Saturday, December 20, 2008

Double Negatives

Remember learning in math that two negatives cancel each other out and become a positive? Today, I found a real-life application of that worthy principle!

So it's a Saturday and I'm running around like crazy trying to get everything all pulled together. My friend Jim has called and invited me to a chamber orchestra concert in a cathedral in Green Bay for the evening, and I have a birthday party for my friend Ella on the east side of Appleton right before that. Timing-wise it should be fine - ok, it's been snowing like ca-razy all day, but hey, that's the way she rolls in my lovely home state. Somewhere during the day I hit the "trunk unlock" button on my remote keyless entry thingy instead of my door unlock button (maybe something to do with the heavy mittens I'm too hurried to take off before using the remote??). Of course I don't figure it out till I'm actually in my car and the 'door ajar' light is on, but there's no way at that point I'm getting back out of my car to go shut my trunk - I figure I'll get to it the next time I'm out. So, I find a present for Ella, wrap it, and head over to the party. Have a great time, but finally figure out that I should have changed for the concert BEFORE coming to Ella's because now I barely have time to run home (west side of Appleton), change, and head back to Green Bay in the snowfall. I head out to the car, start it up, and realize there's too much snow on it to be able to just windshield-wiper it off. So I hop out, hit the door unlocker button, shut the door, and just as it closes realize that I had just hit the LOCKER button (I didn't know it would let you do that with the car running!!). So now I'm standing outside a running car, in the snow, on the wrong side of Appleton, trying the door desperately to make sure the handle isn't just joking with me, and wondering which of my friends who has a key to my place would be willing to come over here, get me, take me back to my apartment for the key, and bring us back to the running car.
Then it hits me! The trunk is open! And because I have this lovely Focus with the pass-through back seat, there's a chance I can push it forward from inside the trunk. You can guess the rest - there's no graceful way to reach yourself in around random trunk collect-y stuff, skis in the back seat, and into the car enough to reach the back door. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought, but I am happy to report that I was able to clear off my car, make it back to my place, change, NOT join the cars in the ditch on the way to Green Bay, and get to Jim's in time to hit the concert. And it was a lovely concert, at that. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Back Baby, Back in Time

A trip to any of the places mentioned below is categorically recommended; and if, after reading, you’re not quite convinced of the marvelousness, check out Becky’s blog – she and Ray did a similar trip with Tom earlier this year!

It wasn’t till Tom pointed it out yesterday that I realized we unintentionally made quite a sequential trip back in time during my stay. I had some half-formed thoughts of blogging each day, but we were busy enough that it would have felt more like work than vacation to stay up each night to write – so here it goes, all in one shot!

We started out mildly enough, with a college basketball game (NC State vs. Winthrop) Tuesday night, and an amazing Thanksgiving meal with Mary (Tom’s sister), Matt (her husband), and Baby Kalina on Wednesday. Mary made a complete Thanksgiving meal, and we did full justice to it. For some reason, Kalina was less than impressed by the loud-ish and enthusiastic folks invading her home – I don’t understand it – and found herself better amused up in her nursery and far away from the clamorous rabble. She is just a beautiful baby, and it was great to meet her and hold her a bit. As Matt and Mary pull off being parents AND great hosts and conversationalists the time flew by. They sent us off with a full lunch packed for the next day (hooray for turkey sandwiches!).

Thursday we started easing into the past. We took the four hour drive to Washington DC, figuring there would be few crowds on the holiday itself. The American History museum just opened a week or so ago after a huge renovation project, so we got to be among the first to check it out. We spent hours there, viewing “Old Glory” (the enormous flag that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner”), and numerous exhibits from the country’s recent past. We also walked around the capital quite a bit, walking to the Jefferson Memorial, and viewing others from afar: the Washington Monument, the new Pentagon memorial (who knew? – pretty cool), the new – to me – WWII Memorial (it had been a big hole in the ground the last time I had been there), and the Lincoln Memorial.

