Tuesday, February 11, 2014

French Arrival Ceremony #WHSocial

Two years ago, after a failed attempt to secure White House Easter Egg Roll tickets, Lea became aware of a TweetUp to get access to the event. Our second effort was unsuccessful, but we made contact with the White House Social Media Office and procured Garden Tour tickets as a (great) consolation prize. Late last week, we received an invitation to submit for a lottery to attend the arrival ceremony for French President Francois Hollande. Erik was a lucky applicant and headed out early this morning to the White House. The air was crisp and frigid, but the sky was bright. After waiting in a few security lines, he made his way to the South Lawn. A bit after 9:00 am, the event began with the presentation of colors, renditions of Hail to the Chief and national anthems, and brief remarks by both presidents. While Erik was not quite in handshake-distance of the presidents, he was close along the rope line. Other obligations kept Erik from attending the follow-up session in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but the opportunity to participate in the ceremony was fantastic. Photos below.

Soldiers and Sailors from the Armed Services
Waiting in the Cold
The Presidents through a Sea of Hands and Cellphones
Greetings from President Obama
More Greetings from President Obama
President Hollande Addressing the Crowd
The First Lady and Presidents at the Ceremony's End

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

Although our DC area adventure was originally scheduled to end in 2013, we were able to stay for one more year when Erik's term at the NSF was extended. While we will transition away from DC in 2014, we have continued to enjoy all of the opportunities that the area provides.
  • In January, we woke up early and stood in the cold for several hours for the chance to witness the presidential inauguration.  
  • In March and April, we traveled to the Tidal Basin several times, only to find the Cherry Blossoms uncooperative. But, we spied a few lovely blossoms in this annual treat.
  • May brought one of our favorite events, embassy open houses. We visited Kazakhstan, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Peru on one weekend. The following weekend, we returned for the EU celebration, dropping in on Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Netherlands, and Austria.
  • We continued running, completing many 5Ks, an 8K (where Carter finished 3rd in his age category), and a 10K. We are working toward a 10-miler in April. 
In addition to success running, Carter also achieved several milestones.
  • He turned eight and received First Communion and Reconciliation.
  • One of Carter's favorite birthday presents was a photography lesson from a good friend (who also happens to be a fabulous photojournalist). The lesson paid off - Carter's photo finished in second place in a county-wide competition (see below). 
  • He also continues to improve in his favorite extra-curricular activities, soccer and piano.
While DC is an amazing place, it is also close to many other great destinations.
  • We combined business and pleasure in January, flying to Florida for a conference as well as Epcot and the World of Harry Potter.
  • We visited Harpers Ferry in May, Shenandoah in June to climb Old Rag, the Outer Banks in North Carolina and New England in July, Rehoboth Beach (Delaware) in September and October, and Gettysburg and Antietam in November.
  • After a quick trip to see family in Michigan for Thanksgiving, we returned via Niagara Falls and were amazed by the fantastic glaze of ice.

Lea and Carter at Niagara Falls

Carter's Award-Winning Photo
Grandpa Bistak, Fr. Tuck, and Carter at First Communion
We wish everyone a joyous and peaceful New Year.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Road Trips

July was an adventure-filled month for the Herrons. We kicked it off with another fantastic 4th of July celebration. While every community in the US has its own special way of commemorating Independence Day, none can really compete with Washington, DC. We started the day in the District, attending the annual recitation of the Declaration of Independence by actors portraying George Washington, Abigail Adams, and other key Revolutionary War figures. We had fantastic seats right behind the stage on the steps of the National Archives. We moved a few feet for parade seats and watched most of it before our next engagement. Several Herron family members live in the area, and we gathered for a cookout. Last year, we watched the fireworks from the National Mall, but the trip home was too chaotic. This year, we found a nice perch on a hill near the Netherlands Carillon and Marine Corps Memorial for a spectacular view.

Marine Corps Memorial.
Outer Banks
Later in the week, we headed to the Outer Banks. En route, we stayed in Hampton and visited one of the newest National Park Service sites, Ft. Monroe. We were unfamiliar with its history, but came away impressed. Not only was it one of the few Union possessions in the south never to be taken by the Confederacy, but it hosted many luminaries, including Harriet Tubman and Edgar Allen Poe. Robert E. Lee was its commander for a time, and after the war Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in a casemate cell. The great battle between the ironclads Monitor and Virginia took place in the waters nearby and was visible from the fort. We learned from another visitor that a German U boat was also spotted and destroyed nearby in WWII. On top of all of this, Fort Monroe is home to a crazy pet cemetery.

Pet Cemetery at Fort Monroe.
We continued southward and spent a couple of days in the Outer Banks. In addition to relaxing on the beach, we visited the Wright Brothers National Historic Site. Kill Devil Hills is inspiring; it is hard to imagine that humans went from the first controlled, powered flight to the moon and back in just 66 years. Walking the path, and flying kites, where it all started was a great moment. Carter also had an opportunity to go hang gliding with his friend Kitty.

Carter flies a kite near the Wright Brothers Memorial.
More kite flying.
Per Kitty's suggestion, Erik snapped a picture of Lea taking a picture of Carter taking a picture.
Carter "raced" two flights and beat them! Here he is with Kitty at the spot where they completed the fourth flight.
New England
We ended the month touring New England. Our first stop was Providence, a way station on our journey to the north. We  strolled a bit downtown, visiting the Irish Famine Memorial, Brown University, and the Capitol. The next day took us to Cape Cod. Driving up the beautiful coastline, we stopped to dip our toes in the Atlantic, admired the dunes and beaches, and visited the Cape Cod National Seashore sites so Carter could earn another Junior Ranger badge. We toured all the way around the cape to Provincetown, at the tip.

