather: Humid, and a bit cloudy, but not too hot. But then it poured rain.

Kids: Patient even when they were bored.

Best Part of the Day: The entire day, minus the rain part. It was inspiring and personally very interesting.

Worst Part of the Day: Getting rained on. Missing the final shuttle launch. =(

What I Learned Today: I hate Android. At least the phone I was using it on (not mine). It’s unresponsive except when it’s hyper-responsive. I long to replace my flip phone with an iPhone.

Funny of the Day: My daughter has decided that if she opens a buffet restaurant that she’s going to call it “Bobo Buffet”. “Buffet” is accented on the second syllable, and be sure to pronounce the “t”.

Total GeekDads and GeekMoms Visited: 8.

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About Jenny Bristol

Jenny Bristol is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, playing board games, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.
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