Friday we took another whack at the City, beginning with the American Indian Museum, taking in a tour of the Capitol, heading to the Post Office Tower, then browsing the Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Castle, the Arboretum and the National Portrait Gallery before calling it a day. Particularly with the Capitol tour and the portrait museum, we really started immersing ourselves in the early days of our country’s formation. A while ago I had started a biography of Abigail Adams (the wife of John Adams, second president of the U.S. She's amazing; she and John were remarkably close and their story gives a fascinating glimpse into colonial American life at the time of the Revolution), and picked it up again once I knew I was coming here. So, what with reading that in the evenings, and an audio book Founding Brothers, that Tom played in the car, it started feeling like it was the late 1700s with the birth of a country just barely underway.

Saturday wound the tape back still further: we headed to Williamsburg, VA. Now we were in the period just months before the declaration of independence and the beginning of the Revolution. (If you’re not a history fan, you may wish to skim to the end of the paragraph here!). At the time, Virginia felt so connected to England that it considered itself a fifth segment of that nation (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Virginia!). Virginians saw themselves as Englishmen, and were the wealthiest and most conservative of the colonists. Thus, the rest of the colonies – the rabble rousers in New England, and all the rest – waited to see what Virginia would do in finally progressing toward declaring independence. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were part of the dramatic arguments, government debates, and pamphlet-writing taking place in Williamsburg, Virginia’s capital. When the House of Burgesses voted unanimously to declare independence, the rest of the colonies quickly followed suit.

Tom and I wandered through Williamsburg, learning how shingles, bricks, wheels, and books were made, and seeing how carpenters, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, silversmiths, milliners, printers and others plied their trades at the time. We toured the magazine (where guns & ammo were stored), the Courthouse, the Governor’s Gardens, a colonial home and the capitol. We got to hear outstanding teaching on the laws in effect at the time of the Revolution (fascinating stuff: ask us sometime about English common law and the concept of issuing a “license” for something), and a 3-way discussion of the various political viewpoints of the time (Tory, neutral and Patriot).

On Sunday, we went back to the beginning of European settlement of the country: Jamestown. We planned only to spend a few hours there, and perhaps catch Yorktown before a leisurely return to Raleigh, and maybe even another evening with Mary & Matt. We did not reckon with what we found there. I had been to the Jamestown reconstruction site, which is great, but never to the actual original Jamestown settlement. It was amazing. We walked all around the original town and fort, viewing foundations and reading all about the homes built there and what we know about the inhabitants. The fort was originally built in its nasty, swampy location because it was so excellently defensible, from both the Indians and the Spanish. Until 1994, it was believed that the fort was by now completely under water. Since it’s been discovered, actually almost entirely on land, there has been a mountain of artifacts recovered from the site. We spent over an hour in the church there (the tower of which was built in the 1750s and is still standing), pestering the volunteer guides with questions about Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe, and the site in general. We found out that John Smith mapped out huge quantities of coastland so accurately that historians have transposed them over satellite images and found them close to the same. He mapped out Plymouth before the Pilgrims arrived, and very nearly was chosen to lead their expedition from England rather than Miles Standish. A ship that foundered in Bermuda and ended up in Jamestown may well have inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Powhatan may have allowed the settlers to live because they were a source of copper (which they could no longer get because of inter-tribal warfare), and they would serve as a buffer to the Spanish - whom the Powhaten feared as well.

After all this “outside” investigation, we were ready to check out the Archaearium: a museum where the artifacts from the site are restored and displayed. The place is amazing. There are over a million artifacts that have been recovered from the site, one or two thousand of which are on display. Museums are cool, in general, but think of one where all of the artifacts are coming from “just over there” – places visible from the building! The stories, displays, and information were amazing, and – what’s more – they have a long way to go! They’re on pause now, since it’s winter, but they have just discovered another well and a cellar that they’re about to excavate, and have no idea about what they may find there. Archeologists who work there can uncover something like 10 artifacts a day, and they have a display of “recent finds” at the museum. We stayed at the museum till it closed, then made it back to Raleigh well after 10:00, listening to more Founding Brothers.

Today began the re-emerging process. Back to work, packing up to return to Wisconsin, all that “real world” stuff. I’m still working my way through the Abigail Adams biography – so holding onto a few fragments of the weekend’s immersion as well as I can! Fascinating stories, fascinating people, fascinating country!

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