The life-saving station on Cape Cod. 
Following our day at Cape Cod, we spent a couple of days in Boston. Once again, the quest for Junior Ranger badges drove many of our activities, but this conveniently included visits to all of the major sites along the Freedom Trail (our plan all along). Erik was especially happy to see the USS Constitution, another part of his War of 1812 Bicentennial obsession.
Paul Revere's Grave.
The Old North Church.
Rigging of the USS Constitution.
You can't escape history in Boston. This stone was located next to our car in the hotel parking lot.
Acadia National Park
We spend most of our time in urban areas nowadays, so we especially value opportunities to get out into natural environments. Acadia National Park in Maine was spectacular. We had an opportunity to hike trails along the coast and up Cadillac Mountain, and explore the tide pools. The tide pools were Carter's favorite activity by far. His quest was to find starfish, but we spied mussels, periwinkles, crabs, and other aquatic flora and fauna along the way.
Mists over Acadia.
An evening view.
Lovely granite formation near Thunder Hole.
A view of the ocean while exploring tide pools.
After scaling down some rocks (less treacherous than the ones you see here), we explored tide pools.
Lea exploring tide pools.
Lea and Carter looking for sea life in a different tide pool location.
Tide pool success! Carter found a starfish.
Carter's starfish and its evening meal (see the crab on its arm).
An early morning hike.
A frog in Bubble Lake.
Mount Washington
After our whirlwind visit to Acadia, it was off to the brisk, damp, and cold winds of Mount Washington. Carter has enjoyed our hikes up mountains, so we decided to set the bar a bit higher. As the highest peak in the Eastern United States with the most volatile - and worst - weather, it is a bit too difficult for now. Instead, we took the Cog Railway up the mountainside to get a taste of what it would be like to scale it. The Cog Railway is an engineering marvel, and we settled in for a steep 40 minute trek upward. Upon reaching the summit, we had about 10-20 feet of visibility and moderate, chilly winds. But, on the top we met a woman who decided to scale the mountain on her 70th birthday - that day - and she became our inspiration. It is on the list after we train a bit more.
Cog railway.
Heading into the clouds.
At the summit. Next time we'll really earn it.
The winds were not 231 MPH, but  they were still brisk.
Bretton Woods
Mount Washington is near an important spot for a political scientist like Erik: the place where the IMF was founded after World War II. We stayed in the lodge nearby and took a quick spin through the meeting room where the agreement was signed.
Erik and Carter in the room where the negotiations took place.
The Mount Washington Resort.
The final day of our visit (aside from the long drive home) was a spin through Vermont. Erik spent two summers studying Russian in a small town south of Montpelier and wanted to stop by to see how things had changed. The Russian School at Norwich University closed its doors in 2000, as demand for intensive Russian language training evaporated, but the private military college that hosted the school is still active. We stopped in Montpelier for lunch and a bit of shopping at the Farmer's Market (where we picked up delicious maple items), and then headed to Northfield. The final stop of the day was the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park, Vermont's only NPS site, for one more Junior Ranger badge. The park is extremely difficult to find, but we made it and learned a bit about conservation.
Vermont's golden-domed state house.
Erik on the campus of Norwich University.
Carter working on his Junior Ranger activities.
The woods at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller.
Success! Junior Ranger badge #26!
While we were exhausted at the end of the trip, it also inspired us to get out and see more during our final year in the DC area.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Conquering Old Rag

Last weekend, we took our third trip to Shenandoah National Park with a major objective: to climb Old Rag. The climb includes around 2,500 feet of elevation gain, unobstructed panoramic views, and rock scramble - lots of rock scramble. After our arrival in the park we headed to Skyland, our overnight spot, and then to Dark Hollow for a short hike to the waterfall. En route, we saw three of the six black bears of the weekend - a mother and her two cubs. Carter snapped a photo of one of the cubs in a tree below. When we first came across them (thankfully we were still in the car), the two cubs scampered up the tree while the mama bear took a good look at us.

The path to the waterfall was lovely, with many spots for photo ops.

The creek was crisscrossed with fallen trees, many of which had wonderful mushrooms sprouting from the trunks.

We made it to the waterfall and returned just before dark.

A few months ago, Carter received his great grandfather Bistak's telescope as a gift from his Aunt Cathy, and we brought it on the trip. The "supermoon" was supposed to be visible over the weekend, so we tested out the telescope on the pre-supermoon visible on Friday night. We were able to snap some reasonably neat pictures and will experiment more in the future. Unfortunately, Friday night was the only clear one, with clouds blocking our evening skies the rest of the weekend.

We got up early on Saturday to begin our 7-hour trek up Old Rag. The first few hours were wooded climbs along well-marked paths. Then the real fun began. The rock scramble had a few passages that were just right for Carter, but too small for Erik and Lea. Other areas had reaches that were too far for Carter and Lea, but not too bad for Erik. We had to figure out the puzzles of how best to climb, crawl, and pull ourselves up the mountain (occasionally passing Carter across crevasses). The climb is not really treacherous, but it definitely has some tricky parts.

We especially liked this area of the climb up the mountain. This section included a small cave and a path under a rock that had wedged itself in the gap.

Around four hours in, we reached the summit. We had a lovely lunch and spent time enjoying the views. The climb down was along a bridle path which was smoother. We finished the day exhausted but exhilarated. We all want to do more climbing!

However, our calves and quads had a different plan for Sunday. We strolled through the meadow (at the appropriately named Big Meadows) and encountered two playful fawns. Carter earned another Junior Ranger badge - the toughest one yet.

We'll definitely return to Shenandoah, but are also looking for new challenges like Old Rag.